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A first timer’s guide to… Playing the ukulele

Jamie Glassman tunes in to a London-wide musical subculture
A first timer’s guide to… Playing the ukulele
November 14, 2016   |    Jamie Glassman

The ukulele – or ‘uke’ as I now call it after my taster session with Lorraine Bow – bills itself as the one of world’s easiest instruments to master, though the kazoo may have some beef with that.

Lorraine’s promise is that even idiots like me who’ve never played anything beyond a pair of maracas will be able to knock out a couple of songs by the end. And she was right – just about.


There were 30 of us packed into a room above a pub in Southwark, and it was here I learned how to strum, how a chord should sound and how to hold the damn thing. Lorraine gave us each a ukulele with coloured dots on where the fingers of our left hand should go while we strummed a few chords with our right (flip that if you’re a lefty).

So it’s your ring finger on the red dot to play a ‘C’ chord, your index and middle fingers on the blue dots to play an ‘F’, etc. I say ‘etc’ as it’s all about the ‘G’. The ‘C’ and the ‘F’ are easy.

But throw in the yellow dots of the ‘G’ and I regressed into a woeful maracas player.

I shared a table with three lovely Italian women and I’d like to take this opportunity to apologise to them for singing The Lion Sleeps Tonight with way too much gusto to cover up for my lousy ‘G’s. After that we learned to play Let It Be and, with the same four chords in a different order, Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off. Talk about musical diversity!


The key, of course, is not ‘G’ but to keep on keeping on. ‘Practise makes… not completely awful’ as the saying goes, and this taster session was a gateway into a subculture that includes classes, jams and bands. It was great fun. In an ideal world it would have been a bit cheaper but it’s easy to be critical. Or, in the words of Ms Swift, ‘haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, but I’m just gonna shake it off, shake it off…’

What would you like Jamie to try next? Tweet us @BalanceLDN


Suitable for everyone

Taster is £28 on the door

90 minutes




A recipe for creativity

Rediscover cooking from scratch, creatively layering flavours to suit your mood. Adding a grind of this and a pinch of that, stirring, simmering and fine-tuning is good for your soul. It’s a sensory experience – particularly baking, with its decorative touches – and delivers the benefits of other focused creative activity.
Calm by Michael Acton Smith is published by Penguin Life, £6.99

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