Get Out & Play: Summer 2015

Hone your skills and have a blast at a uke summer camp just for adults

By Louise Lee

One of Heidi Swedberg’s workshops for so-called grown-ups' © Jill Richards
One of Heidi Swedberg’s workshops for so-called grown-ups’ © Jill Richards

Whether you’re already learning the ukulele or want to pick up the instrument, attending a ukulele camp could be the perfect chance to improve your skills, meet other players, and get away from it all.

There are hundreds of camps and classes designed for adults ranging from beginners to advanced players. To pick a program that’s right for you, ask yourself a few questions about your playing and your goals: How much do you want to learn? Are you ready to learn advanced technique? Are you comfortable in a group and playing casually with people you just met?

“There’s lots and lots of jamming that goes on,” says Janet Peterson, director of California Coast Music Camp, which takes place each July in Placer County, California.

Consider what kind of setting you want. At one end of the spectrum are programs such as California Coast, modeled after the sleepaway camps you attended as a kid, complete with bunk beds, cabins, cafeteria food, and lots of outdoor time. At the other end are programs aimed largely at local players and organized around a single session, such as the Ukulele Teen & Adult Boot Camp in Orem, Utah.

Measure your attention span and energy level: Do you have the desire and motivation to spend six to eight hours a day for a week with the ukulele? Or would you rather space out your learning over a number of sessions spread across a few months? Consider a few practical matters, including how much you’re willing to spend on tuition and how long you’re able to be away from home.


One advantage of attending a sleepaway camp is the chance to surround yourself with other players, Peterson says. “Whether you’re a beginner or advanced, there’ll always be someone to play with.” Organizers emphasize that even beginners who have never touched a ukulele before can learn a substantial amount in a camp or group setting. In just a few hours, says Gerald Ross, who coordinates and teaches in the ukulele program at Ashokan, students can learn to play a couple of simple songs.

Above all, ukulele programs are designed to be fun, social, and laid-back experiences. Auditions aren’t necessary; just register and show up. The sleepaway programs in particular can resemble a retreat. “People come and try to get away from it all,” says Ross. “They see it as a vacation as well as a time for learning.”

Ashokan Music & Dance Camps

Paul Hemmings will teach four workshops at Ashokan in late May.
Paul Hemmings will teach four workshops at Ashokan in late May.

Ashokan Music & Dance Camps, in the Catskill Mountains in Olivebridge, New York, holds a Uke Fest, where participants attend workshops and technique classes with titles like “Clawhammer Uke,” “Harmonica for Ukulele Players,” and “Easy Embellishments,” as well as concerts and jam sessions. This year, the session is scheduled for May 22 to 25. Participants can stay offsite in a bed and breakfast or onsite in a cabin with as many as 11 cabinmates for $25 a night. Tuition: $435, covering all classes, meals, and concert tickets. (Participants can sign up to work in the dining hall in exchange for a tuition discount.)

California Coast Music Camp

Located in the Sierra foothills a few hours east of San Francisco,  California Coast Music Camp teaches not only ukulele, but also guitar, bass, fiddle, and mandolin to players of all levels. There are two week-long sessions, from July 5 to 11 and July 12 to 18. Participants, including the true beginners, choose the classes they want to attend, and the schedule includes dances, concerts, and other recreation time. Music-reading skills aren’t required, although reading tablature is helpful. Meals and performances all take place in a central hall, and you can stay in your own van or RV, camp out in the woods, or sleep among other participants in a cabin with bunk beds. Tuition: $845 if you stay in your own tent or RV, $920 for a cabin (indoor plumbing is $75 extra).

Interlochen Center for the Arts

Interlochen Center for the Arts in Interlochen, Michigan, offers a one-day session entitled “Beginning Ukulele: From Zero to Sixty in One Day.” The center’s website describes it as a crash course “aimed at getting complete beginners or those who haven’t played the uke in a while up to cruising speed in one day.” The course starts with tuning and basic chords in the morning session and, after lunch, continues with strum patterns and songs. Participants can even borrow an instrument for the day. Tuition: $55.

Ukulele Teen & Adult Boot Camp

SCERA, a non-profit in Orem, Utah, operates the Ukulele Teen & Adult Boot Camp, a single three-hour session during which even absolute beginners can learn such songs as “Amazing Grace” and “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” This year’s classes are on June 6 and July 7. Tuition: $45; instrument rental is $50 extra. 

Twin Town Guitars

This Minneapolis, Minnesota, camp holds ongoing sessions that spread six lessons over six weeks in its Uke Group classes. Beginners are welcome. Each lesson builds on the previous lesson and adds new skills, chords, and songs. The session culminates in an informal performance. Tuition: $80.

Ukulele University

Ukulele University, or “Uke U,” held in Bend, Oregon, offers a three-day course with workshops, performances, play-alongs, and open mics. Classes are held in the facilities of a nearby private school near downtown Bend, where you’ll find plenty of cocktails and coffee shops to explore after hours. Attendees can stay in local hotels, or pitch a tent or hook up an RV in the camping area at nearby Tumalo State Park on the Deschutes River. This year’s event, featuring faculty headliners Craig Chee and Sarah Maisel, takes place from July 17 to 19. Tuition: $75-85 for adults; $30-40 for youth (under age 15); $99 for camping.

This article originally appeared in the
Summer 2015 issue of Ukulele magazine.