Wednesday, January 18, 2012

the blukuleles—or how to form a group to learn anything

When one is prone to impulsive, hare-brained ideas like buying a blue ukulele with a dolphin jumping across it simply because it is adorable—
—is it a good or bad thing to have friends who are equally loony enthusiastic?
One way to learn something—anything—is to form a group for it. We were all once active homeschooling moms, so it only took a bit of idle talk and a few phone calls to get this thing going. There were no meetings, no person in charge, just a mutually understood agreement that we were going to learn together in a way we knew worked well. Here is how our little learning collective is set up:

  1. We have a name so that everything related to this experience can be easily tagged and recognized.
  2. We share resources with each other, in person and via a shared Dropbox folder.
  3. We have two experienced musicians who can lead us through the process. This was just luck, but I certainly recommend having expert guidance whenever possible.
  4. Early on we set the rule of no self-deprecation. Women, especially, can be prone to saying things like, "You sound so good. I sound terrible..." Not with us. Such statements get quashed immediately by everyone else in the room.
  5. We have fun—admittedly, a given with the ukulele—but are also serious. Meeting times are held to. There is no off-topic chatter. We move fast and try to have a plan for each meeting.
  6. We set goals, ranging from learning a particular song, to playing onstage in one's existing band, to joining other area playalong groups.
  7. And we check in and track our progress: chords learned, songs memorized, patterns recognized, skills built. In this way we can see the concrete results from each practice session.
Group learning isn't for everyone or everything, but it can work very well in the right situation. Years ago, I used this same idea in setting up a knitting class—a class which has since turned into an ongoing knitting group for the last 13 years. And it's the concept behind Young Makers and most every homeschooling cooperative activity. When you're committed to a group, you're less likely to make excuses about practice time and more likely to just find a way to make it happen. If you do fall behind, you are motivated to catch up so as not to slow others down.

Most importantly, a group has multiple eyes, ears and hands. As each person shares a new song, a fingering tip or a video they've discovered, we amplify the learning process for everyone.

It's a clichĂ©, but energy truly is infectious. A good group will encourage progress, cheer each step, and solidify your identity as an ukulele player (or whatever you choose). With our little blue ukes, we are on our way—


  1. You are so much fun Suzie! Love the energy and fun of it all!

  2. This is so awesome! If I lived there, I would SO want to join you guys. What a great photo! You guys are inspiring.

    1. Teleportation--the answer to everything!

      I'd love to have you play with us!!


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