Everybody’s New Old Favorite Song

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The Tailor and the Mouse is KILLING these days.  From preschool to adult student.  Gotta love a good 2 chord minor key comic British folk song!  I had the kids at U-Space stomping and scurrying around playing this song last week, yesterday the preschoolers requested it, and knew every word.

I wish I could post the recording we made for the coloring book here, It’s really funny! Pinche me, I don’t have the capability.  I am posting it on the Kickstarter site- here is a link.  Give a listen, get a giggle!  It will be in the book.  You know you want a copy!

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How Old (or Young) Should a Kid Be to Learn the Ukulele

Ready to play?

Ready to learn? Ready to play? Or both!

UPDATE: COLOR-ALONG UKULELE, our book for young people who want to learn uke is available at www.Danielward.net Be sure to download the FREE SOUNDTRACK!

Is my child old enough to learn ukulele?  At what age is a kid ready?
A friend with twins asked me this question in message.  I started to write. And kept writing.  A few hours later I realized I had written a blog post. This answer pertains not just to our  book, COLOR-ALONG UKULELE  but to all kinds of questions parents have about kids, music and ukulele.
      There is a Long Answer and a short one.
The short answer ….it all depends on the kid, approach and the expectations.
      Here it comes– brace yourself, pour a drink: The Long Answer.
      Kids learn through a feedback loop, and progress is determined by their developmental readiness in response to their environment and their temperament.  When children are given stimulus to emulate, especially stimulus  which relates to them and to which they can relate– they take off in the areas that engage them.  I am sure you have either experienced or heard from parents how much faster younger siblings walk, talk etc… than their older counterparts.  One reason is that they are surrounded by stimulus relating to them, showing them how to be a child.
      Music, like language, is learned initially through a feedback loop.  It is a rare youngster who, at 5, is ready to physically finger chords or is mentally able to sit and play for more than a few moments.  But that does not mean that they are not learning! They are learning all the time, and music is no exception.
      The illustrations in the book, the fun pictures and the chord diagrams, give a visual focal point for the youngest kids.  Many wee folk love to look at pictures.  The recordings create the feedback loop of sound.  Kids learn intervals, melodies, and lyrics with alacrity.  When we know a song a song by heart before we try to learn to play it on an instrument, the outcome can be pure joy (and less frustration).
      Having an instrument on hand which a child can play with, and eventually play, is a great thing at any age.  $50 models are well suited for this.  Instruments, not toys; nothing precious–if they get broken… meh. Here’s my favorite starter: Ohana sk-10 from MIM
Tune them as often as you can.  Write “G” “C” “E” and “A” on the tuning pegs and number the strings with a sharpie!  Put a sticker on the fretboard where a finger should be placed to make a C chord.  Let a kid put stickers on the body with impunity!  Draw a smiley face on the top/side of the instrument to re-enforce “this end up”. Encourage strumming with a steady beat and clap along, saying “one, two, three, four…one, two…”.
      On the whole, I see kids in 3rd and 4th grade  having the motor skills, ability and  developmental maturity to really learn.  That is when I can take a classroom of 30+ kids and, in the course of a few weeks,  get them to play songs with 4 chords.
Ready or not.... here she comes! AKA musician's kid having fun in a dressing room.

Ready or not…. here she comes! AKA musician’s kid having fun in a dressing room.

