A Week At Kalani With ‘Ukulele Nuts

Now that I’ve had a couple days to decompress from my week-long stay at Kalani, I thought maybe I’d highlight some things that I learned as one of the resident instructors at The Hawai’i Island ‘Ukulele Retreat. The days were packed with learning and the nights hosted some fun jams.

Takeaways and Observations:

Mother Earth is always the boss. Always. With the near-miss of tropical storm Ana days before and Pele running down the town of Pahoa, I was acutely aware of how small life is.

I had the opportunity to talk story with Dennis Lake between tasks as he led a few students through the process of building a cigar box ‘ukulele. He’s a smart, funny, and quiet guy who builds simple, high-quality instruments and has decades of experience in the world of a luthier. But even a licensed Martin repair guy still has to demo new ideas. Each of the two ‘ukuleles he brought with him to the camp had an experimental tweak. One had a different bracing pattern, one had a slightly larger soundhole. Dennis was underwhelmed with the sound of the new bracing pattern, but he seemed very unconcerned, shrugged, and gently said something to the effect of: if you don’t try something, you’ll never know if it will work.

Even if you’re born in California, you can’t get away with saying “San Fran” instead of San Francisco.

Good melodies, lyrics, chords, technique, and picking can’t make up for bad timing. I think I recommended playing with a metronome in every one of my classes!

A good teacher can convince a beginner that something hard is easy and convince an advanced player that something easy can be hard.

Anyone can sing or hum a world class solo. Putting an instrument in the mix is where the magic is lost in translation. When you sing, your ear tracks chord changes and and melody movement, automatically compensating to create an effortlessly smooth sound. So don’t think “I need to learn how to solo.” Instead think “I need to speed up the translation time between my mind and instrument so I can execute my awesome ideas in real time.”

Never stop learning.