Monday, 16 December 2013

Making An Ukulele Christmas Songbook

There is no shortage of published ukulele songbooks. Early on our group decided to work from Jim and Liz Beloff's Daily Ukulele (and later, from the Leap Year Edition, as well), but we also like to find and share music that is not in print.

This year I wanted to compile some Christmas songs we could play together year after year—our own homemade Christmas songbook, if you will.

To keep it both inexpensive and easily modifiable, we started with 3-ring binders and clear vinyl sheet protectors, then added anywhere from 4 to 12 printed songs each meeting. By the time of our recent year-end party, we had over 30 songs we could play together in between munching on goodies and sipping coffee.

In addition to using the Beloff Daily Ukulele (as well as their two books of Christmas & holiday songs), we found chord arrangements on the following sites:
It's also possible to look for guitar arrangements and transpose if necessary. I think they only unfamiliar guitar key is E; but it's only a half step from there to F, which works well for uke.

Though it would have been easier to print out songs directly from the sites, I wanted a standardized and consistent style. The template I created uses Courier, a monospaced font which allows lining up chords to the words (or even syllables) that they fall on. The monospacing also helps in writing out the occasional tablature arrangement. Another choice was to use a bold color (red) for the chords, so that they would stand out from the lyrics written underneath.

Halfway through the process I discovered Chordette for Uke, a downloadable font for adding chord fingering charts to music. And in trying to understand why what I knew as diminished chords were written as diminished 7th chords, I learned something new (here's Ukulele Mike, a short excerpt in a good general explanation about diminished chords).

Just now, in looking more closely at the Hallifax Ukulele Gang songbook cover, I noticed an outdated link to a program called UKEPIX (here's the current link), which looks like a DOS-based program for creating little images of chord fingerings. I haven't used it, but mention it here in case it might be a useful resource for someone.

Two final touches were adding clipart (as opposed to other, more ink-hungry images) and documenting, where possible. the origin of the arrangement. Sometimes two or three sites had similar arrangements, and sometimes one of us would want to change or add a chord here or there; but an attempt was made to acknowledge where the arrangement had been found, at least. Finally, because of my own curiosity over some of other songbooks, I added our blog url to the very bottom of every page.

The songs we covered this year were all suggestions from our group members. The goal is to be able to add to, rearrange (alphabetically? by theme? however each player prefers), and remix the book as desired—which our sleeve-and-binder system should work well for. But for those who prefer reading music off their tablets, and also for those who missed one or two meetings when music was being distributed, I also compiled a single booklet using MergePDF. So here it is, the final result of all these links and tools discovered along the way. Happy Holidays!

Sunday, 15 December 2013

A Talk by David Iriguchi

In the spring of 2012 a few Yukes, then brand new to ukulele, attended the Reno Uke Fest in Nevada. Unbeknownst to us, it was also the first ukulele festival for luthier David Iriguchi of The Happy Ukulele. We were all still playing entry-level instruments, so picking up his beautiful ukuleles was a revelation.

We've stayed in touch with Dave through twitter and other festivals, and it was a privilege to be able to hear him present last month at The Davis Makerspace while he was recovering from wrist surgery.

Dave's instruments are all handmade, but they are also each completely unique pieces—so much so that every instrument receives a name, not a number. If you look closely at the small sample he brought to the presentation, below, you can see that none of them look the same. Wood, shape, and even technique change from piece to piece. They are created like works of art.

Only part of this is based on aesthetics. Dave also experiments constantly with materials (rather than endangered tropical hardwoods, he works with easily renewable woods), with playability (changing the shape of a neck, for example) and with sound. He told us that when he hears something can't work, he often tries it and finds that it can.

Here is Lisa playing the quilted maple Mutant ukulele:

And here is Bruce testing the Cthukulele, an electric ukulele bass:

These names seem to suggest that Dave finds his instruments strange looking, but in fact they are stunningly beautiful, as well as comfortable and easy to play. And playing is encouraged, as wood instruments sound better the more they are played. For this reason, Dave rarely does custom orders but instead invites customers to play as many of his ukuleles as they can before purchasing. Dave wants you to love your instrument, and that can only be discovered by holding it in your arms.

More on Dave's instruments and philosophy at:

photo courtesy of The Happy Ukulele

Friday, 8 November 2013

Another Reason to Play Today

Today is November 8, which of course is a perfect date for ukulele playing.

We'll be getting together and playing a selection of favorite songs. How about you?

Friday, 12 July 2013

How to Make a Cheap Ukulele Beach Bag

Today was our ukulele summer swim party, and those of us with plastic ukuleles brought them to play alongside—and yes, in—the water. A plastic uke deserves a plastic case, so here's a simple and inexpensive way to make one:

You need a 59-cent Ikea woven plastic shopping bag, a 20-inch (or so) zipper, thread, scissors and some duct tape. That's all. A bit of sewing is required, but nothing overly complicated. Use a nylon or polyester thread, set your stitch length fairly large, and it can be done in an afternoon.

