Ukulele Lady


I’m a singer, and all my life, I’ve wanted to play the guitar so that I could accompany myself. I did pick up a guitar once in a while and try it, but I always hated the pain from the strings cutting into my fingers. Despite people assuring me that I would build up calluses after a while, I never pursued it.

I’ve recently begun singing with a bluegrass jam group. When I first joined, everyone in the group played a string instrument except for me. I loved the music, so I was content to just listen if it wasn’t my turn to lead a song. Eventually I came upon a washboard and started bringing it along so that I could have a more active part in the music making. It was fun to play, but still, it didn’t quite fulfill my desire to create music.

For the past two summers, I have attended the Grey Fox bluegrass festival in the northern Catskills with Jon and the kids. I loved listening to the talented bands that they showcase, but I felt left out of a crucial part of the experience, which is to participate in open jam sessions. Because I didn’t have an instrument in tow, I didn’t have the proverbial ticket in.

On the second evening of the festival, I saw a band called Mountain Heart, which features a banjo player named Barry Abernathy. Barry, according to an article on, “was born with a deformity of his left hand, and has no fingers – only a thumb and several partial digits. [He] developed a technique that was within his reach, playing over the top of the neck rather than wrapping the hand around from below.”

Watching Barry play with such finesse and talent, I realized just how ridiculous my own reasons were for not learning to play the guitar. Fingers hurt by the strings? At least I HAD fingers! If Barry could do that, then so could I. Suddenly, what had seemed impossible to me became something that was possible as soon as I got into committed action.

As so often happens with the universe, once I got committed, the pieces started falling into place. I discovered that a friend of mine played the ukulele. I shared my vision with him, and before I knew it, he had given me one of his ukuleles to practice on. He taught me the first 5 chords and showed me how I could learn more.

Within 2 weeks, I was able to play about 50% of the bluegrass songs that I already knew. Ok, I wasn’t doing “solo breaks”, but since most songs consist of 3 to 5 chords, I was able to be a part of the music. Just as all my friends had promised, calluses have formed on my fingertips and it no longer hurts to play. Really, it only took a couple of weeks.

I marvel at how quickly I was willing to give up before. Now that I’m on the other side, I realize that the pain was never the point anyway. It was my fear. I let my lack of confidence about acquiring this new skill hold me back from something I wholeheartedly desired. I’ve already bought my own ukulele and suddenly, the sky is the limit.


4 thoughts on “Ukulele Lady

  1. Fear, fear, fear – and for what? I love this story, and how being committed makes all the difference. Plus you were in a way much more prepared this time; you were familiar with bluegrass music, you had been absorbing alot from the people around you, and you had gotten a friend in the meantime who could help you. So many pieces were in place to support you in your commitment.

  2. You are amazing— enjoy!!! MARIE
    see you soon

  3. Liz….you amaze me…always! I am so proud of you! I hope you are bringing your ukulele to the Palooza! Can’t wait to see you!

  4. Pingback: Just the facts, ma’am |

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