Uke-ing It Up

Mikayla Braun (left) and the author

A quick search of “ukulele songs” on YouTube yields more than 293,000 videos. And it’s no wonder, easily portable with only four strings, it seems the easiest stringed instrument to pick up and learn.

I have studied singing, piano and clarinet, but never a stringed instrument, so I turned to local musician Mikayla Braun. Braun is originally from Bethesda, Md., and went to college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to study psychology. She always has been a performer, playing piano and guitar, covering other artists’ songs in her own way as well as writing and performing her own music (you may have already seen her busking on a French Quarter street corner or on a local stage). She spent a semester abroad in East Africa at 20 to study Wildlife Preservation and needed an instrument small enough to fit in her suitcase, so she picked up the ukulele. While there she found that although she still loved animals, she wanted to devote more of her time and energy to her music, so she moved to New Orleans.

We met at my house for my first lesson. We started by tuning my very out of tune instrument as she told me about the different kinds of ukuleles, how the strings and frets worked and how to make it play the correct sounds. She brought out a binder with sheets to teach me how to read chord diagrams, how to play scales and a few popular songs with the chord progressions marked. After we tried out a few strumming rhythms, we decided to try playing a song, “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz. It basically has four chords: C, G, A minor and F. I kept hesitating over the move from C to G, but every time I’d get frustrated, I’d turn to Braun and she’d be smiling patiently at me, kindly urging me to continue.

When our scheduled hour had passed, Braun asked me if I had had enough for the first lesson – when I looked at my clock I was surprised to see the time, I thought we had only been working for 20 minutes.

After she left I took a break but kept being drawn back to my ukulele; I ended up practicing until the fingers on my left hand went numb and I had to shake out my wrist. But I’ll keep playing until my muscle memory remembers how to go from C to G. And I’ll see Braun again next week to learn a new song, and continue to do so until I can (maybe) keep up with her.
If you’re interested in learning to play the ukulele, want to purchase Braun’s first album or help fund her second, you can visit her website or email her at