Podculture: Strumming a chord with Ukulele Club

Jessica Ma and Erica Schmitt



A new chord is strumming on campus with the Ukulele Club. Nitya Agrawal, who rebooted the club, and other student members talk about the new community that combines both seasoned players and complete beginners.

NITYA AGRAWAL: It was a club that I really would have wanted to join if I was a freshman. I guess I just saw a need, and so I just kind of wanted to fill that need. 

[ukulele music]

JESSICA MA: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Jessica Ma.

ERICA SCHMITT: And I’m Erica Schmitt. This is Podculture, a podcast about arts and culture on campus and beyond. That was Weinberg sophomore Nitya Agrawal, the founder and acting president of the Ukulele Club. We’re hearing about what the club on campus is all about. 

JESSICA MA: Nitya rebooted the club this spring. She remembered first hearing about it while taking a campus tour and thought it would be fun. But once she got to campus, the club disbanded.

ERICA SCHMITT: At NU, there is a lot of pressure to always be busy, whether that’s extracurriculars or a heavy class schedule. Nitya said she wants the rebooted club to be a space away from academic pressures. 

NITYA AGRAWAL: It’s not really like a club to build your resume or something like that. It’s kind of supposed to be like a refuge from all of these clubs on campus that are dedicated to just advancing yourself professionally. Which is, it’s more just to be like a really fun space to be creative and also just relax, meet new people and like learn a fun skill.

JESSICA MA: One of the club’s goals is to attract new members with a range of experiences playing the ukulele, from complete beginners to veteran strummers. 

ERICA SCHMITT: Weinberg sophomore Nia Robles found out about the club at the start of Spring Quarter when she saw Nitya’s post in the class of 2024 GroupMe. 

NIA ROBLES: I was like, “Oh, that sounds interesting.” So I kind of just texted her on GroupMe, and she just talked about it. She just told me, like, “We have a meeting on Wednesday at this place.” And I was like, “Okay, okay, I’m going there.”

ERICA SCHMITT: Nia has been playing the ukulele since her freshman year in high school. Playing the ukulele was common at their high school — even teachers would get involved.

NIA ROBLES: Some professors for like classes like physical education will bring like a guitar. And we would just like sit around and we will play together and sing to different songs.

JESSICA MA: But for Nia, the ukulele has always been a hobby. At Northwestern, music can also be a profession, which can be intimidating for non-music majors. 

NIA ROBLES: Here, many people in the performance arts are like just so talented. And they have like very high expectations and I don’t think I’m the most talented musician by any chance. And like I didn’t want it that hobby to become something that I feel like I need to be super good at, to fit in. 

ERICA SCHMITT: Communication sophomore Kate Davis handles marketing for the club. She said the club tries to accommodate beginner players. 

KATE DAVIS: If you’ve never picked up an instrument in your life, no worries, you could still be a part of the club, and it kind of whatever it needs to look like. We’re gonna focus on like creating different facets to be able to accommodate that.

JESSICA MA: Nitya said she thinks the ukulele is unique from other instruments she has played, mainly because it’s accessible.

NITYA AGRAWAL: Most people who play ukulele are self-taught, which is really interesting compared to a lot of other instruments where, like, you might have an instructor or like, you know, you might learn in, like, a class or something like that.

ERICA SCHMITT: Nia said she wanted a place where she could play the ukulele without the pressure to be the best. They said Ukulele Club was what they were looking for. 

NIA ROBLES: So that’s why also it was kind of fun to hear like about like the club and meet other people who might feel the same way I do. Just playing in groups and enjoy more the connection of playing music together than thinking about like it being perfect. 

JESSICA MA: Nitya said music is collaborative. She wants the club to feel like a community where everyone can be creative. 

NITYA AGARWAL: I feel like in music, there’s like no right or wrong answer. And everyone has very unique ideas and can contribute in their own unique ways. 

ERICA SCHMITT: The club’s environment is shaped by Nitya’s belief about music. To support less experienced members, the club has a music director on its executive board, someone who is more knowledgeable and can help teach members about the music they’re playing.  

KATE DAVIS: I think like everyone’s kind of willing to make this like a big community activity.

JESSICA MA: Experienced players like Nia can help out newer players. 

NIA ROBLES: What I can contribute as a member right now is helping other people learn. So, I let people borrow my ukulele if they don’t have one. And if they need tips on how to play or strum, I would just be like, “Yeah, so this is what I do.”

ERICA SCHMITT: Kate also offers advice to new members on where to start when learning the ukulele. She generally recommends learning the four basic chords.

[ukulele playing]

KATE DAVIS: Once you get the hang of, like, how to hold the ukulele it’s really simple to like figure out like where to place your fingers, especially once you know your way around like with frets and strings. 

JESSICA MA: And when you put all that together, Nia shows you the finished product. 

[ukulele playing]

ERICA SCHMITT: In the future, the club wants to collaborate with other student organizations on campus. 

NITYA AGRAWAL: Once the club gets established and has a little bit more of a traction going, that we could partner with other organizations on campus, especially the ones catered to like nonprofits. 

ERICA SCHMITT: Nitya and Kate said they hope the club can spread a positive message throughout the community and beyond Northwestern’s campus.

NITYA AGRAWAL: Just in case we wanted to, like, bring ukulele to Chicago Public Schools or something like that. 

JESSICA MA: If you’re thinking of playing the ukulele, Davis has some advice. 

KATE DAVIS: But I would just say go for it. You know what I mean? It’s really, really simple. And if you try I think, you know it’ll be pretty easy to get the hang of it eventually. It’s about persistence and passion. 


JESSICA MA: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Jessica Ma.

ERICA SCHMITT: And I’m Erica Schmitt. Thanks for listening to another episode of Podculture. This episode was reported and produced by Jessica Ma and myself. The audio editor of The Daily Northwestern is Lucia Barnum, the digital managing editors are Will Clark and Katrina Pham and the editor in chief is Jacob Fulton. 

JESSICA MA: Make sure to subscribe to The Daily Northwestern’s podcasts on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or SoundCloud to hear more episodes like this.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @eschmitt318

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @jessicama2025

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