I just recently noticed that my 5 year anniversary of picking up an instrument and making music is around the corner. So I thought it’s a good idea to take a look back, see how it all got together and how far I’ve actually come.
Growing up, I never learned how to play any instrument or had any special musical education. Matter of fact, no one in my family did. Don’t get me wrong, there was always music around, because the radio was on from morning til night, but as a family, we would only sing together at Christmas, and maybe sometimes at church. That being said, I didn’t really have contact to people who would actually make music themselves. At school we did get a little theoretical background, but nothing that would actually be helpful today.
I already told the story sometime on my blog in this post “Why ukulele?” how I chose to play the ukulele. Here’s a short recap anyway. When I was a teenager and going through my “Hippie Phase” I wanted to learn how to play the guitar. My sister-in-law showed me some chords but I guess it just wasn’t for me. I was convinced that I’m not talented and that was it. Many years later, my favorite artist Amanda Palmer picked up the ukulele and for some reason it made me think, that this could be the instrument for me. So in September 2016, at the age of 30 (almost 31) I started to take Ukulele lessons.
Better late than never
I’ve always been singing and I always had the feeling that I wanted to make music, but since I never had any tools doing it growing up or any real role models it was (and still is) difficult to get in the groove. Even when I started with the ukulele. There was so much new vocabulary and things that apparently everyone knows – except for me. So the last five years I had to catch up on a lot of musical theory but also a lot on training my ear to listen better.
Most people, who’ve always been making music and got all the tools to do so growing up, usually don’t realize how difficult it is, trying to catch up on all these things. Sure it’s easy to play the ukulele if you’ve been playing the guitar for many years and/or are classically trained in another instrument. And of course it’s easy to sing in tune if your ears had years of training in it and/or you’ve been taking music lessons all your life. And it takes time to pick up all those skills and probably even more time once you hit a certain age. I do feel like a lot of musicians are not very patient with adults who are new to music. They just expect that everyone has been doing this for years because they have.
Anyway. So I started to take ukulele lessons and to just take in as much as I can. I remember in one of the first lessons my teacher Francois Guilbeault said that he could already imagine me and my ukulele standing on stage. I don’t even know if it was meant as a joke, but back then I never thought about hitting the stage. The thought was frightening and I was just starting out and knew maybe how to play one or two songs (not even very good). But, as the overachiever that I am, I was a good student and wanted to learn as much as possible. I quickly realized that getting in the practice that I needed was difficult without anyone holding me accountable. That’s why I started my Instagram in December 2017.
The goal was to post a ukulele video every other day to just keep practicing, learn new songs and get more fluent on the ukulele. And you know what, that really did the trick. Being “forced” by myself to do this, I picked up everything so much faster. Chord changes became effortless, I learned new chords, played in different keys, learned some new strumming patterns and a couple of picking patterns. This actually helped so much with my development. And I know that for a lot of people those videos are hard to watch. But it was such a good starting point for me. Because again, this is all so new to me.
Learning to walk
Besides my regular ukulele lessons I also attended basically every workshop available, either during festivals or on the weekend. Elisabeth Pfeiffer is one of the people that always has a way of explaining music theory so that I actually understand it. That helped and is still helping me a lot. And somehow, after two years of lots of practice and filling my Instagram with content everything started to just happen so fast. In summer 2018 I wrote my first song “You’re enough” and songwriting somehow triggered my desire to hit the stage. Even though I was sooooo anxious about it, being able to share my songs, not just with an online crowd, but with actual people standing in front of me, made total sense all of a sudden. In September 2018 I took a chance and played my first open-mic during Vienna Ukulele Festival.
With hitting the stage it became quite apparent that only improving my ukulele skills was not gonna be enough. I needed to work on my singing and stage presence too. So in November 2018 I started singing lessons at Stimmfabrik with the fabulous Manu Cherry Pachler. Looking back she is the one who really made me believe that there’s something there. That music is for me and that I can totally do this. And she has a way of getting the best out of me while always considering where I currently am on my journey. I finally found a place where I could improve as a package (ukulele, singing, performance, songwriting) and I think this made me take not just baby steps but huge leaps in my musical development.
My own music
Even though I didn’t know it when I started out with the ukulele, writing my own songs was always the path that I needed to be on. Writing very quickly became an important outlet for me to just process things that are going on in my life and to express what’s happening inside. It can be quite healing actually. And even though I don’t write regularly and might not have a very high or maybe even good output, I do consider myself a songwriter. And for some reason there were always a couple of people out there who seemed to believe in what I do.
For example I still can’t believe, that only about nine months after my first open-mic, I got to do my first original ukulele songs set as Nikky.and.the.Ukulele during Oslo Ukulele Festival 2019. And at the beginning of 2020 I got to play another set during TWUF 2020. I am so grateful for Stine Lindseth and Arto Julkunen, the organizers of these festivals, who really took a chance on me and gave me the opportunity of a lifetime. I also got to play during a small version of Vienna Ukulele Night in September 2020 – just two years after I played my first open-mic there.
Growing pains and proud moments
Looking back on those five years of making music, I am very proud of how far I’ve come in such a short amount of time. Everything I know about music and music theory I’ve learned during that time and I’ve worked very hard for. And I still have to work very hard on learning to play my instrument better and learning to sing in tune and catching up on when I’m playing with others. Is it painful sometimes? Hell yeah. It’s very painful to reach your boundaries and wanting to stretch further but realizing that you just can’t. But that’s ok, I might not be there yet, but I’m getting there.
I am very grateful for all the people in my life that supported this journey in the last five years. Who took a chance on me, who believed in me when I didn’t, who cheered me on and helped me grow. I never even knew how much value music would add to my life. It’s a blessing and I am excited to see what’s coming next.