Texas Music Project Brings Banjo Ukuleles to Houston

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Michael Clay loves music. He plays music. He writes music. He lives music. He jams with friends. As an avid fan, he listens to performing musicians all over Texas and the USA. But most of all, he spreads the love of music to the children of Texas through the Texas Music Project. Michael Clay is TMP’s Executive Director and Co-Founder.

This summer, Michael Clay and the Texas Music Project partnered with New Zealand based BanjoUke.Kiwi to create a special tenor banjolele for the Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. These unique tenor banjolele instruments were placed into the hands of the children in August of 2015, and it was love at first sound.

The Texas Music Project (TMP) has been supporting music education in Texas schools since 2003. Their primary mission, as a 501c3 non-profit organization, is to develop and produce music education programs. TMP has become a grassroots resource for students, schools and the community through partnerships with a network of music industry professionals.

TMP was created to help address the lack of funding for the arts in general and specifically music education in Texas schools and communities. Like their partners down under, they believe music has the transformative power to connect, inspire and heal. For this reason TMP created educational, instructional, and informational programs for disadvantaged groups. The Texas Music Project inspires people to follow their dreams through music.

The Texas Music Project also brings music, musical instruments and music education to the children of fallen vets. You can help support their inspirational musical efforts by donating to the Texas Music Project.

This image is ceiling to floor view filled with stringed instruments.

First Musical Instrument

instrument-clutterSo you want to choose a “first musical instrument” for a child, but you don’t know where to start. Here are some tips for finding the perfect first instrument for a preschool or elementary age child.

1) What’s your budget? If $50 is the most you can spend, consider a well cared for used instrument or possibly a recorder or inexpensive ukulele. But beware – a cheap ukulele might not stay in tune for very long. That can be frustrating for a new player. If your budget is bigger, then so are your choices.

closed-instruments2) Where will the instrument be played and stored? Making music takes up space. Make sure there is room for the instrument you want to be stored safely. Is there a place to practice? How loud is the music for the available space? Some apartment communities might not welcome bag pipe practice.

3) What is the temperament of the young musician? Can he sit quietly or does she need to keep moving? Do they have braces on their teeth that would make wind instruments more challenging? Is he or she tenacious and focused or easily frustrated? You must choose an instrument that fits the childs’s personality.

4) Is there a teacher available for lessons? A French horn is a wonderful instrument, but not every community offers instruction for beginners. On the other hand, it is usually easy to find a piano, guitar, or ukulele teacher and there are excellent on line classes for most popular instruments.

5) Choose an instrument that is sturdy enough for the small muscle development of the musician. If the child drops everything, only consider instruments that can take a pounding.

6) Most importantly, what kind of music elicits a positive response from your child? Make certain they will be able to play the kind of music they like on the instrument you choose.

7) Can you easily resell the instrument? Most likely, this will be a starter instrument and you will want to replace it somewhere down the line. Will the instrument hold its value? Will it be easy to sell when the time comes?

open-instruments8) There will come a time, maybe sooner than you expect, to upgrade to a bigger or better quality instrument. On line research is a great place to start. Be sure to read customer testimonials and trade review. A music teacher is another source of information and possibly a hands-on experience. You can also visit music with your young musician. This time around, you will be choosing an instrument based on sound, comfort while playing, and personal appeal.

9) Don’t underestimate that value of playing music with others. “Jamming” with your friends is a wonderful motivator, especially for a shy or reluctant musician. Take you child to concerts where professional musicians will be playing the instrument you chose.

I recently purchased a smaller banjolele for my left handed grandson. It is extremely durable and almost impossible to damage even when dropped into a bathtub full of bubbles. The shorter length fret board is perfect for his smaller hands and arm length. With only 4 strings, he was able to master a C major chord within 2 minutes! His banjouke is very light, slightly over a pound, so he can strum it for a long time without getting tired. And because the drum is an open banjo drum, it makes a loud and tuneful sound.

Whatever your circumstances, the gift of a musical instrument is enchanting. It’s the perfect gift!
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Picture of BanjoUke SideKick Tattoo

Paul’s Epiphany

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Paul was a difficult child. He hated school. He was not interested in sports or music. He couldn’t read well or do math. He lived in the fog of childhood and cartoons. I didn’t know what to do and neither did any of his teachers.

I signed him up for soccer, arranged tennis lessons, hired an academic tutor and took him to piano lessons. Nothing caught his interest, except explosives. He wanted to know everything there was to know about armaments and how bombs were used.  I was afraid he was destined for the military, or worse becoming an arms dealer.

Then one day when he was 10 we went to a school ukulele concert. Some kids from a neighboring school were putting on a concert and I dragged Paul kicking and screaming into the auditorium.

The middle school aged kids began by performing Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (A Little Night Music) by Mozart, plucking the familiar notes on their ukes. In that instant Paul’s world changed. He sat on the edge of his chair and leaned toward the stage, hanging on every note. When the song was over, he turned to me and said, “I want to do that!”

I bought him a ukulele the next day. All he wanted to play was classical music, which was fine with me. I found a teacher, Doug Johnson, who knew exactly how to motivate Paul and selected arrangements that were challenging but do-able for a beginner. Paul changed over night. He carried his uke with him everywhere, including to the dinner table. When he was 14 he switched to piano for his formal music studies. He eventually graduated magna cum laude from the Berklee College of Music in Boston and has continued with a career in music, writing scores for movies and more traditional music for symphony orchestras.

The ukulele changed Paul’s life. Although he still plays the piano, Paul’s favorite instrument is now the BanjoUkulele. He loves it. So do I!