The Magic of a Tiny Musical Instrument

skaggsA recent NPR (National Public Radio)  interview with Ricky Skaggs could intrigue you.

In the interview Ricky Skaggs tells how his dad came home one night and put a little “teeny tiny mandolin” in Ricky’s bed. When Ricky, the 5 year old, woke up he opened the gift box and there was a little teeny tiny mandolin.

How magical.

If you listen to the whole interview you hear how Ricky almost always had some stringed instrument in his hands.

I wonder, was it really a smaller mandolin than usual or did the mandolin seem small to a child when compared to the guitar? I’ve “googled” “teeny tiny mandolin” with no luck on a picture of anything smaller than a typical mandolin. Would it look like a cavaquinho? Would it be smaller than a ukulele?


Ricky Skaggs at age 3. Is that a ukulele he's playing?

On Skagg’s homepage, there is a timeline that includes a 1957 photo of a 3 yr-old Ricky playing what looks to be a ukulele.  (Thanks to reader JD for the tip on the photo and links).

There is something truly magical about tiny instruments.

When my niece was 3 years old, I gave her a bright yellow ukulele for her birthday. From the moment she first saw the bright yellow, teeny tiny “guitar” she didn’t let it out of her sight.   You could see the delight and magic it held for her. Now, she is almost six and her strumming has come a long way. She says, “ukulele” with ease and she plays it like a rock star.

After introducing another set of young friends of ages 2 and 3 to little tiny “pitars” (their word for the ukulele)  the 3 year old strummed so often and eagerly on her new instrument, she took the skin off her fingertips. Only when she was getting ready for bed after a day of strumming, she said, “My fingers hurt.” Sure enough she had been so eager to play the tiny magical instrument, just her size, that she’d overdone it. Even though she had a pick, she wanted to play like the big people.

The magic never really leaves a tiny instrument. And the magic transfers to all who play the tiny instrument. For being so tiny, the ukulele captures a large part of the spirit of music, renewal, and joy.

Strum on.

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