Some of you may remember, in my post half-heartedly lamenting the troubles associated with being well-endowed, I mention that I can’t hold a ukulele properly.
Ukes are supposed to be held much higher than a guitar, right against the chest.
Yeah, that’s not happening. And it wasn’t until I went to Hawaii that I realized why I always had so much trouble with proper positioning.
Our plane landed at 9:30-ish in the morning, and our room wouldn’t be ready until at least noon. So we dropped our luggage off at the hotel and wandered around Waikiki Beach.
Waikiki is to Honolulu what the Strip is to Vegas, and naturally, there were all kinds of cute, kitschy, tourist-y shops. We passed a music store that advertised free ukulele lessons. The lesson started at 11. It was right around 10:45.
Kazander nudged me, gesturing to the sign. “You could do that,” he suggested.
“I already know how to play,” I told him. “And besides, what would you do for an hour?”
“I can find something to do. And you wanted to buy one while we’re here, anyway. If nothing else, you could use it as an opportunity to try out the different sizes.”
He had a point. The $20, pink, plastic Minnie Mouse ukulele we originally bought the spawn was a soprano, and really just too small for me to play comfortably. I knew I needed either the concert or tenor, but I wasn’t sure which.
So I walked in. I ended up being the only person who showed up for the lesson, so that was awesome. I couldn’t pick the size, he just handed me an old soprano, but it was alright. I could actually ask him about things I was having trouble with. Like the easiest way to move from Em to B7, and not have it sound “messy.”
And… what the fuck am I doing wrong, and why can’t I hold the damn thing right?
He asked me to hold it “naturally,” then reached out to adjust. Suddenly, he blushed like crazy and pulled back, chuckling nervously as he told me my chest was the problem, preventing me from holding it right. There was no way around it. No matter how we tried, I couldn’t get it right.
So finally I decided to sit down and hold it more or less like a guitar. That was comfortable, and finally being able to stop obsessing over holding it properly made things a lot easier.
A few days later, I picked out an awesome concert uke and loved it. God, I miss that thing. But some damn kids stole it, and it was right around a time when money was tight, so the only replacement I could afford was an $80 plastic concert one. I don’t love it, but it works, and it’s a hell of a lot nicer than my kid’s Minnie Mouse one.
But the problem with holding it too low is that it makes bar chords (where you use an entire finger to cover 2 or more strings on the same fret) extremely difficult.
Which makes muting/chucking/palming/whatever even more difficult, since it really only works well with bar chords.
Which means there is a whole area of ukulele-playing that I don’t know how to do, and cannot do.
Which is annoying.
And I’m used to having things come relatively easy to me. I don’t handle not being able to do something well.
Finally, the other night, in learning a new Sublime song, I just wasn’t able to really capture the “feel” of the beat (a lot of their songs have a reggae beat. Which you can’t really imitate on a ukulele without chucking). And I got fed up.
When have I ever let annoying details like anatomy or physics get in my way?
I spent a good 2 hours on Google and YouTube, looking for advice and tutorials on how to mute open strings. I didn’t find exactly what I was looking for, but I did find a technique that uses the fleshy part of the forearm to put pressure on the bottom of the strings, rather than the top.
Huh… that could work.
I abandoned the new song for the night and switched to Santeria, which uses a similar beat, and is a song I already know how to play.
I started at 11. And holy hell, I was awful. Seriously, you’d think I’d never played before, or had any concept of rhythm or offbeats, rather than having been a first-chair floutist all through junior high and all four years of high school, of my instructor taking me under his wing my sophomore year and handing me a new instrument each quarter, telling me to learn it (I can play tenor sax, clarinet, oboe, and trumpet).
But I don’t give up, and by midnight, it actually wasn’t half bad.
I finally stopped at 3:45, when my thumb, middle finger, and forearm burned like fire, and my left hand was so stiff, I couldn’t form chord shapes anymore.
I set the uke down next to me, and was surprised to see the bridge and saddle smeared with blood. I looked at my arm and was completely stunned to see that I was bleeding. All the constant pressure and rubbing against the strings had chafed to the point of removing layers of skin from a tiny area on my arm.
Then I noticed a throbbing in my thumb, and was shocked to see a massive blister forming. It was crazy.
The sacrifices we make for our craft, amirite?