Sunday, December 9, 2018

Ukulele for Enjoyment, for Everyone (Tips for Aspiring Beginners from an Actual Beginner)

This post contained affiliate links.  Please read the fine print in the "affiliate" page above.
*and a big generous hug of thanks goes out to you if you make a purchase through my links*

**I have enjoyed sharing bits of my #dailyukulele goal on my Instagram account (@ordinarylovely , in case we're not already connected there!) and I've gotten several messages about good "starter" ukuleles and which books we use, etc...   This post came out of those questions, annnnnnd, it's just in time for last minute Christmas gift ordering.  I seriously think the gift of music in the home is a perfect one for you, your kiddos, and relatives!** 

Last November we got a ukulele.  I figured it would be easy to pick up since I have a bit of a music background.  My primary instrument is the cello, so I picked up the ukulele, another four stringed instrument, ready to play my heart out, and was utterly flummoxed.  I couldn't figure it out.  I put it down in frustration until this past Spring.  Ukulele is supposed to be the instrument that anyone can play and I was determined to finally figure it out!

I figured it out.  And the ukulele has brought a lot of enjoyment to our our family.  I highly recommend it as an instrument for a family who would like to get some more music into their home quickly without having to rent or purchase expensive instruments or even pay for lessons.  I decided to hop on this old blog to share some of what I've learned over the past several months in the hope that you'll be inspired to start a new musical tradition in your family <3  


We have 4 different brands of ukulele now, 3 of which were bought off of Amazon, without hearing or playing them first.  I'm happy to share what I've found so that you too can feel confident about buying a musical instrument "sound unheard" as well. 

There are different sizes of ukulele, but the most common are the soprano size (the small ones, usually 21" longs) and concert size (usually 23" long).  We have both.  The soprano instruments are easier for the little kids to use because the frets on the neck are smaller. My husband prefers the concert size because the frets are a bit bigger and fit his fingers more comfortably.  The body of the concert ukulele is also a bit bigger and may feel less awkward for an adult.  I like both and do not have a preference based on size.  I enjoy playing both sizes and often switch back and forth.  

In my experience, at least as far as our Amazon purchases are concerned, the quality of the sound is definitely linked to the price.  A cheap "toy" ukulele is difficult to tune and often sounds "tinny."  (I have not heard a nice-sounding $20 ukuele.  Maybe they exist, but I haven't heard one.)  The more expensive ukuleles have a lovely richer, warmer tone.  This is not to say you have to spend a fortune to get a good ukulele.  I recommend any of the 3 ukuleles that we've purchased from Amazon (as well as the fourth one we have which was a gift purchased at a local music shop).  Here are the links as well as a video in which I play each instrument back-to-back to help you understand the difference in sound between the soprano and concert size instruments, as well as the price/quality relationship.  I'm including this audio-visual comparison because it's something that I wish I had been able to find when I was first shopping around.  I hope it's helpful to you and of course, please let me know if you have any questions regarding any of the instruments.

(The Tom Concert ukulele bundle here was a gift my siblings and I purchased for my dad one year.  I do not have it to demonstrate in the video, but it's also a great instrument with a bright sound.)


The first thing to learn is how to tune your ukulele.  My first attempt at tuning one made me give up in frustration because it wasn't like tuning the other four-stringed instruments I was used to (violin, cello, etc...)  It wasn't until I watched a YouTube tutorial that I realized the strings weren't tuned in ascending fifths, but in their own wacky ukulele pattern.  Many ukulele "bundles" include a clip-on auto tuner, but if you end up buying an instrument that doesn't include one, I definitely recommend spending a few extra bucks to get one!  Here's one ;) 

Finally, I can't recommend the learn-to-play-ukulele books from Jenny Peters and Rebecca Bogart highly enough.  They are easy to read, easy to understand.  The visuals for the chords used in each song are fabulous.  Their method starts you out playing songs with one chord and then they add more chords as you progress.  You progress quickly!  So you feel like you're playing "real" music in short order :) They also instruct in various strumming patterns and how to read ukulele TABs.  I'll link here to all the books they have available.  We have all of them and use them the most of any books.  If they ever publish any more you bet I'll be all over them.  The bottom line is - get these books and don't bother with other intro methods!!  

Finally, I have humbled myself immensely by posting this next video... but here are a few songs played from the the Christmas book linked to above.  I just want to illustrate what a relative "beginner" can play using the ukulele sisters' books.  I play and sing imperfectly, but I sure do enjoy myself :)  And it's really in keeping with my point that anyone can pick up a ukulele and the books I mentioned and play "real" music in the home!