      I have known a few kids- very few- who are really ready to play at 5 or 6.  Often they are kids of musicians who have grown up in households filled with music and experimentation, rehearsing; who have watched their parents sweat and rejoice the same way they do. Kids who are driven to practice, and know how to do it. It is pretty rare. (In fact, just as many musician’s kids are apathetic towards the idea of playing or performing)
      I do know that young kids who learn along side their parents learn better.  Children learn through watching us model behavior far more readily that they do through instruction. Some parents who feel insecure about their musical abilities worry about modeling effectively.  I don’t.  I think kids “ears”  grow irrespective of an adult’s shortcomings in pitch or rhythm.  To see a parent try, struggle, unafraid of failure… that is big. Perhaps even bigger than learning ukulele. Also, kids value what we value, and if they see music is important to you, it will be important to them.
      In private lessons or small groups I see kids at 6-8 able to focus and enjoy their achievements.  I have taught  private lessons for families in their homes.  A parent or two, and a couple of siblings, together sitting on the floor.  Rarely will a child of 5 or younger participate for more than 5 minutes.  Older kids may hang in for 15 or more. The parent will finish up the allotted time …and then some.  When I return the following week, I will often hear that the little kid was singing the song we covered and messing around with their instruments the next day.
      So- for the experience of making music, your kid is ready, regardless of age. They do it every day. Having an instrument to experiment on will give them tools they may be craving. They learn songs by ear fast- and never forget them!
The first 3 songs (in our book)  can be played by very young kids, 3 and up. They are strumming on the open strings of the ukulele, learning basic rhythm. Great developmentally appropriate goal!
But to really be able to play the instrument… probably 7-9 years is a realistic expectation.
They are NEVER too young to see and hear YOU learn to play!
What are you waiting for?!

Kids, Hospitals and Ukes

What a great idea!  Kids in hospitals being given ukuleles under the guidance of music therapists!

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Got Fleas?

 

On Monday I talked with Corey Bergman by phone as he walked the beach in Floridian. The man who founded the Ukulele Kids Club Inc with his wife Edda in January 2014 with the mission of donating ukuleles to children’s hospitals nationwide for music therapy programs is as enthusiastic as he is energetic. I have a feeling he never sits still.  He thought COLOR-ALONG Ukulele would be a great tool for the therapists working with the kids. A nice stack of books will be heading their way thanks to the generosity of Kickstarter supporters who have chosen the donation rewards.

Check out his website, read the article in the issue of Ukulele Magazine with Jake Shimummicantpronounceit on the cover. It will make you happy. I am doubly happy that we will be sending him some books!

We have 7 days left of our Kickstarter campaign, which ends 4/1/15.

If you would like to send books their way you can specify in your pledge and I will be sure the books are sent their way and happily double the number of books per-pledge sent. Click here to visit the Kickstarter page.

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Coming soon to a library near you!

It’s All About the Kids… and the Booze

aka: Academia de Ukuleles de la Ribera / Consider the Cazuela

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See, I had this idea that I would write an extended metaphor about how the new uke program started by the Club Ukulele Laguna with the La Semana de Uke-Culinary retreat folks and the mixing of a great cocktail are complicated miracles, that when all the elements are assembled with art, love and diligence the result is magic.  And then I’d reference MFK Fisher…  but really, it’s just all about the kids and the booze.

Kids first, drink recipe later. Priorities!

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First strums and smiles. That’s what the ukulele is all about.

Rounding up enough instruments for the program was step one, but throwing a bunch of instruments out into the wild won’t make it happen.  It is the fun part, though, and that was where Daniel came in.  We had the pleasure of passing out a batch of 14 Ohana ukuleles, purchased by and hand carried down to Ajijic, Mexico by the La Semana de Uke-Culinary retreat participants.

Here they come, ukes in hand!

Here they come, ukes in hand!

The hard work, organizing the program, getting the ukes together and into the country, putting together the program, finding the teacher… was done mainly by Elaine DeMann, ukulele raconteur, and Ajijic denizens Sheila Ruof and Judy King.

The wonderful Sheila- as feisty as she is dedicated!

The wonderful Sheila- as feisty as she is dedicated!

Material support has streamed in from the local ukulele club, the CUL Kids. They have provided additional instruments to the growing program; a classroom set of our forthcoming book, COLOR-ALONG Ukulele (just a few more days left to pre-order!) and have raised funds to pay a teacher.

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***Tonight, March 24, 2015 is their FUNDRAISER event!  If you happen to be in Ajijic… ***

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Everybody loves Lalo! Elaine and Sheila are no exception.

The teacher: the key element in making it all work, and boy, did they get lucky on this front!  José Eduardo García Espinoza, aka “Lalo” is a beautiful musician and human.  His kind smile and relaxed, modest manner melt any resistance. The kids love him and are inspired to impress.  Young, handsome, approachable, he is an accomplished musician and an experienced teacher who can create an atmosphere of passion and discipline. Lalo has been working with the kids every week at the community center, and the videos we have seen show just how focused they are.  They have progressed beautifully.

