After years of being hindered by what he attributes to something between laziness and intimidation, Dave Quisenberry decided it was time to step up and learn how to play a musical instrument. He had grown up around musicians and was a huge music fan, but he found himself gravitating toward the creative side of the art relatively later in life, so he wanted to start with something relatively simple.
It was with these factors in mind that Quisenberry first picked up the ukulele.
“I had also always heard that it’s fairly easy, and once you pick it up you can play a few songs,” Quisenberry noted, “and that’s true.”
Having lived in Hawaii for a spell in 2003, Quisenberry beheld the popularity and charms of the ukulele, a small, four-stringed instrument in the guitar family that was developed in that state in the 1880s. He had also learned that George Harrison was a proponent of the uke, an endorsement that carried some weight for Quisenberry, a longtime fan of The Beatles.
Rather than holing up in his bedroom with chord books, like many people do when learning a new instrument, he opted to take a different route. After chatting with The Hive Salon owner Carla Brown – who also owned a ukulele she had never learned to play – Quisenberry started a Facebook page titled “Lexingtones Uke Group” to garner interest from any other local uke players or wannabe uke players. The group quickly amassed to more than 90 members, with 12 to 15 of those members meeting at The Hive Salon on a weekly basis to practice and learn as a group.
According to Quisenberry, the structure of the group is fairly loose, people show up with a song they want to learn and they take it from there. Two of the more “seasoned” uke players of the group, Mick Jeffries and Logan Lay, tend to lead the group through the songs, but it’s expected that folks practice on their own (i.e., learn the basic chords) outside of the group practice.
“It’s not a formal teaching thing,” Quisenberry said. “We try to keep the first hour simple, basic stuff, and the second hour more advanced, complicated stuff. We always encourage people to show up, and we want the first hour to be un-intimidating so people don’t feel overwhelmed.”
The group is comprised of a wide mix of musical talents and inclinations, with the majority of the members being new musicians. But members say the learning curve is an easy one.
“I came to the uke group knowing one chord and no songs, by the end of the first session I could play four chords and three songs,” Robyn Wade said. “The thing I really like about the uke group is that while we are on very different levels, we are all still learning and everyone is willing to share their knowledge with the group.”
“Many of them not only didn’t play ukulele six months ago, they didn’t play anything. Now they can bang out a recognizable version of most songs within minutes of getting a chord and lyric sheet,” said Logan Lay, who has more musical experience than most members of the group. He plays the relatively unusual bass ukulele, which he says adds a nice complement to the high pitched tone of the other ukes.
Despite his experience, Lay says the group has been a learning opportunity for him as well.
“I’ve been playing a lot longer than most of the folks in the group, but I think I’ve learned as much as they have by doing arrangements of songs and figuring out how to teach them things about playing that I had taken for granted prior to being involved in the group,” he said.
Mick Jeffries, who first picked up a baritone ukulele at a yard sale years ago, acknowledges that the “I’m in a ukulele band” proclamation is often met with mixed reactions.
“The ukulele is riding a trend wave that can inspire eye-rolling, I don’t deny,” he said. “It does occupy this very weird and unique spot between amusement and discipline, but it can grow into much, much more with practice.”
Jeffries added that before he started playing with the Lexingtones, he considered his ukulele “wall art” and thought his string-picking days were over, due to a “longterm stagnation.” He says he entertained “some dim hope” that the group might revive his interest in the instrument – a notion he says has turned out to be a major understatement.
“This group has got me playing every single day – in fact, more than I ever did before,” he said, adding that his true love for the ukulele “as a sovereign instrument” sprouted as a direct result of this group. “There is some undeniable charm in a roomful of people strumming ukes. … It’s always a smile-fest.”
Quisenberry and the rest of the group encourage new members – no previous experience necessary. The group typically meets on Monday evenings at 7 p.m. at The Hive Salon, but more information and regular updates are available at the group’s Facebook page: “Lexingtones Uke Group.”