The most time-consuming part is laying it out. The Ikea bag is so big that your uke would get lost in it. We want to size it down a little, so the first step is to take out the seams and remove the bag's bottom (below).

An ukulele's weight is normally centered right at the spot where the neck meets the body. Lay your ukulele so that this spot is at the midpoint of the straps. That way when you pick up your bag with the handles, it will feel balanced in your hand. Cut off the excess as shown, leaving about 1/2" for a seam allowance. I made my bag square in order to be able to stuff a towel and some other extras on top, but if you want a closer fit, you can cut the bottom off at an angle (below, second photo) or even in a more traditional curve.

Next, add a zipper: Cut the bag open so that you have two flat sides, and center the zipper between the top edges. You'll need to cut zipper stops for both end, then carefully sew around the zipper, using a zipper foot if you have one. As shown here, the zipper sides will stay more securely if pinned, but other seams can be temporarily held in place with painter's tape.

Now you have a piece that looks roughly like this. (sorry—no photos of this stage!) You want to cut two sides and a bottom, all about the width of your ukulele, plus that 1/2" seam allowance on either side. The sides and bottom can be a single long piece, but you will have to piece it together using the extra pieces from bottom and sides. Sew with your seams facing out. This is not how most bags are sewn, but it means you won't have any raw edges to scratch your uke, nor will you have to do any fancy seam finishing. This is a 59-cent bag, so the simpler, the better!

You're almost done. For the last step, you'll want to deal with those raw seam edges that are on the outside. Duct tape is fast, water-resistant, and comes in a multitude of colors and patterns. I used an electric blue that is pretty close to the color of the bag, but there's no reason one has to keep everything uniform when duct tape comes in florals, plaids and even leopard print, to name a few.

Extra Options

  • Reinforcement: a bottom insert is a good idea. All you need to do is cut a piece to size from cardboard, a piece of foam mounting board, or an old lawn sign. You can leave it as is or wrap it in tape to give it some protection.
  • Pockets: if you have two bags, you can use the side panels of the second to make interior pockets. These can hold both music and lightweight plastic or foam to help hold the bag's shape.
  • Foam support: this is simply a piece of 2-3" foam cut to the shape of your instrument. Electric carving knives are the preferred tool of foam carvers, but any serrated manual knife works well enough for these purposes. 

  • Plastic food container: to hold a tuner, phone, and your other necessities.
  • Decorations: stickers? markers? how will you customize your bag?
Ukuleles and water go well together, as long as you have the right materials!

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Star of Gladness

Yesterday our local newspaper had this tiny blurb on the weather page:
What's up in the sky?
Arcturus, also known as Alpha Boötis and the Polynesian Hokule'a, or the "Star of Gladness," is nearly overhead just after sunset and is the brightest star in the northern half of the sky. ~Morrison Planetarium, California Academy of Sciences
Last night was too cloudy to see much at all, but it shouldn't be hard to spot the fourth brightest star once the skies clear a little.

Meanwhile, there is this song of Iz's, which I heard for the first time only recently. I don't think it's on any of his solo albums, but he did record it with the Makaha Sons of Ni'ihau and it features in the dvd Israel Kamakawiwo'ole: The Man and His Music (well worth adding to your netflix or library queue).

Ancient Polynesians used Hokule'a as a guiding star to find the Hawaiian islands, and Iz's song expresses the joy of traveling on an open sea in anticipation of reaching land.

Below is my attempt at transcribing chords using the video. A .pdf file for sharing can be found here

Star of Gladness is another 3-chord song (really, almost a 2-chord song) and as such, it is easy to transpose for your singing voice. In this case, the G is the I, the D is the V, and the C is IV. So to play this song in C, you'd substitute C for G, G7 for D7, and F for C.

Star of Gladness
Israel Kamakawiwo'ole

G                                                                (Gdim-G)
Raindrops, they hamper my vision
G                                                              D7
Falling down and cutting incision in my mind
                  G                                 (D7-Am7)
While we sail away our time

G                                                      (Gdim-G)
Blow makani, shout jubilation
Carry us down to our destination
D7                        G
O wikiwiki, a keala Tahiti

G                                                      (Gdim-G)
Millions of stars up in the sky
Looking up, they all make us high
D7                                               G
Hokule'a (Hokule'a) Star of Gladness (you're the happy star)
D7                           G
Hokule'a, Star of Gladness

G                                                             (Gdim-G)
Stand beside me and be my friend
Make me smile and laugh again, yes
D7                                                G
Hokule'a (Hokule'a) Star of Gladness (you're the happy star)
D7                            G              (G7)
Hokule'a, Star of Gladness