Lalo, who plays guitar and a host of other strings is fairly new to the uke.  Underrepresented and hard to find  in Mexico, he picked up a very basic starter soprano while in the capitol about a year ago, and fell in love.  Louis Wu at Ohana has generously offered to send Lalo a tenor-sized cut-away with a pick-up fit for a professional.

NOW, on to THE BOOZE!!!!

Kristi and Ross didn't like theirs at all!

Kristi and Ross didn’t like theirs at all!

A Cazuela, a clay bowl, is used to serve the epimonus drink.  Elaine had commemorative bowls inscribed for La Semana de Uke-Culiaria which we drained and took home.  I believe her secret recipie, passed down from her mother who was an event caterer, used pepsi.  Maybe there was some other stuff in there too. Vodka? You can’t fault me if I don’t remember…  It was a highlight of the trip.   This one looks simple to make.  Try it out- invite me over!

2 oz tequila
1 dash salt
1 sliced lime
1 sliced orange
1 sliced grapefruit
1 sliced lemon
1 tsp grenadine syrup
fill with Squirt® citrus soda

In a cazuela that is made of clay, put ice, salt, a slice of lime, orange, lemon, and grapefruit. Add grenadine, tequila, and fill with squirt. Use a straws to shake, and serve. Hilarity will ensue.

CHEERS!!!!!

CHEERS!!!!!

Between a Uke and a Hard Place

Bringing ukuleles to Haiti or India- isn’t that a bit frivillous?

Yes. It is. Ukuleles are silly and fun. But you know if you have ever been in a hard place, love and joy can lift you on to your feet. Here are a few stories about Haiti and India and ukuleles and love.

Kids being....kids! The power of play should not be underestimated.

Kids being….kids! The power of play should not be underestimated.

Two ladies I know with similar names, Laurie and Lori know a lot about this. Lori Goldberg is the Mother of Global Family Philanthropy. Daniel and I went to Haiti with her a few years ago with a dozen ukuleles in tow. Laurie Kallevig leads the Survivor Girl Ukulele Band. She is playing ukulele in India right now with a group of girls (and boys!) who have been victims of human traficking.  It’s not about discovering the next virtuoso– although you never know– it probably won’t help any one of them make a living (I can tell you how well it’s working for me!) It is about else-something essential and intangible: hope.

With your help we will be sending both groups support materials, CDs and copies of COLOR-ALONG Ukulele.  (The Kickstarter campaign is almost over- If you wish to order a copy or fund a program make sure you get in before April 1!)

Because of their dangerous situation, the girls faces do not appear in photos, but you know there is a huge smile just out of frame.

Because of their dangerous situation, the girls faces do not appear in photos, but you know there is a huge smile just out of frame.

Read this blog post of Lauries–It will help you understand…  Why Does She Love Me? is about one of her girls, facing her struggle to understand love. Laurie now has two “chota teachers”(little teachers) helping her- her first part time employees! All the stories in her blog are so beautiful I can not do them justice by exerpting, I suggest you read them through.

Nice ride!

Nice ride!

The Haitian taxi is a pickup-truck. Rain or shine, 15-50 people sit and stand in the bed of old Toyotas and bump up and down the roads. Rain or shine, you get a great view from there.

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Not only did I see the lives of the people who live there, washing laundry in streams, cookig by the roadside, but I got to see my own life flash before my eyes quite a few times.

The end of the commute to the orphanage was always the best part. As we crackled up the rocky drive the children would stream out of the whitewashed concrete block home, running to greet the truck, chanting “gee-tar, gee-tar!!!!!”  (Their name for the the ukuleles)  until we had taken them down from the wall and passed them around for the day’s first impromptu lesson.

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I have no dillusions about my impact on other people’s lives- I fully realize that the gift I recieved was greater than anything I left behind. The laughter and the joy, the love I felt will be with me always and has made my life better.

Laurie has given a huge part of her life to the girls in India, and I think she would be the first tell you how much she is receiving in return.

There are many ways to be rich.

