Aside from playing the recorder 40+ years ago at school, and dabbling in a few piano lessons, I’ve never seriously learnt an instrument. But I’ve always fancied playing the ukulele. Primarily because I read somewhere that it was one of the easiest instruments to learn.
Hence I jumped at the opportunity when I saw a poster advertising a beginner’s ukulele group in Didcot.
The group was set up by Karina, an ex-primary school teacher with lots of experience in teaching music and running children’s choirs. When Karina couldn’t find a regular evening ukulele group to join in Didcot she decided to start her own. Although there was the small matter of assembling a group and teaching them to play first.
Karina’s dad, Simon, invited himself along to help at the first session and keeps coming back for more! Simon taught Karina to play guitar from an early age and encouraged her love of ukulele. He already plays in a Reading based ukulele group, The Small Strings, so has lots of expertise to offer.
The first ukulele lesson
The first lesson saw around 20 potential ukulele players gathered in All Saints Hall in Didcot. Many held brand new ukuleles, others (including me) had borrowed from offspring. Although we all varied in age and musical experience I suspect many of us were there because we’d heard that learning an instrument is good for middle aged brains.
The 1.5 hour session passed in a flash. We were taught about the different types of ukulele, how to hold one, how to strum, where to position fingers and a couple of chords. We even had time for a tea break in the middle.
Despite sore fingers we all left the hall with smiles on our faces. A routine that has continued every week.
As the weeks progressed Karina taught us new chords, strumming patterns and finger picking. She organised the musical arrangements and added instruments. We strummed, plucked and sang. Shiny new ukuleles and music stands appeared. And even the dreaded finger exercises weren’t quite as bad as they once were.
Karina also recorded videos for us to play along to when practising at home. These were incredibly helpful; what seems impossible in lessons really does get easier with practice.
Our first concert
Our first concert, to family and friends, marked the end of our ten lessons.
We performed the four songs we’d learnt over the preceding weeks; Teenage Kicks, Blowin’ in the Wind, Rock and Roll Music and Shotgun. I’m a little biased but I thought we sounded fantastic. Have a listen for yourselves to a snippet of Shotgun:
After the concert Karina announced our new group name. We’d voted the previous week, from a long list of contenders, and our ukulele group is now called…drum roll…The Dukes (although you could probably guess this from the photo above).
Proving it to be a family affair, Karina’s mum provided tea and yummy cakes to round off the evening. Instead of our usual £5 weekly fee we collected donations and raised £141 for Restore, a charity chosen to reflect the mental health benefits we get from playing in the group.
What’s next? Our group of intermediate beginners will continue to play and learn new songs on a Thursday evening. And newcomers are invited (see below).
We even have a couple of event bookings. One of the group members wants us to play at her wedding (brave lady) and later this year we’ll play our first festival!
Do you want to learn the ukulele?
Karina is running another beginner’s group, starting on Thursday 25th April. There are very limited places so if you’re interested please contact her via Facebook (search for The Dukes), email firstname.lastname@example.org or ring 07967044993. Existing players are also welcome to join The Dukes; if you fancy joining please contact Karina.