I finally made it again to the latest Steel City Ukuleles meetup, after an absence of almost two months! What happened?
Part of what happened was that after the last meeting in mid-January, I had some battles with illness and fatigue and also got very busy. For whatever reason, I just plain lost interest in playing ukulele. It was like a switch flipped off. And each time a meetup came, I kind of intended to attend anyway, in hope of rekindling my interest, but it always turned out that something came up that was more important and so I missed two meetings in February that I otherwise did sign up for but canceled at the last minute.
But on a deeper level, what happened was that in mid-January, right before the last meetup I attended, I learned that a boy I have been giving private chess lessons to was progressing rapidly in piano; his mother had sent me some video clips, and he played various pieces that were dear to me. This really shook my world, because I had “given up” on piano many times in my life, and never studied or practiced it seriously. Over two years ago, I wrote a little about this.
In particular, seeing a kid playing pieces that I never mastered made me feel deep regret that I had not stuck to teaching myself piano or getting professional instruction at some point in my life. So almost immediately upon learning about what he was up to, I decided to give piano a shot again. As a result, I completely dropped ukulele and flute, and focused my limited music time on recorder (in maintenance mode mostly) and piano.
I got from the library not only the Alfred adult piano course again, but also the fantastic Carl Humphries “Piano Handbook” as well as “Piano Workbook”. They are really good. I wish this kind of self-teaching material had existed two or three decades ago. I would have snapped it up.
Anyway, I have been making more progress on piano than I ever did twenty years ago when I last really tried. This has been exciting.
Ukulele influence on piano playing
The interesting thing is that even before I started practice, I was already instantly better than ever before. I was initially surprised, but then realized that everything I’ve done on ukulele has magically helped me at piano even without my touching the instrument. In particular:
- left hand strength and coordination came simply from playing ukulele
- awareness of harmonic changes and coordination with melody came from the multitasking and partial improvisation of singing and strumming simultaneously
So I’ve been delighted that once again, improving at one musical instrument is helping me with other instruments as well.
Piano influence on ukulele playing
All through February, I wasn’t in the mood to play ukulele at all. But by March, I suddenly felt the itch to pick up the instrument again, and I did, and magically found that I was playing much better than I had ever before. Again, I was initially surprised. But maybe I should not have been:
- left hand precision and flexibility was considerably improved, leading to better chord changes (with less sight) as well as much better barring and also finally nailing certain hard chords such as the basic E chord
- spatial awareness of moving up the fret board was improved
- singing and sight-reading chord changes simultaneously became much easier
Returning to the meetup
I was having so much fun working on some songs for myself on ukulele while singing much better than ever, that I was happy to return to the Steel City Ukuleles meetup to do this with others. (Also, during the winter I confess to feeling somewhat antisocial and not excited about driving through cold, snow, and ice to meetups, frankly.)
I had a great time! I especially enjoyed, in the final minutes of the session, when it was request time, that I requested “My Favorite Things” and we went through it. I love that song (and this was also when I noticed that I could play an E chord without much effort, actually).
Someone told me that in February, she had brought in Chinese cookies from Hong Kong that her son had given her, to share with me for Chinese New Year, but I had not showed up. It was touching that I was missed.
Apparently the New Year party featuring wine and snacks was so popular that every meeting since then has involved wine and snacks (including this time a bottle of wine brought by a guy whose father makes wine)!
I was really hungry and ate some cookies, so here are photos according to my rule:
The following turned out not to really be a cookie, but was some kind of bread with cheese or something. It was not my thing, and if I had known, I would not have taken it, but once I bit into it, I had to finish it:
It’s still going to hard to juggle practicing all the instruments I have, but it’s encouraging that working intensively on one seems to transfer benefits to playing another. So I’m going to keep working on piano while also maintaining ukulele. I have to confess it’s hard to do much with recorder or flute at the moment though. They’ve been put on the back burner.