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A strummin good time
Dawsonville ukulele group holds first meeting
A-Ukulele pic 1
People of all ages gathered at the first ever Ukulele group meeting on Saturday at the Dawson County Library to learn songs and share with others. The group, organized by Susie Lyday, was made up of people of all skill levels who came together from all across northern Georgia. - photo by Allie Dean Dawson County News

Within the first 20 minutes of their first-ever gathering, a newly-minted Dawsonville music group were strumming along to "You are my sunshine" as they sat in a big circle in the Dawson County Library on Saturday.

Nearly 30 people of all ages gathered together through a mutual interest in the tiny, guitar-shaped instrument known as a ukulele.

Novices and seasoned strummers, family members and strangers, all organized under Dawsonville resident and ukulele group-starter Susie Lyday's leadership, spent two hours learning chords and singing along to tunes that included "Jambalaya," "Three little birds," "Ring of Fire," "This land is your land" and "I'm Yours."

Some were slower to master new chords and strumming techniques, including one young girl who asked "how does this work again?" after the first song was over.

Others with more experience helped lead songs by singing the melodies and helping those around them get their finger placement right.

One attendee even performed a song she had written herself to be played on the ukulele, and offered advice to the beginners in the crowd.

"I play every day, no matter how busy I am...even if it's just for five minutes before bed," said Amanda Thompson. "That's how bad my addiction to the ukulele is, my day isn't complete without it."

No matter well anyone played or sang, there was nothing but an air of encouragement and camaraderie in the room.
"Don't worry about comparing yourself to others," Lyday said, after saying that she too is a beginner. "I think it's important to see people who are more experienced than you and learn from them. It gives you something to aspire to."

Lyday and other attendees mentioned several resources for everyone to use to practice between meetings, and gave everyone print-outs of a few songs to continue to work on.

Lyday recommended The Ukulele Teacher, a YouTube channel, as well as the Ukulele Underground website, which has forums and a weekly jam session.

"There is no type of music you can't play on the ukulele," Lyday said. "No matter what kind of music you're into or what song you want to play, the ukulele chords are available on the internet."

After the meeting was over, several people came up to Lyday and told her how great the group was and how excited they were to begin learning the instrument.

"I'm excited by the turnout, I only expected four or five people," Lyday said. "I think we'll really be able to make a go of this."

The library has eight ukuleles for rent, which can be checked out for two weeks at a time with a library card.

Lyday encourages group members to bring their own, and gave recommendations of the best music stores to buy ukuleles, which she said to her were like candy shops.

Stacey Leonhardt, the library branch manager, said she too was surprised by the turnout, and loves that the instrument is something that everyone can enjoy playing, regardless of skill level or age.

"It's becoming a bit of a national trend, so we're excited to have a group here," Leonhardt said. "We even have books about the ukulele and some with music, but in preparation for this they all got checked out."

The group is currently referred to on their Facebook page as the North Georgia Moonshine Ukulele Strummers, a title that could change with more input from members. But for now the NGMUS will continue to practice their songs and wait, however impatiently, for next month's meeting where they can catch up with new friends and refine their burgeoning ukulele talents.

New members will always be welcome, as Lyday hopes the group will grow to rival the size of one she helped start in Atlanta, which now has over 400 members.

The meetings will be from 10:30 to 12:30 in the meeting room of the library the first Saturday of every month. The group is also in the process of setting up a children's group, which would meet the second Saturday of every month in the same location.

The library is located at 342 Allen St. in Dawsonville.