My Tai Chi teacher recently added the Yang style broadsword to the curriculum. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t ecstatic, as I’ve waited quite a while to learn a weapon form. There’s something romantic and exotic about wielding one of the four great Chinese weapons. I find it delightfully ironic that it’s a gweilo who’s catalyzed such an interest in my own culture. Take THAT, my racist and sexist Chinese ancestors.
As for the ukulele, one day I found out how inexpensive they can be and bought one right away. It’s a Mahalo Les Paul style ukulele (right down to the square tuning pegs) with an extended neck for higher register notes. In many ways, the ukulele is the perfect instrument for me right now; cheap, easy enough that I can teach myself1, and not too hard on the fingers2.
It feels fucking fantastic to be playing music in some form again. I did years of piano and flute lessons in elementary school to high school, and took a very long hiatus from then till now. And that was mostly in band, when I couldn’t choose the music I wanted to play. Now I can play the songs I like, and the advantage is that I’ve probably heard them a few hundred times so I already know them inside-out.
With my years of music lessons and performances from my youth, it’s not like I’m learning music from scratch, I’m simply figuring out how to apply what I already know about tone, posture, tuning, volume, fingering3, timing, and intonation, to another instrument. Admittedly, it’s been very slow going, and it’s like I’m learning a new language as I train my fingers to achieve a dexterity that was never there before.
The interesting thing is that my last few years practicing Tai Chi has helped me learn the ukulele. In my Tai Chi class, I’ve gained the patience and perseverance required to practice the same moves over and over again until they become a natural part of my muscle memory. In the beginning, it was a lot of concentration spent just trying to remember what to do next in the form, but now that I don’t need to think about them when I practice, my concentration goes into fine-tuning the little details. The same principles can be applied to the ukulele (or any instrument, for that matter), and I’m trying to get to the point where I don’t need to think about what my fingers should be doing, and just concentrate on playing with the right kind of expressiveness.
Which is why I have a broadsword and a ukulele resting on the wall next to my desk. Any time I need a break, I pick up one of them and practice for a few minutes.
- Because I really don’t have time for another time-consuming hobby [↩]
- The strings are nylon, instead of the metal of guitars, so the callouses aren’t as bad. The health of my hands is also an important thing to me. [↩]
- Though the fingering for a stringed instrument is really different from piano and flute. [↩]