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Saturday, May 17, 2014

Ukulele: A Lesson in Writing


Recently, I decided rather on a whim to buy a ukulele.

Because my varied interests aren't quirky enough.

I'll admit that I've been thinking for some time of picking one up. I mean, every time I'd see one it would make me giggle. Giggle. Not only is it cute and ridiculously small, they also come in eye-searing colors and the occasional one shaped like a pineapple or other fruit. Like a watermelon.

Aside from the fact that they make me smile, I'm familiar enough with music and musical instruments to realize that yes, you have to put time and effort into learning it. Granted, I've only had my relatively inexpensive Makala Dolphin soprano uke for about two months. I can already strum a handful of tunes.

The point is that I'm seeing music--and by extension my writing--in a different light again.

The ukulele by nature begs to not to be taken seriously. Four nylon strings. An undeniably pleasant sound. All of this in a world of popular music that's sometimes heavy on perfect electronic sounds, autotune, and a ridiculous amount of instruments and layers and layers of sound.

The ukulele has forced me to pare down what I think of when I look at a piece of music. To see its bare bones. To see the piece for what it is, or was in the hands of another musician. To see what it could become if slower, or faster. Strummed rather than plucked, or vice versa. To work with my voice, rather than against it. It's hard for a uke to drown out other instruments or someone's singing voice. To work within the bounds of my current skill set--and to see where it can be taken beyond.

Even Jake Shimaburkuro, a uke virtuoso (yes, just watch this, seriously), says that there would be more peace in the world if only everyone played ukulele.

I watched him say in a video that it's easy to see those four little strings as limiting, that you always want more strings, more sound, more more more. "If you know what you're trying to say, or what you're trying to communicate, then sometimes you can just do it with three strings rather than four."

The uke has helped me see that it's not the instrument that's limiting, it's your mindset. The instrument is just that--the tool, the object of where you focus your emotional energy to convey what you want to say.

It's made me look at my writing styles, and the way in which I present my voice. To see the bones of what I do, or what I'm trying to convey. Sometimes that means simplifying. Editing heavier. Sometimes that means switching up genres, trying genres I've shied away from for various reasons. With short stories (I'm really a more of a novel writer), it's showing me how to get to the point in a small amount of space, to pare down the conflict to its most important parts.

To use just four strings. 5,000 words in a short story. Or 500 in a blog post.

And most of all: HAVE FUN. 


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