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If I can, uke can!

2. kathy's Uke Blog photoHave you ever wished that you could learn to play an instrument? It’s a common misconception that learning to play a musical instrument as an adult is too difficult, especially if you were unfortunate like myself never to have had the opportunity to pursue music lessons earlier in life. Research has shown that while it’s harder for the mature brain to learn an instrument, it's not impossible.

I was the lucky recipient of a ukulele as a gift just a few years ago. My first thought was, “What am I going to do with this thing?” I did not know how to read music. In fact, I still don’t know how to read music. Thankfully, we all have access to the internet. There are unlimited websites and apps today that can enhance your learning of music. Certainly, you can arrange for private instruction, but if you are like most of us, our free time is limited. We are all busy. We have our jobs and careers, aging parents and growing kids to take care of, friends to keep in touch with, and chores to do...the list goes on and on. Luckily, it just takes a few minutes of practice each day. You’d be surprised how quickly you could learn some simple chords. Even more surprising is how many popular songs use just three chords.

For the first time in a long time I found myself passionate about learning something new. Inexpensive to buy and super fun to play, the ukulele is one of the easiest instruments to learn. Its soft nylon strings are gentler on your fingertips and don't create finger pain like guitars do. The small size reduces wrist tension because the notes are reachable without stretching. Plus, it only has four strings, which makes chord shapes and scales easier to learn.

Once I started playing, I never looked back. I found myself practicing morning, noon, and night, even if it was only for a few minutes at a time. Since ukuleles are very portable, I could carry and practice it anywhere and anytime. I have taken mine to work and practiced on my lunch hour. It comes with me to family gatherings. My ukulele has been to Block Island, the Finger Lakes in New York, Key West, and Barbados. It has gone hiking, kayaking, fishing, and camping.

I have found that playing the ukulele is a great form of stress relief. It’s a way to escape the everyday monotony of life and rejuvenate yourself. Paired with one of my favorite pastimes, singing, ukulele playing has given me a sense of accomplishment. Studies have shown that music has the ability to release dopamine, the chemical responsible for a number of positive benefits to the body. It helps several functions including increasing your mental focus, improving sleep patterns, and enhancing your mood.

Over the course of five years, I have amassed a collection of 7 ukuleles, each with its own unique sound and personality. Most I have received as gifts. I have three different sizes of ukuleles: soprano, concert, and tenor. Since I have small hands, I personally like the soprano due to its size. It’s a matter of personal preference which size uke you decide to call your favorite. Most music shops will let you try out any instrument they have for sale. So head to your local shop and give it a try. Although learning a new instrument as an adult poses its own difficulties, with a little bit of patience and perseverance, I’m sure you will succeed!

By Katy O’Brien, R.D.H.

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