I just had two classes, a week apart, featuring the same student, that did just that.
Jules, (not his real name) had been attending my music classes for a few weeks and we had got on just fine. Then two weeks ago, when I went to introduce his group to my Ukulele 101 lesson, he completely lost the plot.
He went from low level task avoidance to out and out meltdown, including throwing the ukulele and punching a window, in the space of about a minute.
If he'd hit that window any harder we'd have been calling a ambulance, I'm sure of it.
I had nothing.
It took me all my strength to stay calm myself and keep the rest of the class calm, safe and on task.
Jules was picked up by the school Principal shortly after he raged out of my room and once he had calmed down, told the Principal that he just hated playing the ukulele. He'd had to do it at his last school, was no good at it and that was that.
I should probably point out at this juncture that there's a lot worse things going on in Jules' life than having to learn ukulele.
But even after learning a bit about his home life I still couldn't fully reconcile what had just happened.
In any case, I knew that I had to spend some time one on one with Jules before the next week's class. One day earlier this week when I had a free few minutes, I went and took him out of class for a short chat. I reassured him that I was there to help him but made it clear that we could not have a repeat of last week. We parted with him agreeing to give the ukulele a go.
The next day rolled around and Jules was one of the most switched on members of the class for the activities I had planned prior to ukulele lessons. Then it came time for his group to collect their ukuleles and join me in the circle. I watched a reluctant Jules pick up his instrument and to start some of the same behaviors I'd seen a week before; head down, swinging the ukulele nonchalantly from side to side. His friend Ezra (also not his real name) saw it too.
"Don't do this again Jules" Ezra pleaded.
And Jules responded. He picked up his ukulele and held it, ready for the lesson. He was going to give it a go.
But he held it like a left hander.
Now that's not unusual. Many, if not most people, picking up a guitar or ukulele for the first time will naturally hold the neck in their right hand.
|Here's me, proving that point in 1975|
But I knew by my conversation with the Principal that Jules had already had lessons in ukulele so I ran with my instincts.
I told him to hold the ukulele like a softball bat.
He raised it above his left shoulder.
The penny dropped.
Jules is right brained/ left handed. For some reason he has learnt to write with his right hand and therefore thinks of himself as right handed. But he's not.
He loves music. Every observation I've made of him apart from that one minute meltdown confirms this. And the clincher? I retuned his ukulele to play left-handed. He then spent just 5 minutes with Ezra, who is quite a good ukulele player, mirroring what he was playing.
By the end of that lesson, just 15 minutes later, not only was Jules the best ukulele player in the group, he was also the happiest.
Jules has a long road ahead of him and I'm not suggesting that I cured all his woes by showing him that he could play the ukulele left handed, but that day we took a step in the right direction.