Lessons learned from lockdown

Advice & Tips

This year has seen the most use of the word ‘unprecedented’ that I have ever seen, and probably for good reason.

Do what you can now, and if you can’t do it now, plan for later

Getting started on something can often be hard. During lockdown, I’ve found myself exhausted after a full day of childcare, and in those few rare moments I had for me, working on a new composition seemed ridiculous.

Do what you can, in small steps. In fact…

Make a list

List what your daily tasks are, as well as goals for the medium term (i.e., the next few weeks) and long term (post-lockdown, or even post-COVID altogether). It will help you focus, and evaluate what is important.

List making sure was already an occasional habit of mine, mainly because I am aware of my own poor short-term memory. Going forward, I’ll be sticking to daily lists, as they seem to have made me more productive than when I worked from home in pre-pandemical times.

Speaking of lists…

Bring back the ‘weekly shop’

We must have gotten out of the habit of doing the ‘big shop’ only once a week. Lockdown forced us back into this habit, and although it somehow felt more expensive at first, it seems to be better value across the week, especially when it was harder to nip out on a whim for a treat. Give it a try, if you can, and see how it works for you.

Don’t compare yourself to others

Whether it’s FOMO (fear of missing out) or a kind of professional jealousy when another person seems to be working fine at home – you know, the one with all the recording gear in their spare room (or their parents) and no children.

Social media only shows you what people want you to see. Most of the time, it only shows what those people think everyone else wants or expects to see.

Some of it is real. Some of it is less than genuine. All of it is someone else, in a different set of circumstances (however slight that might appear).

Beware of fatigue

Some of my friends have been locked down at home by themselves, working from one room during day, then zoning out in front of the TV in the evening. They told me that even committing to an online quiz via Zoom felt like too much effort. Staring at a screen all day, even for leisure or socially distant socialising, is incredibly tiring. Give yourself time to reset, and do absolutely nothing. Just remember when you do…

Don’t be to hard on yourself

If the fatigue did’t get you, the guilt surely did – right?

This is connected to my earlier heading, Don’t compare yourself to others, but it’s worth looking at again from a slightly different angle.

We’re going through unprecedented times. No one in our lifetime has experienced this, on this scale, before. Survive. Look after yourself and those around you. Don’t feel guilty for doing less.

In fact, don’t feel guilty at all for how you are managing to get through a pandemic.

Do what you love, if you can (and if you can’t make a plan for doing it in the future)

You might have noticed that a few of my recent posts have been short Hailku form poems, or observations from walks with my family. I enjoy writing them. Since I can’t perform live at the moment, they give me some creative output while everything else is on hold.

If you have recently discovered a new passion, embrace it and enjoy it. Share it with the world. And if COVID19 is stopping you from doing what you love and enjoy (as it has for me with my love of playing guitar live), make another list; this time, make it a plan to get your passion up and running again soon, once all of this is – hopefully – a distant memory of an unpleasant time, now disappearing.

Best of luck, and let me know how you get on! Also, let me know what lessons you have learned from the last few months of lockdown by leaving a comment or getting in touch via my usual channels – I look forward to chatting to you!

Black Lives Matter. No ifs, no buts.

Advice & Tips

We live in uncertain and challenging times.

It’s probably been hard to escape the news of George Floyd’s horrific murder in May this year, and the worldwide protests it has inspired.

Although the #BlackLivesMatter movement has been running for several years, it has certainly gained momentum. Perhaps half the world being in lockdown made sure we didn’t miss anything this time, as another unjust killing of a person of colour scrolled by on our new feed yet again…

As a white person, it’s worth recognising the (possibly unconscious) bias inherent in the system, which – despite a far from privileged upbringing – may well have provided me with a leg up from time to time.

How can we change this? Perhaps I’m not the best person to ask. Here’s an article by Dazed which explains how to be a better ally. It’s an important read, which features the main points summarised below:

  • Think twice before sharing violent videos
  • Confront racism when you see it
  • Take action
  • Acknowledge your privilege
  • Practice social distancing*

(*this final point comes because BAME people are more likely to contract or die from COVID19, the Corona virus still sweeping around the globe this summer)

I wholeheartedly encourage you to read the original article from Dazed in full. There’s also this longer article from Gal Dem, which is run and contributed to entirely by women of colour, which explains how non-white people of colour can help to dismantle anti-blackness.

Please read and share these articles.

Will anything change? Companies and trade bodies are in the stage of self-examination. The Musicians Union and British Association for Music Therapy are both looking at how they can do better. It’s our job to keep the pressure up until tangible changes start to become manifest.

Apart from that, ask lots of questions. Be curious. And most importantly, be kind.

Ukulele playing: pick or fingers?

Advice & Tips

One question I was asked fairly regularly by ukulele students in the past was:

Which is better for playing ukulele – fingers or pick*?

This blog post will hopefully go some way to explain why both are equally viable options. There – if you came to this article solely for reassurance on your preferred method of playing, I’ve saved you the hassle of reading any further!

[*NB – when I say ‘pick’, I of course mean a plectrum, like those used for guitar playing. If you’re here to learn about the kind if pick you dig holes with, you’re very much in the wrong place!]

If you’re looking for more information on picks, this rather informative article here from liveukulele.com may prove to be of use. But for now, let’s dive into our two options…

Pick (plectrum)

A pick is an easy option to start with, as even the nylon strings if a ukulele (as opposed to the steel strings used on a typical acoustic guitar) can have an effect on your fingers; this is particularly true of your nails and cuticles (the skin directly under your finger nails). You also get a louder, more direct sound when using a regular guitar plectrum, which are generally made of plastic or synthetic materials such as nylon & tortex (fake tortoise shell).

If you’re used to picking & strumming a guitar, you don’t have to make any changes to your right hand style at all. Although the same could be said if you’re primarily a fingerstyle player…

Fingerpicking

If you’re adept at fingerpicking guitar, you’ll be completely at home on the ukulele. In fact, it has two strings less, which should make it easier! I often find myself using my thumb for the G & C strings (the two closest to your face) and only making use of my index and middle finger for the E & A strings respectively.

I’ve also noticed that I perform finger rakes with any finger, and use my thumb in a greater variety of ways. Also, any guitar picking technique, from muting to string slapping & body tapping, all work equally well on a uke. If anything, my ukulele picking technique is more akin to how I play flamenco guitar!

Finally, you may notice that the tone of a fingerpicked uke is less harsh than when plucked with a pick. It’s certainly possible to obtain a greater range of sounds by adjusting which part of your fingers and nails pluck or strike the strings than could be managed with a plectrum.

Is there a middle way?

Well, yes. There are a few alternatives. Firstly, there’s felt plectrums. These are fairly common in ukulele playing and provide three ease of using a pick without the harsher tone. However, they’re less useful for more intricate playing, such as plucking individual strings.

There’s also a type of pick which sits on your fingers, popular in bluegrass styles.

Thumb & finger picks, popular in bluegrass banjo & guitar playing

These thumb & finger picks originated banjo playing, and offer the attack of a plectrum while still using fingerstyle hand & finger movement. Having said that, they do take a bit of getting used to! Many players use only the thumb pick in combination with their fingers. I’d recommend experimenting to see what works best for you.

But which is better?

As always in articles of this nature, I can’t give you a definitive answer, other than telling you my personal preference. For me, I don’t use picks at all in ukulele playing. I prefer the tone & versatility of using my fingers. But that’s just me – I encourage you to try both and see which one feels right for you.

Finally, don’t worry about sounding amazing if you’re new to trying a new playing style. Consider what feels most comfortable, and what has the best potential for you to continue improving in your playing. Let me know how you get on!