I knew I was going to be a ukulele teacher at the age of six.
My mother, Sue, taught me three chords and three songs, and I was hooked.
I thought, “This is what I want to do for the rest of my life!”
I was having such wonderful fun strumming. I played and sang and then played some more.
I wanted to share my joy. I tried to get my brothers to join me in a ukulele band.
But since they were aged five and two respectively, I couldn’t teach them much. (Even when I hit them. Violence really doesn’t work.)
Soon after that, our mother gave up making music. I think she just had too many other things going on in her life.
There were no more ukulele lessons. Instead I was sent to violin lessons with a grumpy, scary teacher called Mrs Paulsen.
And it took me nearly half a century to find my way back to the ukulele.
I spent fifteen years in the classical music education system, learning violin, viola and piano, going all the way to university.
I loved the amazing feeling of playing Beethoven in an orchestra, but I knew that I wasn’t cut out to be a professional orchestra musician.
After university I played fiddle in folk bands and alternative rock bands for many years. I also played keyboards, drums and bass guitar.
And then one day, my friends Paula and Jane said, “let’s play ukulele!”
So that Friday evening we sat down with three ukuleles, three chords and a bottle of wine. By the time the bottle was empty we could play “Happy Birthday” and a couple of other songs.
The next Friday we did the same thing. None of us had practiced, so we had to learn the chords again. But gradually we started to remember.
And then more friends started joining us, until we had nine people meeting regularly on Saturday afternoons. Some of the players are experienced musicians, and others started from scratch.
The group’s current name is The Strumbles. It’s the highlight of my week.
Within a few weeks my long-dormant ukulele skills were reactivating.
I could remember the songs that my mother taught me, all those years ago! And my classical music theory and rock band experience started coming in handy to work out ukulele parts.
I wanted to get some more skills so I could help my friends. So I signed up for a ukulele night class at a local high school.
It was a beginner class, but I was there to pick the brains of the teacher. She was a charismatic young woman who was a great musician and singer, and she’d been teaching the class for a few years.
At the end of that term she resigned because she was too busy. The director of the community education programme said, “Okay Alice, would you like to take over?”
That first term I had six students. The next term I had twelve. The following term I had two classes of twelve each! And the next term after that I had fifty students, spanning seven decades.
I found that I was enjoying teaching.
People were coming back to my classes, term after term.
I went looking for ukulele teaching resources, but couldn’t find any books that included what I wanted to teach. I found the same thing when I was learning to play fiddle. (Here’s a link to my post about being a fiddler.)
People have suggested I write a book. Maybe I will one day. But I think books aren’t a very effective way to teach music making. There’s no substitute for personal contact.
Videos are very useful, though. I started my Youtube channel last year to provide resources for my students. The beginners are making much faster progress since they’ve had practice videos. Here’s a link to my Alice Bulmer Music Youtube channel.
I knew I’d “arrived” when the new guitar teacher in the night classes asked me for my tips on teaching!
Ukulele teaching brings together all the skills I’ve collected from my wide musical experience.
And because I love playing the ukulele so much, I love sharing my passion with others.
Hi, I’m Alice
I’ve been in love with the ukulele since my mother, Sue, taught me three chords when I was six.
I teach ukulele to adult learners all over the world via Zoom and Skype. If you happen to live in Hamilton, New Zealand, I also teach group ukulele classes.
You can find out about my group classes by clicking here.
Click this link to book online ukulele lessons with me. $US160 for six half-hour lessons.
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