By Gord Montgomery (iG)
LAHAINA, MAUI - I'll be the first to admit that my fingers are made for a computer keyboard, not for picking out chords on a musical instrument like a ukulele. That being said, my sympathy, and thanks, are extended to Fred Torres, my tutor for my first lesson on this iconic Hawaiian instrument.
Now, I've never claimed to have much musical inclination but at the same time I maybe hoped there was some undiscovered talent hidden deep inside. However, after spending the better part of an hour on the little guitar with Torres, the soft-spoken operations manager of the Ka'anapali Alii on Maui, I now know I have none at all.
For some reason, my fingers have minds of their own and pay little to no attention to what they are supposed to be doing. At first, it seemed simple. The 'C' and 'A ' minor chords were no real problem.But then again, they require only one finger in one place.
Things got a bit more troublesome when 'F' and 'G7' were tossed into the mix. The thing is, noted Torres, the ukulele isn't that tough to learn play. Of course, he likely hadn't run into someone with my lack of musical talent before.
"People want to get the basics of it but they just don't know where to start when they come to Maui," said Torres, adding that there are places around the island where one can indulge, if one in fact knows where to look. "It is a fairly easy instrument to play; you don't have to have any experience in music or playing an instrument. I think it depend on how it's being taught."
For Torres, his in-house classes are a way of connecting with guests, both those that are new or returning to the Alii. He learned to play the tiny instrument while in grade school, and is a patient instructor, even with those of us whose fingers are better suited to pounding computer keys as opposed to plucking musical strings.
"It is a very simple scaled down style of grassroots learning," Torres said of how he shares his knowledge. Once basics are mastered, he suggested that YouTube is a great way to continue your musical education.
The big thing, I was cautioned, is to be patient and expect this learning experience to take some time.
"As long as you put your mind to it, take it easy," it is a skill just about anyone visiting Maui can pick up. "Ukelele playing is not supposed to hurt," Torres noted about my fingers that looked somewhat worn by the time we finished. "It's more of a therapy thing. Strum slow, strum easy," and apparently you'll catch onto playing this instrument in no time flat ... unless of course, your fingers have minds of their own, like mine!
So, for now at least, I think I'll stick to pounding a keyboard and let guys like Torres, who know what they're doing, pound out notes on the ukulele. That way, everybody wins.