Once you begin playing through other song books, you might want to consider adding a chord chart to your collection.  It's nice to have a quick easy reference on how to play something when a new or unusual chord shows up in your music.

Don't forget, please let me know if there are other ukulele-related questions I can answer for you!  It's a wonderful instrument to share with the whole family, kids and adults alike.  In fact, I'm willing to guarantee that playing your ukulele for just 30 minutes a day will boost your mood and add years to your life.  Years of enjoyment, at least!  Play on!  And when you do, share about it on Instagram by tagging me @ordinarylovely and #dailyukulele :)   

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Friday, May 25, 2018

Summer Reading Challenge 2018 (with BOOK LISTS!)

(but first - a friendly disclosure that there a lot of Amazon affiliate links dropped here.
If you click through and buy any of my recommendations I get a few pennies.
Your generosity allows me to continue buying good books (umm... and nerf bullets...) for my family.  Thank you <3)


Also, gone are the days of lovely and edited photos here.  The pics here are straight from my ghetto phone.  It was either that or edit and beautify photos and publish this post in September.  I chose bad pics and post now!


It's that time of year again where we're transitioning into our "summer school" months of homeschooling.  Since the beginning we've been year-round homeschoolers.  It's because I'm often lax and my kids are not child prodigies and so we're always a bit behind in some subject or another.  And it's also because we all benefit from a having some daily expectations and tasks that have to be done each morning before enjoying the busyness or laziness of the summer day ahead.  

Even though we "school" in the summer, it looks very different than the way things are the rest of the year.  The Summer Reading Challenge is one of those differences.  Last year was the first year I proposed the Challenge and it was wildly successful.  The three big kids read more than I ever imagined they would! Dominic (who has dyslexia) gained an enormous amount of confidence and pride in himself as well as a growing enjoyment of reading, and Ruth improved by leaps and bounds and became a "real reader" - the kind that reads even when it's not required ;)  

In last summer's Challenge, the kids got to choose a box of cereal for each book they completed.  They read a lot and we had boxes of sugary cereal flying everywhere.  It was a bit crazy.  But it really was a key motivator and a real treat for the kids to have a special breakfast cereal that was entirely their own.  I kept the same reward for this summer but instead of a box of cereal for each book, I'm using a point system.  I've written in the front covers whether the books are worth 1,2,3, or 4 points.  They can choose a box of cereal for every 3 points they earn.   I'm happy with this change because it allowed me to choose books of varying lengths and difficulties for each child and assign the points accordingly.  Without the point system, I may have skipped some titles that are entirely worth reading but are not quite worth a whole box of cereal ;)  

Like last year, I chose the books again.  I chose more this year, giving each kiddo a wider variety to choose from.  They get a basket full of their options.  I sit down with each of them one on one and go through the titles, often reading the summary and teasers on the back, and chatting about which books they think they'll pick and what they might want to read first.  I sometimes encourage them to read the first few pages of a book they're unsure about and I always let them set a book aside if it's not grabbing them.  It is supposed to be fun after all :)

I'm always happy to share book lists and recommendations here, so of course I've got the Summer Reading Challenge lists for you!  I spend a lot of time previewing books and reading reviews for content.  I'm pretty particular.  Ok, I'm downright picky about what they read.  A lot doesn't get past my filters.  I have not personally read  every book that I've given to my kids to read, but if I haven't read it, I've done everything else possible to assess it's appropriateness (in terms of themes, language, behavior of characters, etc... as well as reading level).  I feel pretty confident recommending all the titles here, but as in everything, parents have to determine what meets their own standards and what's ok for their own kids, right?!    

In terms of reading level, I know how maddening it can be trying to figure out if your "3rd grader" is reading what another mom's "3rd grader" is reading and what the *bleep* is a 3rd grade reading level anyway!?!?!!?! Anyway, your 3rd grader might be (probably is) reading what my 6th grader is reading now (remember, we have no advanced geniuses here...) There truly is no common standard among publishers and reviewers and you never know what you're going to get when you see something is a "___ grade reading level."  (My blood pressure is rising steadily even as a  write this...)  Add into the mix my Dominic, who is obviously a bit behind in his reading abilities but who doesn't want to read content intended for "little kids."  It's sometimes a crazy (but such fun) challenge finding reading material that fits his age, interests, and ability.  So, we're all over the board here in terms of reading levels and books that I'll "allow."  But here's a quick point of reference so you can better understand who the lists have been tailored for and how they might be able to work for you:

Aaron is 12, going into 7th grade.  He most recently finished the Tolkien Lord of the Rings trilogy and On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, (Andrew Peterson.)