Be frivilous with your wealth, indulge in joy. Laugh. Play. With love, the more you give away, the more you have.

Ukulele Lending Library

Imagine this- flash a library card and you can check out an instrument for a month at a time. Now that is civilized! Further proof that libraries are the greatest of human institutions: ukulele collections!

Kids of all ages(!) play ukes from the Killian Mansfield Collection at the Phoenicia Library grand re-opening in January!

Kids of all ages(!) play ukes from the Killian Mansfield Collection at the Phoenicia Library grand re-opening in January.

The Killian Mansfield Ukulele Collection at the Phoenicia Library in upstate New York has 30 ukuleles to loan. Their neighbor, the Olive Library West Shokan NY has followed suit and has a new ukulele collection.  We are thrilled to be sending books both of these libraries to compliment their collection!  Our Kickstarter campaign for our forthcoming book COLOR-ALONG UKULELE offers supporters to buy books to be donated to some great causes.  These libraries are among them, and I would like to tell you a little more about them.

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Phoenicia Library does after school ukulele programs for elementary and middle grade students.  The library sponsors regular family ukulele classes, jams and occasional performances.  However, the library is woefully understocked in the ukulele teaching/learning materials department. (Let’s help them out there, shall we?)

Here is what a board member Mark Lerner had to say about the library:

“The Phoenicia Library is located in the high peaks of NY’s Catskill Mountains. The library is the heart of our rural community, providing books, information, meeting space, internet access, and programming for children and adults. The 2011 fire led us to an ambitious rebuilding project (entirely paid for by grants, insurance, and private donations), and the newly re-opened library is the first American library built to Passive House specifications, a rigorous standard for energy efficiency that reduces our energy consumption by over 80%. In addition to the Killian Mansfield Ukulele Collection, the library houses the Jerry Bartlett Memorial Angling Collection, a museum of fly-fishing that also lends out fishing rods.”

Mark is a great artist- both visual and musical, and a great friend and currently lives in Phoenicia. Go to his website, or check out his blog, Every Band I’ve Ever Been In.  You can also see his fine work on both of my CDs– he did the graphic design.

And he is the graphic designer for  COLOR-ALONG UKULELE, our method-coloring book being funded on Kickstarter right now.   You can pre-order books until April 1 at reduced cost for yourself or for your favorite ukulele program.

Speaking of libraries- tomorrow I will be doing a children’s program at the Memorial Branch Library in Los Angeles at 10 am. Come show off your library card and sing with me!

Coming soon to a library near you!

Coming soon to a library near you!

49

49: The first perfect square where the digits are perfect squares. The nickname for plutonium. The year associated with the California Gold Rush. San Francisco’s football team. The number of days Siddhartha spent meditating.  The number appearing in the title of my favorite (and perhaps the only accessible) Thomas Pynchon novel, The Crying of Lot 49. 

And, as of 10:10 am March 4th, 2015– my age.

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When I turned 40 I suddenly realized how young I was. Now, I  realize I am not so young. I rejoice to be coming into a perfect number at the same time that our cultural zeitgeist begins to reject its distaste for maturity. At the crest of “the hill” there is a heckofa view. You can see the horizon at either end: the vantage point of middle age. It is clarifying.

I know who I am, I know where I am going and where I want to go. I know what I want to do and I know how to do it, but I am still ready and able to learn (witness: I am dutifully removing all my double-spaces-after-periods). I understand how much more time I may have (if I am lucky), and I hold each of those days dear.

I am proud to pass this milestone with my sleeves rolled up. On this day I will sing with 7 classes of preschoolers at two different schools, and be rewarded by wet-nosed hugs more precious than gold and more virulent than an ICU. I will spend at least 4 hours driving my car back and forth across LA in the service of my children, and I will enjoy their company and hear their stories on the drive and be glad for every hour-per-mile we creep. My morning will start with making breakfast and packing lunches and my day will end with doing dishes– a testament to our wealth and good fortune.

…And I will excitedly check on our Kickstarter project as it rapidly nears it’s  funding goal, and know that maybe the crazy idea I have of connecting through music isn’t quite so crazy after all. In fact, it is the best birthday present there is!