Ukulele-playing taught me to enjoy bad art

Guest post by Lydia de Leeuw

2012-05-19-Ukulele-smallI remember being good at making things. Or at least feeling that I was good at them. When I was a kid, I used to draw, write little stories, sing and play little songs on the cheap kiddie keyboard I got from my parents one day. I enjoyed making things and was praised for my efforts.

But as I got older, my ability no longer matched my ambitions. I knew that, unless I made a huge concentrated effort to get better, nothing I made would ever be as good as I wanted it to be. And so I gave up. Why should I even bother if I wasn’t going to be the best? I stopped drawing, apart from doodling while on the phone, I dropped my music classes in high school and I never managed to finish a short story again, because I got stuck in endless rewrites instead of making the plot move along. In short, I didn’t bother making things anymore.

Until the day my husband bought me a ukulele.

The ukulele is not a particularly refined instrument. It’s small, cheap and easy to learn to play, having only four strings. That made it the perfect instrument for me. I started learning it at 25, with no prior experience playing a string instrument, but I was playing simple songs within a week. I simply looked up how to play some basic chords online, and then looked up the chords to several of my favourite songs.

I got my ukulele in May 2012 — now, in early 2013, I am still playing and still learning new songs. That is the longest I have ever kept at playing an instrument. I am even venturing into songwriting again, something I haven’t done since my teens.

I’m not very good. I can still only play the simpler of chords, like A, F, C and G. I can only strum in a simple downwards motion — any strumming up or trying to play in a proper rhythm is (as for now) beyond me. But I am enjoying it SO MUCH. Every time I pick up my uke, I get a huge smile on my face. Every time I learn a new song, I get all giddy and can’t wait to tell my husband about it.

I don’t have to win any awards or sell a million records. I just want to enjoy making art. And if that art is bad, so be it.

And I finally realized that that is what really matters. Who cares if I am not the best ukulele player in the world? I don’t have to be the best; hell, I don’t even have to be mediocre. I don’t have to win any awards or sell a million records. I just want to enjoy making art. And if that art is bad, so be it.

It’s a very liberating feeling, and I now try my best to apply it to other areas of my life as well. I try to take every opportunity to create something and have fun, even if I’m scared that I won’t be good.

In today’s society, with its emphasis on performance, it’s so easy to feel pressured to be the best. Things aren’t worth doing unless you can do them perfectly. But I call bullshit on that. If you’re doing something for fun, you are under no obligation to anyone to actually be good at it. And making art is much too much fun to be held back by unnecessary perfectionism.

I think I will dig out my old pencils and do some truly terrible drawing today…

Comments on Ukulele-playing taught me to enjoy bad art

  1. Aww, I love this article! Music is not an art I have any talent what-so-ever for, but I would love to learn!

    Just because you aren’t perfect doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a go. Even people who are really good, still aren’t perfect.

  2. I bought a Uke about a year ago, and only recently got the courage up to learn how to play it. The only other instrument I’d ever played was the clarinet. IDK, something just clicked about it, and now I’m learning new songs all the time. It’s a wonderful feeling.

  3. I seriously could’ve written this post- I love my dumb cheap little uke! I bought it right after Christmas and have had much more success teaching myself to play it than any other instrument. I eventually bought myself a tiny cheap children’s guitar so I could branch out to that and play some songs that are pretty much impossible on the uke, but I’ve barely touched it, haha. (My small hands played a factor in guitar always being difficult for me, while uke is not, so I thought…. kid’s guitar!)

  4. Yes! This is painting for me. I used to draw, watercolor, craft, etc. all the time as a kid and then I quit for the same perfectionist reasons. Some years ago I moved into a white-walled apartment I wasn’t allowed to paint, and I was distraught over the lack of color. My partner said something like, Why not just get a canvas and spread some color over it? It had never occurred to me that my “bad art” might be worthy of spending money on canvas and paints. In the years since, I have purposefully never learned anything proper about painting because I get such a great feeling just from smearing colors around. No goals=no possibility of failure=no stress and all fun. So glad you found your uke outlet!

  5. This is great! My workplace just started a Ukelele Choral Group, yesterday, that I signed up for immediately – but I haven’t played uke since 4th grade. I figure I don’t have to be good, I just want to have fun with my coworkers.

  6. Wonderful post! I also gave up on some creative pursuits that I enjoyed as a kid when I got older. Great reminder to give up on perfection instead, and do things for the joy of doing them.

  7. I absolutely envy that. I’ve never felt as accomplished doing anything just for the love of doing it. Not even when I used to write 🙁

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