Thursday January 5, 2012


Learn To Play The Ukulele

Train's Soul Sister and Mraz's I'm Yours show the instrument is alive and well in pop music

Released by Graham Yates, CAM


dult learners continue to be captivated by the recent craze over the ukulele. Once thought of as the disposable, silly instrument from music class in childhood, the "uke" has become a stepping stone for people looking to finally take up music for fun. Not only is it an easy and versatile instrument to learn, but it is also nearly impossible to play - well or poorly - without bursting into smiles and laughter.


Professionals, too, have been picking up the ukulele to add a folksy element of heart to their sound. Last year, Eddie Vedder released an all-ukulele album. Then there's the ever popular uke version of "Over the Rainbow" featured on Glee last season. CBC Radio recently did a segment on "Ruby's Ukes," a music studio in Vancouver, and the therapeutic qualities of learning the ukulele.

Last summer, the Chilliwack Academy of Music launched a ukulele program for adults called Uke Club. The idea was to encourage families to learn music together by spending one evening a week in a ukulele class. "We decided to run it as a drop-in class," says Academy Principal Graham Yates. "We had no idea if it would run or be a complete failure. It was a risk." But the class was a hit, not with families, but with groups of adult friends and couples.


"One night we packed 26 people into a small classroom," Yates continues. "That's when I knew we'd hit on something good, something worth nurturing."



Several of the participants bought their own instruments during the course of the series of classes (they had previously borrowed from the Academy's stock) and showed them off proudly to their fellow students. Many were sorry when the classes ended and wanted to know what was next. One participant even signed up for private ukulele lessons last fall, the Academy's first and so far only student devoted to that instrument.

As a result of the summer program, the Academy now offers beginning ukulele group classes periodically throughout the year in two levels: four weeks of Level 1 lead into four more weeks of Level 2. But after eight weeks - then what? The solution: "Uke Club 3.0" a self-directed weekly gathering of ukulele enthusiasts that will test run this month.

"Uke Club 3.0 is different from any class we've offered. We've chosen to take it out of the classroom and into the coffee shop to help establish the right atmosphere," Yates explains.


The "class" will meet Wednesdays at 7 pm in the meeting room at Decades Coffee Club. The first meeting is January 11, but if you miss it, don't worry.


Participants can buy punch cards so that they can drop in whenever it is convenient for them, rather than have to pay a tuition fee and risk losing out if they can't make every class.

It's also not the kind of class where learning progresses in a straight line. It's an example of group learning: you can pick up a tip from someone who's more advanced, and share one with someone who's still a beginner.


"We've also kept the cost low $30 for 6 classes to encourage commitment, cover the rent, but keep it affordable," said Yates.

Rod Swanson, who teaches the classroom version of Uke Club and compiled the "official" Uke Club Songbook, may drop by from time to time as a mentor. But the idea is that people who are at least a little bit competent on the instrument (either through their own experience or by taking Uke Club Levels 1 and 2) will set the pace.


"Maybe one week someone will bring in a chord chart they'd like to share and someone else will teach a strumming pattern they picked up on You Tube. People can also work on perfecting the songs they began learning in the Levels and start adding to the official Uke Club repertoire."


Ultimately, Yates says, he'd like to form out of Uke Club a thriving ukulele band in Chilliwack that can give performances and continue to attract adults who struggled with music lessons in the past or never had time to learn.

"Making music is such a gift. You might think you're giving it to yourself, but then realize you are actually giving to others. You don't have to be a guitar-type person to pick up the ukulele, either. I'm a classical pianist, and I've become quite fanatic about this class and about the uke I bought last summer."


He has taken ukulele hero Jake Shimabukuro's quote to heart: "If everyone played the ukulele, the world would be a better place."

More information about ukulele programs, Uke Club Levels and Uke Club 3.0 are available at the Chilliwack Academy of Music registration desk in the Cultural Centre, by calling 604-792-0790 or by visiting




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