By Kailey Fisicaro

The Bulletin

Adults who pick up an instrument might have to relearn how to move their hands or unlearn bad habits, which takes time. For kids, it can be much quicker.

Within about a half hour of picking up ukuleles for the first time last week, fifth-graders at Trinity Lutheran School were playing (albeit slowly, and with some mistakes) a song — “Stand by Me.”

The children were using brand new ukuleles on loan from Ukes for Youth, a program affiliated with Ukulele University, the annual music workshop in Bend, and Bend-based music and art nonprofit Rise Up International.

“Play it hard,” Bob Rasmussen, chairman of Ukulele University, said at the beginning of the session. “You’re not going to break the strings.”

Ukes for Youth visits local schools to introduce students to the ukulele.

As Rasmussen taught them parts of the instrument from the fret to the strings, the kids strummed on cue. Four members of Bend Ukulele Group, including Rasmussen’s wife, Linda Rasmussen, came along to offer extra help to the kids, who sat cross-legged on the floor.

“Does mine sound a little out of tune?” Abby Blackwell, 10, asked. Linda Rasmussen bent down to adjust the instrument.

Under Rasmussen’s lead, the children moved through learning C, A minor, F and G7.

“Is this the sound?” another child asked.

“Well, one of the strings is getting muffled, but that’s OK right now,” Linda Rasmussen said, leaning down to the student.

Throughout the session, Rasmussen remarked on how fast the children were picking up the chords. With an eye toward music teacher Carol Podwils, it was clear Rasmussen wasn’t just being kind. He was genuinely impressed.

Lillie Kelly, 11, rocked forward each time she strummed her uke in time with the rest of the class. She said she had picked up a ukulele once before when her sister’s friend offered to share hers. But until last week she hadn’t learned about one, and she doesn’t play other instruments. Once she got the rhythm, she beamed.

“You guys are amazing,” Rasmussen said. “You really are — sometimes this takes weeks.”

The children were excited but mostly silent, intent on paying attention to each new step.

Rasmussen urged the children to switch with him between chords as he called them out. Each time they returned to C, the children played the strongest.

“We love that C, don’t we?” Rasmussen said. “It’s easy. We know where it is.”

In the last minutes of class, Rasmussen let the children know they’d be attempting a song. He told them he would do the singing, since trying to focus on lyrics and playing can be tough for beginners of any instrument — kind of like trying to chew gum and walk at the same time, he said.

One of the Bend Ukulele Group members took a place at the front of the room, pointing to each of the chord charts taped to the white board so Rasmussen was free to sing.

“When the night, has come, and the land is dark,” Rasmussen began.

Slowly the room began to fill with the sound of the Ben E. King classic, although many of the young students might not have recognized it.

“I think it was really cool,” James Klein, 11, said of playing the song. He wasn’t sure if he had heard it before, though. “I’ll probably look it up when I get home.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0325, kfisicaro@bendbulletin.com

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