Dominic is 10 1/2, going into 6th grade (dyslexic, improving in reading with his great, great tutor, Miss Lynn!)  He's most recently read  Frindle  (Andrew Clements), and a couple Boxcar Children mysteries.  

Ruth is 8, going into 3rd grade.  She's been blowing through the Ramona series as  her read-upstairs-in-bed books, and she recently finished Little House in the Big Woods as her "downstairs" book.  

Clare is 6, going into 1st grade.  She's still learning some letter sounds and does bits of All About Reading's pre-reading program as well as Level 1.  Basically, she doesn't read.......

(in no particular order, points in parentheses)

For Aaron:

The Stolen Train, Robert Ashley (2)
A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L'Engle (3)
The Borrowers, Mary Norton (3)
Gone-Away Lake, Elizabeth Enright (3)
Annie Moore, First in Line for America, Eithne Loughrey (2)
By the Great Horn Spoon, Sid Fleischman (3)
Escape from Warsaw, Ian Serraillier (3)
Lost on a Mountain in Maine, Donn Fendler (1)
Young Canaller, Gerry Stafford (1)
Call It Courage, Armstrong Sperry (1)
The Mitchells: Five for Victory, Hilda von Stockum (3)
The Trumpeter of Krakow, Eric Kelly (3)
The Winged Watchman, Hilda von Stockum (3) 
Nicholas Gilroy: Our Lady and the Guardian, Father Stephen and Deacon George (1)
The Borrowed House, Hilda von Stockum (3)
32 Days: A Story of Faith and Courage, Ellen Lucey Prozeller (1)

For Dominic:

Mary Jemison, Indian Captive, Jeanne LeMonnier Gardner (3)
Freedom Crossing, Margaret Goff Clark (3)
Ranger in Time, Danger in Ancient Rome, Kate Messner (2)
Here We All Are, Tomie DePaola (1)
The Secret Valley, Clyde Robert Bulla (2)
Shepherds to the Rescue (Gospel Time Trekkers), Maria Grace Dateno, FSP (1)
The Whisper in the Ruins, Lisa M Hendey (3)
The Chestertons and the Golden Key, Nancy Carpentier Brown (2)
Twenty and Ten, Claire Huchet Bishop, (2)
Cabin in the Snow, Deborah Hopkinson (1)
Farmer Boy, Laura Ingalls Wilder (4) 
Escape by Night: A Civil War Adventure, Laurie Myers (2)

For Ruth:

The Secret Soldier: the Story of Deborah Sampson,   Ann McGovern (1)
Daisy Dawson is on Her Way, Steve Voake (2)A Fine Start: Meg's Prairie Diary (My America), Kate McMullen (2)Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder (4) The White Stallion, Elizabeth Shub (1/2 pt) 
The Bears on Hemlock Mountain, Alice Dalgliesh (1)
Keep the Lights Burning, Abbie, Peter and Connie Roop (1/2 pt) 
Misty of Chincoteague, Marguerite Henry (3) 
Runaway Ralph, Beverly Cleary (3)
In Aunt Lucy's Kitchen, Cynthia Rylant (2) 
Besty-Tacy, Maude Hart Lovelace (3) 
In Grandma's Attic, Arleta Richardson (3) 
The Night Crossing, Karen Ackerman (2)
26 Fairmount Avenue, Tomie dePaola (2)
Prairie School, Avi (1)
My Father's Dragon, Ruth Stiles Gannet (2)

For Clare:

Various titles from the Flyleaf Publishing Books for Emergent Readers.
You can read my review of Flyleaf's Emergent Readers and Decodable Literature here.

Finally, I have high hopes for lots of read-alouds this summer.  I've been forgoing reading out loud lately in favor of knitting, so it will take some discipline on my part ;)  I haven't decided what I'll read, but we have lots lying around the house so I have a great stack of my own to choose from.  Some contenders are:
The Family Under the Bridge,   Natalie Savage Carlson
Tumtum and Nutmeg,  Emily Bearn 
Ballet Shoes, Noel Streatfeild 
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis (this would be the first time for the girls, so that would be super fun!) 

And, we have our Audible account locked and loaded full of stuff, so lots and lots of audio favorites are on the summer book menu too :)  

What are you and your kiddos reading this summer?  

* * * * * * * 


Exhausted Mom Syndrome, Narnia Read Alouds, 

and Why I Was a Big Fat Crying Blubbering Mess Today








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