Sunday, May 21, 2017

Ukulele Zen

By Mike Nettleton 

If I was two decades younger it might qualify as a “mid-life crisis.” But since I’m not and it isn’t, let’s just call it a geezerly quirk. Or perhaps mild lunacy.

While some manly male men might express this “phase” in their life by jettisoning the Prius for a red convertible and the comfortable life-long partner for a flashy blonde trophy muffin, I made a choice that is both more and less painful to those who love me and share living quarters with me. I decided to learn how to play the ukulele. 

 Before you smack yourself in the forehead, mumble “doh!” and dredge up memories of Tiny Tim crooning “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” you should know that the humble uke, in the hands of a master is a formidable musical instrument. Don’t believe me? Go to You Tube and enter Jake Shimabukuro. After you’re able to bring your jaw back to the full upright position after hearing him play “Bohemian Rhapsody,” enter the name Tamaine Gardner. You’ll never bad mouth ukulele players again—trust me. 

While I plunk away and learn simple songs on the uke, I hallucinate that someday I'll play even 1/10th as well as those two. Or at least not put the dog to sleep on the futon when I practice downstairs. 

 Recently, I attended a ukulele workshop out in Washougal (a Columbia Gorge community half an hour east of here) sponsored by the Friends of the Library. It was led by Aaron Canwell who in partnership with his son Micah runs a children's entertainment company called Micah and Me. Find them at 

He brought a gaggle of ukuleles with him to the meeting room of the 54-40 brewery in Washougal.  Good thinking, since 35 people or so eager-to-learn players showed up and more than half of them hadn’t brought instruments.This fun strum-a-thon not only taught me some technique, it warmed the very cockles of my heart. (The cockles are right next to the left ventricle) Here’s why:

  • There were people of all ages there plunking away together—from seven to seventy and older.
  • There was a real sense of community. For those old enough to remember, it reminded me of the old folk music “hoots” where people would bring instruments and get together and sing. There was a lot of positive energy being passed around the room.
  •  People smiled, laughed and helped each other learn the different chords and songs presented by the teacher. More experienced players shared their knowledge with beginners. 
  •  Nobody even glanced at a telephone or mobile device for the best part of three hours. It was human, person to person communication. You didn’t have to click a “like” button you just had to smile at yourself and others.
Now, I’m not suggesting taking up ukulele will cure or even alleviate your ennui or induce a grin. But finding something to get involved in that puts you shoulder to shoulder with other human beings most certainly will. Give it a try. 


  1. Lin has been playing about a year, & I have started playing guitar. There is a big uke workshop here in Milwaukie at the senior center on Wednesday.

  2. I watched several of the YouTube clips of Jake playing 'Bohemian Rhapsody', they were all just amazing and not at all what I expected.

    I was definitely thinking more 'Tiny Tim', as even here in the UK, as a child I was busy singing 'Tiptoe Through The Tulips' - Goodness how we show our age when I looked back on that "performance" now!

    Mind you, we had our own home grown uke talent back then. Check out George Formby singing 'When I'm Cleaning Windows'!!

    Good Luck with the lessons, I'll look forward to seeing you perform on YouTube very soon :)


  3. Thanks for the uplifting post and inspiration for a way-past-midlife diversion. My Writers' group included a ukulele player-songwriter who would perform his creations for us periodically. It made a nice change from stories about serial killers.