C                                                        G                            (G7)
Lift your bow, your hull slides through the sea
C                                             G
Guide Hokule'a, Lord we ask you please
D7                                         G
In this we pray, Lord to show us the way

D7                                                G
Hokule'a (Hokule'a) Star of Gladness (you're the happy star)
D7                            G
Hokule'a, Star of Gladness (you're the happy star)

This song uses the Hawaiian D7, played on the second frets of the G and E strings (2020). Some other things one can see in the video are rocking on and off frets, plucking the top string and strumming, and other ways of elaborating that are too complicated for my beginner's eye to understand. But even played in its most basic version with only the 3 chords and a straight shuffle strum, this is a fun song to play on a starry summer night.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Happy Tune Plastic Ukulele

Somehow a plan hatched, and I'm pretty sure that Meri was responsible for most of it. The idea is that we all get ourselves plastic ukuleles for playing pool- or beachside this summer. What could be more fun than scaring off every poor swimmer within earshot?

There are modern plastic ukuleles for sale (these, for example, which retail at $160; or this new product which costs $100), and you can get plastic toy ukuleles for about $20. Meri decided to go with the third option: buying a vintage plastic ukulele on eBay.

Back in the '50s, plastic ukuleles were part of a huge wave of the instrument's popularity. Plastic was cheap and easily molded. It was also durable and relatively impervious to the elements. A number of manufacturers made plastic ukes, marketed both as toys and as real instruments (albeit with phrases like "play like a pro without lessons" printed on the box).

So popular were plastic ukes back in the day that they still regularly turn up on eBay. While some sell for well over $100, they can also regularly be had for around half that.

Meri bid on and won a Happy Tune ukulele for $25, shipping included. An incredible bargain, probably due to its bedraggled appearance. It arrived missing a couple of strings (no matter, as these would be replaced in any case) and with scuffs and dirt on the body.
Inside was sand, grass and an unidentifiable muck. It seemed like it already had plenty of beach playing experience.
Meri washed it with dish soap and rinsed out the inside several times.
When it was dry, she took out the rest of the blemishes with fine (0000) steel wool.
Then it was polished, restrung with Aquilas, and—wait, let's look at the 'before' picture one more time:
And here it is afterward, clean and beautiful and ready to play:

For more on plastic ukuleles, please see these pages:
You can also find videos of them being played on youtube and elsewhere. Ukester Brown has an entire channel devoted to them. Or you can just watch this clip, which says it all:

Friday, 10 May 2013

Make & Jake

Something different today: Make Projects has parts and instructions for making a banjolele out of cake pans, the type played in the above video.

Check out the meticulously laid-out tutorial here.

And if you live in the States, remember to watch the Jake Shimabukuro documentary, Life on Four Strings, tonight on PBS.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Birthday, played by Paul Hemmings

The first time we met June, our meeting hostess, was at the Paul Hemmings Uketet show last summer. During the performance it came out that Paul was once a local, attending school and working in the music store here.

He's also an energetic and enthusiastic instructor at ukulele festivals. If you ever get a chance to hear his group play or to take a class from him, grab it.

Here he plays The Beatle's Birthday with characteristic liveliness. By strange coincidence, most of us were born in spring; but this goes out especially to June, turning 80 today and a ukulele player for more than 60 years!

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Ukulele Weekend

Is it that it's spring, or that ukuleles are becoming ever more popular? Whatever the reason, this past weekend was full of ukulele fun around here.

First there was a performance by the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, preceded by a free courtyard concert featuring Uni and Her Ukulele, as well as a short practice of the UOGB's current playalong piece, Relentlessly in C.
Meri's tip: carry a clothespin in your uke case, and you can create a music stand out of anything—or anyone
The Ukes themselves were incredible fun as well as skilled performers. And though there weren't enough players in the audience to make Relentlessly in C the mass event it might have been, it was still an experience.

The rest of the weekend was spent at the Reno Uke Fest attending workshops, performances and playalongs. Songs and mouth trumpet lessons from Victoria Vox, workshops with Fred Sokolow and the Luongos, luthiers and other vendors. Our friend David Iriguchi, whom we met at Reno last year, was exhibiting with his Maui-born father and ukulele performer Shaka at his booth:
At one point, a man walked up to show David his mother's Manuel Nunes ukulele. Apparently his mother had studied at College of the Pacific in the 30s and 40s, where she spent a lot of time with family friends who bequeathed her the ukulele they had acquired during their time in Hawaii. She later passed it on to her son, who was enjoying his 90-year-old instrument quite a bit:

Wandering around the vendor area, I spotted this interesting double-ukulele backpack case and took a photo. It turned out to belong to Victoria Vox herself, signing CDs at her booth.
It was a fun three days, and it was also exhausting. The great thing about an ukulele group is that even though no one was able to attend everything the weekend had to offer, enough of us went to enough events that we can share with each other over the course of the next several meetings. That should keep us busy for quite awhile.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain's Audience Playalong: Relentlessly in C

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain is on a big US tour, and some of us plan to catch them when they come through our area. The program website tells us that there will be a playalong before the show. The piece is Relentlessly in C, which the Ukes recorded backstage in response to fan requests:

They have also published notes on the piece here, along with the tab here

And here are audio files of the different parts.

