Drum Roll…..

April 1, 8 PM we will raise a glass and toast all the people who have kicked in to make sure COLOR-ALONG Ukulele comes into being!

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Do I wish I could do this without crowd funding? Yes!  But…  I am not saying it is a bad thing. I learn so much about the art of asking, and every time I ask, I clarify what it is I really want to do.

I want to share music, and see the positive effects it has on people’s lives.  All ages of people- in as many possible places and situations as I can reach.  I want to see people connect. I am powerless to do more than any other voter in the grand scheme of the world.  I am trapped in the consuming cycle of the society I was fortunate enough to be born into.

I don’t see myself going Ted Kozynsky or Mother Theresa, but I do feel like I am doing what I can to make a difference: teach, laugh, play, share.  That’s what I got, and I am grateful to be recieving the validation and support I need to move forward with my work.

If you have been waiting for the final hours…  they have come!

After I empty that glass in your honor I will probably be even more maudlin than usual, so I will stay away from the computer.

CHEERS!!!!

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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?!

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!

All for uke and uke for ALL!

As you may know I am a BIG fan of music’s magical power to bring people together.  The songs we know connect us to people and places far and near.  Starting with the bond of lullaby and ending with the bagpipe’s requiem, music is with us all our lives.  I could go on and on… in fact, I do!

Family style!

Family style!  Photo by Jill Richards

I did just the other day to October Crifasi, who is writing an article for Ukulele Magazine about ukulele for kids (that’s the same magazine which had me on their cover last spring!).  We talked, among other things, about family music- how great it is to teach parents and kids together.  The bond it creates within the family, the service it does for both parent and child.  You can read about it in Ukulele Magazine’s next issue (unless they decide to not print it- you never know).

Or you can come and live the experience!  I have two series classes for families starting up:  A four-Saturday session starting February 28th at 10:30 am at Uspace– the new downtown LA ukulele shop-school-venue-cafe located in the Japanese American Cultural Center.  (I am also working on a week long kid’s ukulele summer camp there. More on that soon)

And a 3-Saturday 10:30 am series at McCabes in Santa Monica starting March 28th.

I am also hard at work on a book! If you have taken a class with me before you have probably taken home at least one of my handouts.  I have been illustrating my lessons, and when I teach an all-ages class I always have Art Stix  or crayons on hand to give the kids who get antsy mid lesson.  They can do some coloring while the adults keep playing.  They make their own songbooks, and by the end of a semester or session they have.. a bunch of sheets of paper that all get lost.

So- I decided it’s time to get it together!  Our current project is a ukulele method book with illustrations and companion recordings.  Copies will be available to pre-order through Kickstarter soon.  You will be hearing all about that once the campaign is launched!  The art by El Rey is FANTASTIC!  here is a sneak peek at the cover-

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So much going on! So many festivals coming up, concerts for families… I have not had a chance to post photos from all the great things that have just happened- like the trip to Mexico…. AMAZING!  If I can get the time together to make it back to the computer I will be popping some pictures up here as well as updating our schedule for the spring.  So many great opportunities to share music!  How lucky are we?

RIB FEST

we LOVE Oklahoma!

we LOVE Oklahoma!

The BBQ truck we found in Sperry, OK was a revalation!  See that little trailer?  From it emerged the best darn BBQ we had ever had in our LIVES!

Prime Rib day at Buffalo BBQ

Prime Rib day at Buffalo BBQ

It is definitly easier to play a great show on a full stomache.  Like this one at the Downtown Tulsa Library…

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After 6 shows in 3 days we trucked into Kansas City.  The canjo has become everyone’s favorite instrument.  It is being worked into the set big time!

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Once we got to KC we  had an early morning of breakfast in the room and then we visited the local morning news show, did a show at the Children’s Museum, and Jammed at Jiggle Jam, the biggest Kid’s Music fest around!

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And of COURSE we had to try world-famous KC BBQ!  I’d be hard pressed to pick a winner…

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GOOOOOOD EATIN!

