What I learned on the ‘Ukulele in one week from Jake Shimabukuro’s Masterclass

Laura and I are big fans of the video learning website MasterClass and have watched a number of classes for pleasure and inspiration. For this challenge, we decided to find out how much we could actually learn from a class. Laura chose a cooking class from a famous chef she admires and I studied ‘Ukulele with Jake Shimabukuro. See how Laura’s challenge went here and read on to see how I fared.

Why the ‘Ukulele?

I’ve been yearning to play an instrument for a long time. In my 40s I was a back-up singer for a classic rock cover band called Midlife Crisis, and we played local bars on the North Shore of Chicago. Making music in front of a wildly dancing crowd was an incomparable thrill. But I wasn’t integral to the band’s sound. Even though I shook a tambourine, I was mostly an accessory. And when the band inevitably broke up, I was out of a job. The other guys (Midlife Crisis was all dudes, except for me) went on to play with other “Dad Bands” and I joined an a cappella choir. It was lovely, but I missed rocking out. I tried a couple guitar lessons that went nowhere. Recently the ‘ukulele popped onto my radar. The smaller, cuter 4-string instrument seemed like just the right fit. This Christmas I asked for and received a Alvarez ‘ukulele. Just in time, MasterClass added a ‘Ukulele course taught by virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro. He’s an incredible (amazing!) musician and a charismatic instructor. Check out this trailer.

The Class

The course is comprised of 20 video lessons supported by a downloadable pdf of the ukulele’s history, lesson summaries, written assignments, chord diagrams and insights from Shimabukuro. I’ve finished just six of his 20 lessons—I watched “Demystifying Chords” at least five times. My left hand has never had so much asked of it and it turns out my fingers are short, inflexible and clumsy. The ‘ukulele may be adorable, but there are no shortcuts to playing it. You have to press multiple strings in exactly the right place with exactly the right pressure with your left hand while strumming rhythmically with your right. Then try to sing along? It’s like performing in all the rings of a three-ring circus. It makes my brain hurt. The upside? It’s very, very fun!

Limitations

Obviously, learning an instrument takes many months of consistent practice. Shimabukuro is a virtuoso and much of his MasterClass is beyond me. I’m not ready to execute lessons like “Mastering Vibrato” or “The Beauty of Harmonics” but I can still appreciate them. I’m going to finish Shimabukuro’s class to better understand the technique and also for the sheer pleasure of watching and listening to him make incredibly gorgeous sounds on what I previously thought was kind of a rinky-dink instrument.

Outcome (and my video performance!)

My goal for the week was to play a very simple song and maybe sing along. MasterClass helped me get off to a strong start. I learned the parts of the instrument, how to hold it, strum it and start playing basic chords. With lots of practice (oh, how I hate you, three finger chords) and a little extra internet support on chord changes, here’s the result:

I know it’s rough, but I’m claiming the challenge a success. Eventually I may take in-person lessons, but while I’m an unvaccinated person living amid a pandemic, I’m going to keep learning virtually. The MasterClass challenge is complete, but my ‘ukulele adventure continues!

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