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How the Ukulele Brought Magic Into My Life With Chronic Illness

Although it is small, the ukulele is mighty with magical powers. A small instrument that you can hold in your arms, the ukulele’s four strings can provide you with a lifetime of learning and playing. Even if you consider yourself musically challenged, the ukulele is a very accessible instrument, and you can begin learning how to play music right away. When I first picked up the ukulele, I thought it was so cool that I was already playing simple songs with one or two fingers the first night. But what I did not know was how incredibly healing it would be.

The ukulele gives you an opportunity to learn something new and challenge your brain. I deal with a considerable amount of brain fog from my conditions and medications, but I am still able to give some focus at my best times of day to learn a new technique or song. There are many free and paid sites that are devoted to teaching complete beginners how to play. YouTube can also be a wonderful resource for lessons and play-along videos.

When I first learned how to play, I was so shocked that I could play actual songs with one or two fingers. Slowly, I began learning a bit more each day and I realized how much fun it was to play artist’s songs, especially ones you’ve loved for so long. The ukulele had the power to bring a little happiness to my heart. Playing this instrument can give you another layer in which you can actively participate as more than just a listener.

Songwriting can be a useful tool for coping and healing from wounds and visible and invisible conditions. I’ve written some sad and silly songs and even some instrumentals, but no matter where you start, it has the power to benefit you emotionally which can help reduce stress levels that can be so toxic for physical and mental conditions. I recently wrote a “sad ballad” about not feeling well for my birthday. I named it “Birthday Pity Party” after writing four verses and a chorus about how down I was at the time. It felt so cathartic and once I got it down on paper and sang and played it, I felt like a weight had been lifted from me.

Afterward, I made it a point to still enjoy my birthday and make it the best low-key celebration ever, even with my autoimmune disease which I thought of as an unwanted and uninvited guest. The sky is the limit on all the topics you could write about. Keeping a notebook with you at all times will help you record ideas as you go about your day. Sometimes I get my best ideas if I’m running a quick errand, waiting for a taxi, or watching TV.

The ukulele is incredibly attractive when it comes to playing with others. This is something I have done in person sparingly because of the pandemic and not feeling well, but there are other ways you can play with others. Many sites and internet ukulele teachers offer Zoom play-alongs that can give you a sense of community. Being part of a community is so rewarding and helps you feel less isolated, especially if you are limited in how much you can get out of the house. The ukulele is an instrument of love, and it speaks a uniting language. I have met people from all over the world in the communities I have become a part of and playing with them is something I can look forward to, even if I’m having a sweatpants on the couch kind of day and not feeling well.

Even if you have little control over your symptoms or conditions, you have control over things like what songs you choose to play on a particular day or what techniques you learn in the allotted practice time you carve out for yourself. You can choose which groups or websites to join. You can choose to play with people in person or via video chat or Zoom. You can choose what kinds of songs to write as well.

I started out as a complete beginner to the ukulele and have met others who also love to play, composed my own music, and wrote my own to lyrics to songs I’ve created. I have set forth goals so that I can keep reaching new heights. This gives me a sense of hope, even when everything else seems hopeless.

I encourage you to give the ukulele a try. You may want to check with your local library, school, or music school and find out if they have a ukulele you can borrow. If you do decide to buy one, there are many inexpensive options. My only recommendation is that you stay away from the cheap toy ukuleles as they will not give you a rewarding experience and you may find yourself getting unnecessarily frustrated because of how it feels and sounds. Set yourself up for success from the beginning. Many beginner models come with a nice case or bag, a tuner, and other fun things.

The magical ukulele can provide you with a lifetime of joy and music-making. It is a powerful instrument for healing all sorts of wounds, visible and invisible. I love the ukulele and I think you may fall in love with it, too.

Image Credits: Susan Montgomery

This story originally appeared on Created by Susan.