3 Ukulele Lessons for Humanity

The tiny self, working in harmony, and small changes to change the world:
three ukulele lessons for humanity

There is a reason you are here. The exact order of events that led you to the ukulele, wanting to learn to play, and joining this incredible community of music makers is unique to you. But your attraction to the ukulele likely has something to do with what it represents to all of us as humans. Especially today, in a world where humanity seems so divided, the ukulele represents three key aspects of human nature that remind us we are connected to each other in ways we rarely appreciate or realize.

So beyond ukulele lessons that teach you playing techniques or how to pick and strum a single song, here are Three Important Ukulele Lessons for Humanity:

1. We are Small and Limited

By definition, the ukulele is a tiny instrument. It has a body three-to-six times smaller than the average guitar, which usually equates to comparatively less volume, projection, and sustain. On top of that, ukuleles typically have a note range of around two octaves. Compare this to the four-octave range of a guitar (or seven-octave range of the piano) and you can easily see how this might limit the instrument's level of expression.

In the same way, we often feel just like the ukulele - small and limited. It can be difficult to fully express our thoughts and feelings with the resources at our disposal. Compared to others who seem to have far greater fame or reach, we sometimes feel like it's impossible to make an impact on the world around us using our small and limited voices.

Still, there is something embedded in each of us that recognizes the challenge in transcending our limitations. We celebrate those who recognize their limits and push beyond them. We have the ability to turn problems into puzzles, to get interested and engaged in the struggle of life.

Ian Emmerson playing a tiny ukulele
Ian Emmerson overcoming the smallness and limitations of possibly the tiniest playable ukulele in the world.

When asked about arranging particular songs on the ukulele, Jake Shimabukuro recalls, "I had to figure out a way to get around some of those complexities because I only had four strings and two octaves to work with. But it was always fun because it was kind of like a puzzle. You had to sit there and figure out, 'Ok, how do I make this song work?'"

The Ukulele Lesson:

Ukuleles remind us of our own limitations. But by choosing the ukulele, we recognize the limitations and embrace them anyway. We have taken up the challenge of living and while personal expression may sometimes be difficult, we do our best with our limited resources and revel in the fun of it.

2. We Work Best in Harmony

For most of us, the very first step of our ukulele journey involves learning how to hold and strum a simple chord. This is because, while the ukulele can be played using single notes, it really shines when playing two or more notes together in harmony. Holding a chord and strumming through all four strings produces a four-part harmony, where the strings express a particular blending of vibrations.

Similarly, the four aspects of ourselves - physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual - can resonate together in many different ways. When they compliment each other, the results are often beautiful. When they oppose each other or clash, we create discord. The better we get at recognizing and lining up various combinations of these aspects, like learning interesting variations of chords on the ukulele, the better we become at expressing our potential.

Also, while the ukulele can be played as a solo instrument, it works really well in groups. Because of its limited range, playing the ukulele among a variety of other instruments allows its strengths to shine while letting others fill in the frequencies that it lacks. In a group, diversity is an asset as long as everyone can listen intently to each other and work together in harmony.

Bryan Tolentino (ukulele) with Raiatea Helm & band
Bryan Tolentino (left) playing to the strengths of his ukulele while allowing each instrument in the band to shine.
The Ukulele Lesson:

Humanity's best asset is its diversity. The ukulele reminds us that as individuals, we have the ability to harmonize both internally, within ourselves, and externally with others and the planet. Working together turns the smallness and limitations of the individual into collective strength. Cooperation is key, both in creating wonderful music and solving humanity's biggest challenges.

3. We Have the Potential to Change The World

Play a G chord. Now, change just one note on one string (A string 2nd fret to A string 1st fret) to play a Gm chord. Notice how that single-fret shift on just one string changes the entire feeling of the chord. On the ukulele, small changes can have big results. A single note difference, used in the right way at the right time, has the potential to change the meaning of an entire song.

On the individual level, small changes may include shifting an opinion or reframing a situation. It may include breaking a bad habit or forming a new good one. Small changes don't seem like much but they are often credited for big results down the line.

Aldrine, Dominator, Kalei, and Brittni playing "Breezin'"
A bunch of ukulele friends playing "Breezin'." Midway through, Aldrine changes one note of the C chord (to a C5), drastically changing the entire feeling of the song.

At the very beginning of this month's episode of Uke Lessons (The Bob's Burgers Theme), Loren Bouchard, the creator of Bob's Burgers, left a wonderful message for everyone of Ukulele Underground. In it he describes Aldrine as a great teacher who is "actually a special superhero who's changing the world in his own way." The reality is we are all special superheroes. We are all changing the world in our own ways. It all starts with the little changes that we make.

The Ukulele Lesson:

It's easy to feel like an individual, disconnected from the people and ecosystems around us, like a single note in an orchestra of sound. But playing the ukulele reminds us that each note has its place and each vibration interacts with all others to create a collective sound. In reality, we are all inextricably linked, and the small changes we make have the potential to change the world.

Despite the fact that the ukulele is small and limited, the lessons that it represents to humanity are profound. As you continue on your musical journey, sharing your love for ukulele by harmonizing with anyone interested, keep these lessons in mind. Together we all have the potential to change the world.

Aloha,
-UU Staff

Comments

  1. I really enjoyed this newsletter! Especially the ‘Breezin’ video with Aldrine and the gang! Can’t wait to read more! This letter has taught me that no matter who I am or where I am from I can still play my part and harmonize my life with the rest of the world!

    Thanks Ukulele Underground!

  2. Amazing. More than ever we need this. Mahalo for your small expression which will have a big impact. Aloha.

  3. I just love this post. Thank you for taking the time to connect all these ukulele dots. -kc

  4. Thanks uke brothers for sharing. I’ll bring that up when the “Ukulele Boys” of Oregon practice this week.
    Aloha and Mahalo..
    Till we meet again…

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