So grab the music, listen and learn—and we'll see you at the show.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Springtime Songs

It's spring, and people are starting to travel again. There were only four of us at our last meeting, only three who stayed the whole time. Our playlist was set for the season and included: I'm Looking Over A Four Leaf Clover, Lemon Tree, Garden Song, Rockin' Robin and—it had to come up sometime—Tiptoe Through the Tulips. We also played a few favorites: Let's Get Away From It All, Blue Bayou, Hallelujah, and Puff the Magic Dragon.

Easter is coming up, but there aren't many secular Easter songs. In fact, we could only think of two: Irving Berlin's Easter Parade, and Here Comes Peter Cottontail.

After finding the above video, I ended up having a short correspondence with YouTube user ThePopster666, aka "Papa." He makes his videos as a way to teach his grandchildren ukulele, and he gave me permission to post my transcription of his chords (which are also in the notes under his video on YouTube), as well as link to the .pdf file I made for our group here. In both cases, I've emphasized the 3 main chords (in bold type on the .pdf, in red below) so that the I-IV-V structure of the song is more evident. Those who prefer simple can just play the bold chords. ThePopster's additional chords give the song more nuance, though.

Here Comes Peter Cottontail
as arranged by “ThePopster666”

[C]Here comes [CM7]Peter [C7]Cottontail

[F]hoppin' [FM7]down the [F6]bunny [F]trail

[G7]Hippity [C#dim]hoppin', [G]Easter's [G7]on its [C]way [Cdim][Dm7][G7]

[C]Bringin' [CM7]every [C7] girl and boy

[F]baskets [FM7]full of [F6]Easter [F]joy

[G7]Things to [C#dim]make your [G]Easter [G7]bright and [C]gay [Cdim] [G7]

[C]He's got [F]jelly [Fm7]beans for [F6]Tommy

[F]colored [C]eggs for [G7]sister [C]Sue

[C]There's an [F]orchid [FM7]for you [F6]mommy

[F]and an [G7]Easter [Cdim]bonnet [G7]too

Oh! [C]Here comes [CM7]Peter [C7]Cottontail

[F]hoppin' [FM7]down the [F6]bunny [F]trail

[G7]Hippity [C#dim]hoppity, [G]happy [G7]Easter [C] day [Dm7] [C]

If the key of C is too high, you can transpose...or you can use these arrangements in G or in A.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

4-chord Songs, part 2: I-V-vi-IV (the Pop-Punk Progression)

Here is the chart we have built for ourselves, using the Circle of Fifths:

If you select any row going across and pick out the chords in the first and third column (C/G7, F/C7, G/D7, etc), you can play 2-chord songs.

If you add the second column, you can play 3-chord songs (these, too).

And if you use all the chords going across any single row, you can play songs in the 4-chord Doo-Wop pattern.

That arrangement is I-vi-IV-V(7). Mixing those same chords up a little, you get another well-known chord progression. The Pop-Punk progression is arranged I-V(7)-vi-IV (or other rotations in this order, such as vi-IV-I-V and IV-I-V-vi), and is the basis for:
  • Auld Lang Syne
  • Waltzing Matilda
  • the first 4 chords of Oh! Darling (the Beatles)
  • Let It Be (the Beatles)
  • Take Me Home, Country Road (John Denver)
  • Beast of Burden (the Rolling Stones)
  • Don't Stop Believin' (Journey)
  • the chorus of Down Under (Men at Work)
  • With or Without You (U2)
  • Africa (Toto)
  • I'm Yours (Jason Mraz)
  • Hey Soul Sister (Train)
  • and all these songs, too

If you've noticed that this is a particularly catchy pattern of chords, you wouldn't be alone. Some years ago, this Axis of Awesome act memorably demonstrated the progression's popularity:

Want to write an easy-to-play pop or indie song? Start with 4 chords.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

4-Chord Songs, part 1: I-vi-IV-V7 (the Doo-Wop, or 50s, Progression)

The 3-chord song patterns we reviewed all used the I, IV and V chords. That is to say, on the Circle of Fifths below, any of the chords written in red upper case letters around the outside of the grey circle (the I or root), plus the two chords on either side of it. Counterclockwise is the IV chord, and clockwise is the V chord. In the key of C, the three chords are C (I), F (IV) and G or G7 (V or V7). In the key of D, the three chords are D (I), G (IV) and A or A7 (V or V7). This pattern works for any key, although ukulele songs tend to be written on the part of the circle that runs from Bb to A.

image from Wikipedia

One way to add a fourth chord is to look to the relative minor, the lower case green letters on the inside of the grey circle. The relative minor, or vi (minor sixth) chord of C is A minor. (The A minor scale uses the same notes as the C major scale, only it starts and ends at A instead of C.)

