Ukulele in Toronto is a hot pursuit for those inclined toward all things twee. From its early introduction to Hawaii from Portugal to the American Vaudeville and Jazz to today, the ukulele has made its way into modern music. Tiny Tim had the hit "Tiptoe Through the Tulips," George Harrison was an avid collector quoted as saying, "You can't play it and not laugh" and there's even, uh, Eddie Vedder's "Ukulele Songs."
Toronto has its own clear admiration for the ukulele. Last year was the flashmob of uke players singing and playing on the TTC morning commute. It also continues to be played and open jams, house concerts, and schools. And Toronto husband and wife team Tony Coleman and Margaret Meagher filmed the documentary Mighty Uke about the history of the ukulele.
From ukulele jams to private teachers, Toronto has no shortage of ways to learn to play the diminutive instrument. It remains portable, easy on the fingers, simple to start learning, and yes, lots of fun. Please note some lessons are free and some are by donation or fixed cost.
Here are the top five places to learn to strum a ukulele in Toronto.
The Corktown Ukulele
Co-founded by Steve McNie and David Newland, the Corktown Ukulele Jam is one of the most popular in Canada. The "group" has a membership of over 1,600. Currently run by McNie every Wednesday, there's a beginning workshop with overhead slides, followed by an open mic, then a jam - all take place at the Dominion on Queen 500 Queen St. E. There is very much an open atmosphere, allowing beginners, and the more experienced to learn and participate together, all guided by McNie's expertise. Focus is on skill progression, different styles, and feeling.
The Toronto North Ukulele Jam
Held at the Cosmopolitan Music Hall at Cosmo Music (10 Via Renzo Drive, Richmond Hill), The Toronto North Ukulele Jam takes place every Monday night from 7pm-9pm. Led by Steve McNie (yup, from Corktown Ukulele Jam), it's composed of a sign up, workshop, and jam welcoming a community of various backgrounds and styles.
The Scarborough Ukulele Jam
Inspired by the Corktown Jam, the Scarborough Ukulele Jam takes place at The Old Stone Cottage Pub (3750 Kingston Rd.) every second Monday. The format is similar to the Corktown with a new song workshop, review of the previous workshop tunes, then open jam, then open mic. The workshop also includes the basics of the harmonic lesson. Run by Jay Moonah, Paul Butters, and Matthew Bartram, all levels of skill are welcome. Their website posts the basic chords, finger positioning, and tips on how to have the most fun playing uke.
The Toronto Institute for Enjoyment of Music (TIFEM)
The Toronto Institute for the Enjoyment of Music isn't your ordinary music school. TIFEM has some non-traditional teaching methods, with learning focused on the individual's level and needs. Fun is an obvious key element to classes here. The TIFEM has two drop-in ukulele classes every Sunday. The free intro class is for the absolute ukulele starter with no experience whatsoever, with a focus is on basics such as how to hold a uke to the art of tuning your instrument. The level 1 class works on chord changes, melody, rhythm. Get to know their instructors online on the faculty page.
The Parkdale Ukulele Group
The Parkdale Ukulele Group (PUG, not to be confused with TTC-mobbing Project Ukulele Gangtsterism) has seasonal classes offered by established musician Eve Goldberg. Classes are currently offered for beginning level Monday evenings, and intermediate level Sunday afternoons. A favourite at folk festivals, house concerts, and folk venues for over 20 years, Eve also teaches private lessons in ukulele, songwriting and performance. Lessons for the PUG take place in the King St. and Roncesvalles area.
The Toronto Public Library
Did you know the Toronto Public Library maintains a discovery of arts and culture blog? While some of the learning material for ukulele players may be directed more towards children, the library does keep a wide selection of ukulele based material related to both adult learning and songbooks/scores. The Toronto Reference Library Arts Department is located on the 5th floor.
Photo by Jason Cook
by Ryan Ayukawa via blogTO