Friday, 12 April 2013

Uke Can Change Your Life!

If you've been following me on facebook you'll know that I recently acquired a ukulele from Mummy Dearest as an early birthday present.  And OMG, it's the fucking best!  (Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mummy!)

It all started with a casual, "Y'know I'm thinking about getting a ukulele.  How hard could it be?"  And now I'm all, "How did I live without this for so long?"

As much as I love and live for music I could never have anticipated how much joy I am getting from this teeny tiny guitar.  I can easily understand how ukulele enthusiasts make the claim that the ukulele can change the world.  Amanda Palmer speculates about what might have happened if people like Sid Vicious or Lizzie Borden had played the ukulele:


(I found out about this song because of Jo Eberhardt from The Happy Logophile, a terrific blog for aspiring writers.  Go check her out!)

Ms. Palmer is totally right.  Everyone should play the ukulele!  Here's why:

Physical Therapy

The original reason I wanted to get a ukulele is because of my arthritis.  I play bass guitar and I've been trying to play more of it lately before my arthritis gets worse and I can't play it at all.  The problem with my bass is that it's heavy, needs a heavy amplifier to go with it, and is therefore not very portable.  I figured a nice lightweight little uke might be the answer to this problem.

What I didn't anticipate was the therapeutic benefits.  Ever since I started playing this ukulele my fingers feel better.  They are stronger and have more dexterity.  This is amazing for someone who experiences pain just by wringing out a cloth.

Mental Health

Another fun thing about arthritis is that living with chronic pain makes my anxiety worse.  Yay!  I am not medicated for anxiety so I have a list of coping mechanisms that are usually pretty good at getting me through day to day living.

Unfortunately after a whole winter of dealing with the pain my coping mechanisms just aren't working anymore.  I figured I was just stuck living with it until the summer came back and the sun made me feel better.  I say this with no hyperbole whatsoever: with just one strum of the ukulele my anxiety disappeared.

There's just something so light-hearted and euphonic about the ukulele that it is impossible to fear and feel sick.  I would have wept with relief if I hadn't been so damned happy.  This is something that not even my bass playing does for me.  And even if it could, my anxiety is most unbearable at night when the kids are sleeping and I worry about waking them up.  But the ukulele can be nice and soft and quiet.  It doesn't bother anyone.

It's just the happiest little instrument in the world!

Now, every time I start having dark and terrible thoughts I pick up my uke wherever I am and they just vanish.  The benefits to my mental health were so amazing that I looked into it and apparently lots of people play the ukulele for therapy.  This ex-naval officer uses it to treat his PTSD.  There a good number of pediatric hospitals that ask for donations of ukuleles for bedridden children and there was this study that showed how playing the ukulele improved the quality of life for senior citizens by making them feel more positive and in control.

You can get these benefits from playing other instruments, it's true, but the ukulele is so easy to play that you don't have to have much skill or talent to enjoy it.

Mood Regulation

Here's an amazing thing I tried yesterday.  I could see that Frick was close to melting down over a homework project.  He was breathing heavy and trying to calm himself down and his eyes were full of frustrated tears.  I could see I was in for a struggle.  The day before I taught him the chords for "Let It Be" so instead of arguing with him about the homework I handed him the ukulele and told him to play it.

And he did.

It was like magic.  Instead of melting down his frustration just melted away.  We were able to sit there and come up with better strategies for tackling the homework.  Instead of having to issue a series of timeouts for him to get his emotions under control, listening to him hurl abuses at me through a door because I'm so rotten for making him do his homework, he hugged me and thanked me for helping him.  He was happy.

But you know, you don't have to have health issues to enjoy the ukulele.  Get one and you can be the life of the party, local park, city bus, camp fire, or wherever.  You can play anything you want and you don't even have to be good at it.  Did you know that learning an instrument helps improve your memory and reduce stress?  Did you know that kids who learn an instrument have higher IQ's, better math skills and improved coordination?

I can't believe you're still sitting there reading this.  Go out and get a ukulele already!  Go to your music store, buy one second hand from Kijiji, hell you can even make your own from an old cigar box.  What are you waiting for?  

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