Once you hear the Doo-Wop Progression, or the songs which use it, you'll understand the name. Its basic pattern is I-vi-IV-V(7); in the key of C, this would be C-Am-F-G7—an easy loop for the fingers, and a very familiar sound. Here are some of the songs which use it:

  1. Blue Moon
  2. Heart and Soul
  3. Beyond the Sea (Bobby Darin)
  4. Everyday (Buddy Holly)
  5. All I Have To Do Is Dream (Everly Brothers)
  6. Stand By Me (Ben E. King)
  7. Please Mr. Postman (The Marvelettes)
  8. Runaround Sue (Dion)
  9. I Love How You Love Me (the Paris Sisters)
  10. Sherry (the Four Seasons)*
  11. Up On The Roof (The Drifters)*
  12. Monster Mash (Bobby "Boris" Pickett)
  13. Unchained Melody (The Righteous Brother)
  14. I've Just Seen A Face (The Beatles)
  15. Wonderful World (Sam Cooke)
  16. Octopus's Garden (The Beatles)
  17. Crocodile Rock (Elton John)
  18. YMCA (The Village People)
  19. Every Breath You Take (The Police)

There is even a Wikipedia entry just for songs using this progression here.

When I was fiddling around with these chord changes, my son wandered into the room and noted that one of the songs from the musical Grease has lyrics built around these chords. Those Magic Changes is fifth from the bottom on the above-linked Wikipedia list.

Stacey then found the following video with lyrics, making it easy to play along and get the pattern embedded into your fingers.

*thanks to Stacey for the contribution of these songs to the list

Friday, 1 March 2013

3-Chord Songs, part 7: Miscellaneous Songs

To finish up our group's exploration of 3-chord songs, here are several which use either a unique or a mixed pattern which is not easily classified. As always, they are presented as titles only so that you can google lyrics, listen for the chord changes, and try them in different keys or using different chord formations. Have fun playing!
  1. Catch A Falling Star
  2. Willie and the Hand Jive
  3. It's So Easy
  4. Surfin' USA
  5. Ring of Fire
  6. Love Me Do
  7. Down On The Corner
  8. Me And Bobby McGee
  9. Layla
  10. Rivers of Babylon
  11. Three Little Birds
  12. One Love
  13. Margaritaville
For further exploration of ukulele playing using 3 chords, check out Jim d'Ville's 3 Chord Club. He has a separate section on 3-chord songs of the Beatles, and a set of tutorials on understanding the Circle of Fifths. I plan to dig into both of these myself as soon as possible.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

3-Chord Songs, part 6: The Happy Birthday Chord Pattern

Knowing how to play Happy Birthday is useful for more than just birthday parties. The chord progression happens to fit a very common pattern, which might be thought of as:


The I-chord in parentheses is sometimes absent, but typically the song follows the Happy Birthday phrasing of:

I                 V
Happy Birthday to you

V                 I
Happy Birthday to you

I                 IV
Happy Birthday to you

      I        V  I
Happy Birthday to you

Notice how the first line rocks from I to V, and the second line rocks back again from V to I. (I've written the V over start of the second line, even though it is not strictly necessary, to illustrate this symmetry.)

Then the new element of the IV is added, and the last line brings back a brief amount of tension with the V again before resolving.

(If I, IV and V aren't making sense, please refer to the first chart in this post to find ukulele chord substitutions.)

The same, or at least a similar, pattern can be found in all or parts of the following songs:
  1. For He's a Jolly Good Fellow
  2. Brahm's Lullabye
  3. If You're Happy And You Know It
  4. Goodnight, Irene
  5. So Long, It's been Good To Know You
  6. When The Saints Go Marching In
  7. Sloop John B
  8. Glory of Love
  9. Don't Fence Me In
  10. Save The Last Dance For Me
  11. The Ballad of Jed Clampett (theme song from The Beverly Hillbillies)
  12. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious
  13. Under The Boardwalk
  14. Tiny Bubbles
  15. When I'm 64
  16. Ob-La-Di
  17. Hey Jude
  18. Song Sung Blue
I would love to be able to round that list out to an even 20. If you find any other Happy Birthday-type songs, please leave them in the comments and I'll add them with credit to you, of course. Thanks!

