#1 Learn to Play a Musical Instrument: Please Be Easier

In my 30 Before 30 list, the very first item I want to do is to learn to play a musical instrument. That’s right, I don’t play anything. That’s not to say I’m not musical. I can read notes to sing, and I can find Middle C on a piano. I have a decent sense of pitch and rhythm. I just don’t play anything– never have, except for a tiny bit of piano when I was really little. It honestly hardly counts because I can’t sight-read fast enough to play anything except the most basic melody with one note at a time in the key of C.

Originally, I began with a few guitar lessons from my husband, Robbie. Robbie is one of those annoying people who can pick up pretty much any musical instrument, diddle around with it for an hour, and then play you a song by ear. He played Stairway to Heaven on Jen’s cello at Christmas 30 seconds after he touched the damn thing. I would have choked him with the bow if it hadn’t been Jen’s.

I am not one of those people. You have to teach me how to read notes/tabs/whatever, and then I have to muddle through it painstakingly, and I forget what I was doing and I always have to look back at the notes again, and I can’t play anything by ear so we can just forget that, and it’s just a long process. Robbie was patient with me, but I’m slow. That’s just how it is.

I want this musical instrument thing to be easier.

This morning, I was listening to NPR and heard a story about ukuleles. (It’s posted below.)

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Now I kind of want one. I think I’m going to indulge myself, too. They’re like 30 bucks. And supposedly really easy to play. I’m not saying it’ll be easy for me to play… but maybe easier than the guitar?

Do you play anything? Do you play ukulele? Do you make fun of ukuleles in general? I wanna know.

  • I think my old roommate's boyfriend played Ukelele. I do laugh at them when they are played…they just have something humorous about them. Maybe it's their size. But it's sort of a “yeah I'm laughing at you, but you're bringing me joy” sort of thing 🙂

    Along a sort of similar string…I really think mandolins are cool. They're probably more than $30 though.

  • I used to play the alto saxophone and I think with an hour or two of practice could be decent at it again – I remember all of the fingerings and can sight read music pretty well. I can play chords on the piano with my left hand while playing a melody on the right. I can play the tin whistle and for about an hour once I could play three cords on my now dusty guitar.

    I think the problem is that you've set your sights on instruments that are complex. If you're learning to accompany yourself singing, pianos and guitars are the best plan, but if all you want is to learn how to play an instrument at all, I strongly recommend picking up the tin whistle or lap dulcimer or something that only plays one note at a time.

    That said, I think uke probably is a bit easier than guitar and I feel like it's experiencing a renaissance. Check out Uke Box Heroes, the ukelele duo which features one of the cast members from Dollhouse.

  • I used to play flute and piccolo. Started in 4th grade and played through 2 years of college. Choose to drop band to work as a TA and earn money. A few years after that, I'd play Christmas carols in December and a few other pieces I liked. Then I just stopped playing and I sounded terrible when I think to pick it up again. It will require lots of practice.

    I understand about it not being easy. I'd never make a first chair…no matter how much I practiced. Those with a natural ability would always beat me. But once I accepted that, I was just happy to play. (BTW, when I played I practiced an hour a day – outside of band class time which was anywhere from an hour or two depending on if it was concert or marching season. Included scales and working on music – new and old)

    It can be done even without natural ability. You just have to be willing to put the effort into it. I considered it my sport….you need to practice to be good at it. Now if I could just apply that same drive into my writing I'd be set.

  • A friend of mine that also lives in the Woodcroft area posted some Ukulele web resources on her blog a year or so go: http://motleymuse.blogspot.com/2009/02/online-u

  • I like mandolins, too… But if I can't handle a guitar, I'm pretty sure mandolin is out of the question. 😉

  • I hate to admit it, but I have a tin whistle and can't figure out how to play a scale on it, even with the instruction book. Doh.

  • Thanks!

  • Oh that's easy. Put all of your fingers over the holes and then as you play, lift one finger at a time off of the holes, starting at the bottom. My tin whistle book has a little chart on the front inside cover that shows which holes to cover up to play an octave.

  • Merinda

    My dad plays guitar and picked up the ukelele. Of course my parents also live in Hawaii, so that may be a requirement for them.

  • ACW

    Well, I'm on the other end of it: I can pick up instruments, play with them for a bit, and pick out a simple melody by ear… but try as I might, I *cannot* read notes. I took three years of violin as a child and learned every piece by ear; it wasn't until we had a substitute one day that it was (rather rudely) pointed out that I was supposed to be reading the notes.
    I'd trade places with you in an instant! Playing by ear makes one dependent on having heard the piece before. The ability to read and play the notes from a sheet of music may be slow-going at first, but practice improves your speed, and then you can play *anything* written.
    RE: Ukuleles… If Target commercials have taught us anything, it's that Campy Is Cool! I say: Go for it.

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