Thursday, 10 November 2011

Confidence is music to my ears

Two years ago my musical instrument collection consisted of a solitary kazoo

I've never considered myself particularly talented outside of academia. I was always of the assumption that people were either creative or academic, that people thought in a spectrum of abstract to logical. As a result of this, I largely ignored musical instruments for a long time. Don't get me wrong, I love listening to music, but as someone that considers their talents to lie in traditionally less creative subjects I felt that being able to play would be beyond me.

I tried - I had a guitar that sat in the corner of my room, unused and unloved for two years because I didn't have the motivation to overcome the initial hurdle of practice without much in the way of feeling like I'd made any headway. The classic case of lack of success denting motivation to continue I suppose.

Fast forward a few years and I'm in my second year of my course. I'm not ashamed to say that I wasn't at my best personally at this point, so I saw a lot of my friends to keep my spirits up. One of the most unique things about them was the fact that they'd recently developed a love for the Ukulele as a result of one of them being given a Spongebob Squarepants Flying-V as a present. Going to visit was often followed by a rendition of the latest song they'd learned to play and soon I was attempting to pick up the basics, eventually leading to me picking up a small, cheap ukulele for Christmas that year.

My original soprano (left) and my electro-acoustic tenor (right)

The joy of the ukulele is how low the barrier to entry is compared to an instrument like a guitar. You have 4 nylon/gut strings spaced fairly far apart compared to 6 steel strings and the chords are as simple in some cases of one finger on one string at a time, which means you can play basic songs within minutes of picking a ukulele up for the first time. Not only that but the size makes it extremely accessible, allowing you to take it anywhere with you. 

The thing that really got me hooked was how easy it was to feel successful. Once I had the basics down, I started to play songs you wouldn't usually associate with a ukulele. I guess this is where the joy of Guitar Hero/Rock Band comes from - being able to play songs you never thought you could in real life. This feeling of success drove me to play more, which made me feel more successful, which lead me to play more, etc, etc. 

The thing that really drove me was more than the success, it was that other people were celebrating my success with me. I'd play together with friends, we'd teach each other songs and generally, and I think most importantly, have fun. This lead to a massive boost in self-esteem. I was good at something, something I never thought I'd be good at. I'd overcome the mental barrier of telling myself I can't do it and I did it. This was an incredible moment for me. What else could I do that I'd told myself, or for that matter been told, that I couldn't do?

Then I remembered the guitar (I mentioned it for a reason!) I had left lying around unattended for years. It had long since gone, so I picked up another. I practiced. The ukulele had given me a solid basis to transition - I recognised chord shapes, my fingers were more used to what was going on, my sense of rhythm had improved dramatically and again I had this sense of 'Wow, I'm doing it. I'm actually playing a guitar and it's not sounding bad'. It became an addiction. I loved playing, I loved this feeling of satisfaction it gave me and I loved this feeling of confidence it gave me. As of now, I own two ukuleles, a guitar, a tenor banjo and a mandolin. I've even become confident enough to open myself to a barrage of abuse on YouTube by sharing my songs with other people! The value of generating a sense of confidence cannot be overstated.


I started taking my ukulele into school, and that's where I really made the link to education. The kids loved singing songs, or hearing stories that went with a tune. They loved being a part of something that I loved doing. I even started using my ukulele as a classroom management tool to get the attention of the class and give non-verbal instructions, through the beginning of the Deliverance duelling banjos no less. Nothing quite says 'Tidy away' like a little riff that means the children really listen carefully! It was also something that the children wanted to be a part of - they wanted to join in and play the ukulele too because they could see I clearly enjoyed it and the beauty of such a small instrument is that it is incredibly accessible to the smaller generation.

This is where my musical journey comes full circle. Maybe I never thought I'd be any good at musical instruments because I never had a teacher that was keen enough or confident enough to instill this relation between playing music and enjoying it. I barely remember music lessons at school aside from the shrill screech of a class of badly played recorders. If I didn't remember it, I probably didn't enjoy it. I think that the most important thing I've learned from my musical journey is the amount of confidence it can instill. Music is seen as something that is relatively difficult to access, and being able to be successful from the off drove me to learn more and more, so there's no way I would let such an opportunity to give my children such a boost.

I think that this attitude to music is a particular positive for me because it increases the versatility of my teaching, especially as a Maths specialist (one of those people limited to logical thinking after all) to show that I have that more creative side that I can bring into other subjects.

I'll finish not with a tweet this time, but with a video showing where I am now from my humble beginnings of barely stringing two chords together. This is my favourite example of how much my confidence has developed - my first ever YouTube video. Rock on, fellow teachers. Get musical! Get confident!






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