Monday, 25 February 2013

3-Chord Songs, part 5: Happy Birthday to You on the Ukulele

Every ukulele player should know how to play Happy Birthday. It's the one song we are all guaranteed of singing at least a few times a year, and it's one of the easiest to learn.

Here are three simple versions, all in the key of F. Playing in F means that the lowest note in the song is also the lowest note on a reentrant-tuned ukulele: the open C string. Thus we can pick out the melody using the three bottom strings and very little hand movement.

Method 1: Chords Only

This is the most basic arrangement of the song. Strum the chords and sing along.

F                 C7
Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday, dear (you)
      F        C7  F
Happy Birthday to  you

Method 2: Picking the Melody

Here is a simple melody version. It is laid out as if you are holding your uke ready to play, but have your fretboard turned toward you; thus, in GCEA tuning, the top line of dashes represents the "A" string, and the bottom line is the "G" string. A "0" indicates plucking the open string, and numbers show where you fret the string while plucking it.

 Happy Birthday  to you        Happy Birthday   to you

 Happy Birthday  dear (yo-u)   Happy Birthday   to you

Method 3: Picking + Chords

Finally, we can combine the two methods of playing. The melody is picked, as above, but chords are also strummed at the end of each phrase.

                  F  C7                         C7 F
 Happy Birthday  to you        Happy Birthday   to you   

                          Bb                    C7 F
 Happy Birthday dear  (yo-u)   Happy Birthday   to you

Extra: "And many more..."

The arrow (->) shows a slide from the 2nd to 3rd fret; the tilde (~) is for vibrato.

 and many more...

If you want to get extra fancy, make that slide into an F7 chord:

 and many more...

A printable .pdf file with all three ways of playing Happy Birthday in F can be found here.

Friday, 22 February 2013

3-Chord Songs, part 4: Two More Patterns

These two patterns can be played in a loop all the way through the song, except for the single variation noted in parentheses.

  1. Please Release Me (I-IV-V-I / I-IV-I-V-I)
  2. Your Cheatin' Heart
  3. Jamaica Farewell
  4. King of the Road
  1. Louie, Louie
  2. La Bamba
  3. Good Lovin'
  4. Twist and Shout
Do you know of any other songs which fit one of these two patterns? Please feel free to leave them in the comments.

Friday, 15 February 2013

3-Chord Songs, part 3: Songs in the I-IV-I-V-I Pattern

If you look only at the chords alone and not how many measures each chord is played, the 12-bar blues changes are: I-IV-I-V-I. This same chord pattern, with slight variations, figures in many of the first 3-chord songs one comes across. You may have to repeat part of the pattern, you may omit an I chord somewhere, and this doesn't account for bridges or choruses at all; but the following are songs that more or less follow I-IV-I-V-I:
  1. Moonlight Bay
  2. You Are My Sunshine
  3. Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star/ABC/Baa Baa Black Sheep
  4. Popeye the Sailor Man
  5. Ring of Fire
  6. Cecilia
  7. Sugar, Sugar 
These songs start on the IV chord (IV-I-V-I):
  1. Aloha 'Oe
  2. On Top of Old Smokey
  3. Bye Bye Love
  4. P.S. I Love You
  5. This Land is Your Land
  6. 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)
And these songs use I-IV-I-V, either in repetition or with a second part of straight I-IV-I-V-I:
  1. The Lion Sleeps Tonight (Wimoweh)
  2. Teach Your Children
  3. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
  4. Show Me the Way to Go Home
  5. Another Saturday Night
  6. I Saw Her Standing There
  7. Act Naturally
  8. Rhythm of the Rain
  9. Brown-Eyed Girl
  10. Lean On Me
If the Roman numerals are confusing, just substitute the chords of C, F and G7 for I, IV and V, respectively—this means you'll be playing in the key of C. Play the chords in the order given; if you listen, you'll hear when to change chords.

Monday, 11 February 2013

3-Chord Songs, part 2: Songs in the 12-Bar Blues Pattern

Once you know the 12-bar blues pattern, you can play not only blues but also a lot of rockabilly, country & rock songs, largely from the middle of the last century. The lyrics may not strictly follow the A-A-B pattern, and you'll likely have to emphasize the backbeat (as noted in the lyrics of #15, Rock and Roll Music); but the chord changes are unmistakably those of the 12-bar blues.

