The first time I tried soloing on my ‘ukulele was in a class with Herb Ohta Jr. at the first Kahumoku ‘Ohana Music and Lifestyle Workshop I went to (2006 or 2007). The class was called “soloing basics” (or something like that) and Uncle Herb talked about what scales to use, what notes in that scale are going to sound “best” over a certain chord, etc… It was a revelation! This “soloing” thing was a way to express yourself and compose on the spot! How great! Everyone in the class could see the potential.
The room buzzed with excitement until Uncle Herb announced that we would be taking turns playing a solo while he strummed a C chord. The mood in the class darkened considerably and we prepared for something we hadn’t prepared for.
Some brave guy, by his choosing or not – I can’t remember, went first, playing a solo with plenty of wrong notes and buzzes, but with enough music intact to sound fairly pleasant. The next guy went to battle with that C chord, veins sticking out, face red with concentration. The third person struggled, but everyone was thinking, “I bet I do worse!” We clapped after everyone’s solo in support of their efforts.
As I waited my turn the little voice in my head was doing his best to evaporate my resolve.
“Feeling talented now, punk? You’ll be next. And then the world will see how horrible you really are!”
The next lady played a C scale up and down while Uncle Herb patiently played that same C chord. And then, after a few more attempts, it was my turn.
Uncle Herb stepped in front of me, looking much too cheerful. The voice in my head was screaming now,
“FAIL! YOU’RE GONNA FAIL! ALL THAT PRACTICE AND YOU’RE STILL GOING TO EMBARRASS YOURSELF IN FRONT OF YOUR IDOL!”
“I’m next…” I mumbled, looking at my feet.
(My mom always tells me to enunciate and speak up. This was one of those times when she was really right.)
“Be Nice?” Herb asked, raising an eyebrow that said, how can I be nicer than strumming a C chord? He had heard me wrong. The class – and Uncle Herb – laughed. At least the voice in my head had stopped. He couldn’t compete with the embarrassment I was feeling (and I hadn’t even played my solo yet!).
When the commotion stopped I still had to play my solo. Uncle Herb looked at me expectantly and said, “Okay…” He started strumming that C chord – for me this time. My mind scrambled for some “right notes” to play, a place to start – anything that might push me towards soloing enlightenment. I drew a blank and, with all eyes on me, jumped into the unknown. I picked a few notes, cringing and red-faced. They seemed really loud and nasty despite being promised as “right notes”. Then I played a few more. After another fistful of notes I was getting the hang of it – sort of. A minute later, I hit a final C and stopped, hoping that this would be the end of my pain. It was. Uncle Herb stopped playing and gave me the same encouraging, “Not bad…” that he had given everyone else. And just like that, I was out of the spotlight.
I learned a lot in that class.