Can You Teach an Old Dog New Tricks?


While a nearly 2 month long break from classes and stress was nice, it gave me nothing to do. Like many people, I am still quarantined and currently living on my own. My only companion is my cat, which is nice but a little challenging. While I love playing video games, I couldn’t see myself spending the nearly 90 day winter break doing nothing.

My entire family plays musical instruments. I was blessed with a musical inclination and I grew up playing various instruments, like the French Horn. I always wanted to learn how to play the guitar, but I never understood how people played them or how to go about starting it on my own. Not to mention, buying a guitar is a bit of an investment. After spending a few days perusing my town’s local shop, the shop owner told me that learning the ukulele would be a bit easier, so I decided to buy a cheap one.

Fun fact: There’s 3 different types of ukuleles. The first one is the most well-known and is called a “soprano” ukulele. The next one is a bit bigger, has a fuller sound and is called a “concert” ukulele. This one can hit lower notes and is good for playing a variety of songs. The biggest and lowest sounding ukulele is called a “Tenor” (The Baritone Ukulele is bigger, but the store I was at didn’t sell any of those). This one is closest to sounding like an acoustic guitar and perfect for hitting low notes. I bought the “concert” ukulele because I liked the way it sounded, and I wanted to be able to play many different songs.

Image via PMT Online

Some tips to help make the process of learning the ukulele easier.

1.) Buy a tuner/get a tuning app for a ukulele. They tend to be out of tune a lot due to the flimsiness of the strings, so getting a tuner for will help.

2.) Get an app that teaches you how to learn the basic chords/songs. My favorite app is Chordify, it has demos that shows you how to play any song you want with the chords you need for almost any artist out there (they also have it for guitars too). It does cost money, but it’s worth it.

3.) Purchase a ukulele capo. A capo is an instrumental tool used for guitars and ukulele’s that allow the player to go up (or down) by a chord. It works by pressing down on the fret making the sound higher or lower.

After using apps, playing along to YouTube tutorials and learning basic chords and finger placement, I was able to understand that common chords are played in common songs. For example, a song like “Girls Like You,” the same 4 chords are played repeatedly. The first two weeks of playing the ukulele was hard; I developed callouses on my fingers and if I played for a long time, my fingers would go numb. But the nice thing about the callouses is that after they develop, it hurts less to play.

I guess my prior experience with playing the French Horn in grade school helped with understanding music notes, but with enough time, I was able to learn over 30 songs. I learned about strumming patterns too because strumming down is great but it doesn’t add any “flavor” to the song, so I learned how to incorporate different patterns to spice up the tunes.

I was feeling confident after about a month and half of playing. I still wanted to try the guitar, so I bought one on a whim. I can safely say that learning guitar is significantly harder. For starters, the guitar strings are harder to press down on, not to mention it has 2 extra strings. The chords are different, but the basics are the same when it comes to how a person plays. I can only play 2 songs on the guitar, but the myth that you “can’t teach an old dog new tricks” can definitely be debunked.

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My name is Mariah Olmstead and I'm a Senior at NEC. I transferred to NEC in fall of 2019 and I'm currently a communications major with a concentration in Journalism and Media/Production. Before coming to NEC, I worked for the Walt Disney Company and Universal Studios Orlando as a performer, and before that I was a student at Community College of Vermont. I want to be a travel writer or work for a production/media company once I graduate in the spring. I love Kpop, theatre, and dancing. Most of my editorials are personal stories or related to theme parks, and the Kpop industry. Once I graduate, I plan on teaching English abroad in Korea.
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