Here's a list of some you may recognize. For an additional challenge, find a version of the songs and play in the same key as the recording. Since it's probably safe to say that none these songs were written on ukulele, playing this way will almost certainly pull you out of the key-of-c comfort zone.
  1. Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy (Ray/Prince, recorded by the Andrews Sisters & others)
  2. Route 66 (Bobby Troup, covered by Nat King Cole & others)
  3. Move It On Over (Hank Williams)
  4. Mind Your Own Business (Hank Williams)
  5. Hound Dog (Lieber/Stoller, recorded by Elvis Presley & others)
  6. Kansas City (Lieber/Stoller, recorded by Wilbert Harrison& others)
  7. Rock Around the Clock (Freedman/Myers, recorded by Bill Haley & the Comets)
  8. Shake Rattle and Roll (Charles Calhoun, recorded by Bill Haley & the Comets)
  9. Tutti Frutti (Little Richard)
  10. Blue Suede Shoes (Carl Perkins)
  11. Folsom Prison Blues (Johnny Cash)
  12. Roll Over Beethoven (Chuck Berry)
  13. See You Later Alligator (Bobby Charles, covered by Bill Haley & the Comets)
  14. Before You Accuse Me (Bo Diddley, covered by Eric Clapton)
  15. Rock and Roll Music (Chuck Berry, covered by the Beatles & others)
  16. Johnny B. Goode (Chuck Berry)
  17. Chains (Goffin/King, recorded by the Cookies & the Beatles)
  18. Can't Buy Me Love (the Beatles)
  19. Day Tripper (the Beatles)
  20. In The Summertime (Jerry Mungo)
  21. Stuck in the Middle With You (Stealer's Wheel)

Friday, 8 February 2013

3-Chord Songs, part 1: The 12-Bar Blues

3 Chords

Previously we reviewed songs that can be played with only two chords, the I and the V7 (also known as the tonic and dominant seventh). Many children's songs, folk songs and hymns fit this pattern.

By adding a third chord, the IV or subdominant, you open up possibilities to play exponentially more music—and more importantly, to start to make sense of the music that you play. Here are the I-IV-V chords for the most common ukulele keys:

Basic 12-Bar Blues

The 12-bar blues is based on these 3 chords and is the basis for much popular music. What do we mean by 12 bars? A bar is a unit of measurement in music. In the case of the blues, it is counted out in 4 beats—so a bar is a unit of 4 beats, counted 1-2-3-4, with each beat getting equal time. The vertical lines below are the dividers between bars. Each slash is a beat, and you can see how it is counted above the slashes. Twelve sets of 4-beat bars:
The most stripped-down chord progression for the blues looks like this:
—and if you were to play in the key of C, we can substitute C, F and G for I, IV and V to get:

Chord Variations

There are many variations on this pattern. You might see the IV chord put into the second bar like so:
In the third line, you frequently come across this pattern, with the IV substituted for the second V:
And sevenths or other variations of the chords can be substituted, as well. Since we are relatively new players, we're sticking to the sevenths for now.
If the blues is going to go on for more than one verse, a turnaround can be employed at the 12th bar. The easiest turnaround is the V7 (shown again in the key of C):

Playing in Different Keys

To play the 12-bar blues in any other key, you simply substitute the appropriate I, IV and V chords (the I chord is always the same as the key you are playing in). So to play 12-bar blues in F,  your 3 chords are F, Bb and C. To play in A, you use A, D and E. (Again, you can substitutes the sevenths of any of these chords.)


Another way to vary the sound of your 3 chords is to walk up and down a little, as Ukulele Mike does here, playing in A:
Two ways to dissect this pattern:
  • you look for the 5th note of the chord you're in, walk up one step, another half step, and back down to the half step
  • more simply, as explained by Al Wood at Ukulele Hunt, you play the sixth and seventh of the chord in question. This is called the blues shuffle.


The blues lyrics pattern is usually written A-A-B:
Line 1, bars 1-4, states the premise (A)
Line 2, bars 5-8, repeats the premise (A)
Line 3, bars 9-12, comes to some conclusion (B)

You can see this very clearly in the classic St. Louis Blues (with chords on top):
Or you can make up your own heartfelt, bluesy lyrics in the A-A-B pattern to produce your own song. Here's mine:

The 3-Chord Blues

I only know the C chord, and the F and the G
Said I only know the C chord, and the F and the G
But I can play the 12-bar blues, and that's enough for me

You can play this in F, G and A without changing the final line, and only minor modifications need to be made to play it in D and Bb.

For popular songs in the 12-bar blues pattern, see this post.

Online Resources

By far the most comprehensive source for playing blues ukulele is the Ukulele Hunt e-book, How to Play Blues Ukulele. The $17 (at this writing) download includes a 78-page .pdf file with multiple appendices and mp3s to aid understanding. There is also a printable version of the book, for those who would prefer to have a bound copy.

Ukulele Mike also has some videos, one of which is embedded above. He also has a lesson on playing the 12-bar blues in G, improvising blues in the key of C, and playing/improvising in the key of E.