We were thrilled to play with some great old friends like the Sugar Free AllStars and Brandon Draper as well as jam with new friends like the Okie Dokie Brothers and KC artists, Jim Cosgrove and Dino O’Dell.

loading in- tuba, 3 ukes, cajon, percussion tuba, coronet, bass, electric guitar and CANJO!

loading in- tuba, 3 ukes, cajon, percussion tuba, coronet, bass, electric guitar and CANJO!

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Eeintsy-weeintsy spiders with the the SFA

Boy are we BEAT!

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Into the Eye of the Storm

Truckin

Truckin

We are on the road again!

Before we even left LA we had a VERY IMPORTANT errand to run- We picked up my new Dirndl from Cocoe Voci’s studio. I am thrilled to have a new uniform, so beautifully constructed and lovingly designed by my sweet friend.  THANK YOU, Cocoe!

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Our first stops in NM were fun and chili filled.  Great start in Gallup, NM with a school show and uke workshop at Nizhoi Music, the studio of our  lovely hostess, Antoinette Neff.

 Then on to Albuquerque where we had the BEST DAY EVER!  First, we finished mastering MY CUP OF TEA.  Celebration dinner at Cervantes (hotttest red chili in the Q) and then on to the new Star Trek movie!  Woo HOO!

We brought music to the ACSL family and then on to Santa Fe, where we enjoyed making music for a private party.  The night started with John and Daniel playing flamenco and ended with leading a campfire style sing along.  

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The next morning we took the OhanaMobile to Jeff at Lucky Saab, where we did a ghetto fix on the AC with bread ties and zip ties.

Master mechanic and apprentice

Master mechanic and apprentice

We were tipped off to the storms blowing in and delayed our departure.  We were driving straight towards Oklahoma City as the storms ripped through Moore. The skies were ominous and filled with fear and pain.  We sang the song “Little Birdie” as a prayer for the people in the path, and are going to share that song in our Kickstarter update this week.

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We arrived in Tulsa with heavy hearts at 2 am, but the children who greeted us the next morning at Connors Cove were as audatious and ebulent as children ever are.  We had two bopping shows and look forward to 4 more shows at 4 other libraries in the next two days before we ship off for Kansas City.

We are telling everyone we meet about the new CD and the Kickstarter campaign which has two more weeks to go.  We are getting close to our goal and hope to exceed it handsomly so we can both pay musicians and move forward with PR for the album.  If you have not had a chance please pledge now!  Click here (MY CUP OF TEA) to go to the page where you will be able to hear songs, see art, read about the process and become part of the fun! 

West Coast Ukulele Retreat

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Beautiful people in a beautiful place!
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Magical Monterrey Peninsula is the perfect place to breathe deep and spend a calm, centering week at a retreat.
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Or NOT!
The West Coast Ukulele Retreat went completly WILD!
Five crazy days of teaching and four nights of wild ukulele carrousal have plum wore me out.
They saw me coming

They saw me coming

Asilomar is a beautiful place, built 100 years ago by Julia Morgan, the architect who designed Hearst Castle.  The cedar shingled buildings are stately inside and out.  It is a priveledged place to rest and play.
I wish I had gotten my camera out, but my hands were on the instrument all day and night.
After teaching from 9-6 we would gather again in the evening and that’s when things got wild.

Mr and Mrs Chin chop it up!

Mr and Mrs Chin chop it up!

And it would go on, and on and on!  Jamming till 3 am!  Elaine De Mann can sure put on a heck of an event!

Now THAT's a BIG UKE, Gerald Ross!

Now THAT’s a BIG UKE, Gerald Ross!

I need a little rest after that retreat.  But…  none for the wicked!  Time to pack up and shove out on tour.  Wednesday I drive out of LA, first stop, Gallup, NM! (lets hope I can get the AC fixed on the car before that)

In the meantime….   Have you checked out the KICKSTARTER project yet?!!!