Brett McQueen of Ukulele Tricks has 3 lessons in playing blues ukulele, broken down in a way that's easy to understand. Here's the first one. When you finish it, you can follow the link to the second part, which also has a link to the third section.

Aldrine Guerrero of Ukulele Underground has this 2-minute video explanation.

And if this isn't enough for you, just search for "blues ukulele" on YouTube for more than 28 million results!

Saturday, 2 February 2013

World Ukulele Day

Today is World Ukulele Day. WUD was first declared by Ukulele Mike in 2011 as a day to play or celebrate ukulele in any way you choose.

Since February 2nd is also Groundhog Day, here's one idea:

If the weather is cloudy and an early spring is forecast, play some spring songs:
  • Blue Skies
  • Bring Me Sunshine
  • I Can See Clearly Now
  • Tiptoe Through the Tulips
  • Ain't Gonna Rain No More
  • On the Sunny Side of the Street
  • Over the Rainbow/Wonderful World
  • When the Red Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin' Along

If your groundhog is frightened of its shadow and there will be six more weeks of winter, play these instead:
  • California Dreamin'
  • Who'll Stop the Rain
  • Baby, It's Cold Outside
  • Look For the Silver Lining
  • Rhythm of the Falling Rain
  • I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm
  • Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head
  • Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
Any other ideas? What songs will you play, and how will you celebrate on World Ukulele Day?

Sunday, 27 January 2013

The James Bond Theme As You've Never Heard It Before

What can one say about this, except that seeing the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain (of which Will Grove-White, below, is a member) is definitely going to be a highlight of the year:

Friday, 25 January 2013

Scales and the Fretboard

Ukulele Fretboard by Chris Hartzog:

Peggy made an extensive worksheet on scales and the fretboard, then unfortunately contracted a cold and wasn't able to make the meeting.

Her worksheet can be downloaded here.

Why learn scales? Well, it seems scales are the vocabulary of a particular key signature. If you understand the notes in a scale, you can (with some additional music theory knowledge) produce all the chords in that key, transpose from one key to another, and solo within a piece.

Similarly, once you know the fretboard, you can pluck the melody as well as the chords, find alternate versions of chords, and gain a more integrated understanding of music generally.

Peggy's worksheet points out that the ukulele fretboard starts at Middle C of the piano and continues up for about 3 octaves (more or less, depending on your uke). Unlike the linear representation of a piano, however, the uke is arranged more like four tiny keyboards, one on top of the other. Each keyboard starts on a different note (G, C, E, A in the most common tuning) and has the black notes straight in between the white notes, instead of above them. Moving from the head to the body of the uke, each fret is a half step higher.

What does this mean for the beginning player? Among other things, this is why we can play the C major chord with a single finger. Since the notes in a C chord are C, E and G, we can play the open G, C and E strings, and bar the 3rd fret of the A string to make another C. Or we can find other combinations of these notes to make different forms of C major.

Most ukulele chords can be formed without a lot of hand contortions, because with four strings there is almost always the note you need somewhere within reach.

This is a new way of thinking about the ukulele for most of us Y'Ukes, and doubtless we will revisit it at some point. For now, it is available to incorporate as much or as little as suits our playing style. Thanks, Peggy.

After posting this, I had some correspondence with Keith Cary about scales. He passed along a way to think about it that I found very helpful, and he graciously gave permission to share it here. I've edited as minimally as possible for organizational purpose, and have added one additional note in italics:
...We all know the major scale: DO-RE-ME-FA-SO-LA-TI-DO. We can all sing it, even if we don't know it is a major scale.
Those tones can correspond to C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C (or in any other key to: root note-whole step-whole step-half step-whole step-whole step-whole step-half step), and we can use those tones to play 90% of the common "trad" folksongs.
Keith went on to give an example of how he might demonstrate this in a teaching situation:
I'd give a uke fingerboard with just the C scale pictured. The full chromatic scale is a lot to handle, though I might put it at the end of the article. Then one could pick out an easy little song. Row Row Row Your Boat could be written as C C CDE EDEFG C(high) G E C GFEDC. (I don't know about my spaces scheme. I'm just experimenting with that idea.) Ask them to figure it out on their own uke, given the C scale fingerboard diagram. Mention that for now we won't necessarily use the 4th string for simple melodies unless it seems useful to do so for fingering reasons. 
...Get students to finger the scale while they sing the notes, Do, Re, Me... at first and then C, D, E, etc. The singing and playing together makes a difference with learning. Sometimes people are shy about singing so I say to do it at home, when they're alone.
Finally, some more reasons to understand scales: 
Scales can help you connect chords with cool little runs between chords. One can spice up simple chording by working in bits of melody whenever it's convenient. There are "licks" to be learned, etc. If the student already reads music, then by being familiar with the C scale they can read easy melodies. It can be handy when learning a new piece from paper alone.