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. 

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Cary-Armstrong Custom Ukulele

photo collage by Keith Cary

Custom concert-size ukulele built by Keith Cary, artwork by Bob Armstrong. Black walnut body, Sitka spruce top.

I love how the loopy, asymmetrical headstock echoes the sound hole, the lei theme, the hula hips and even the wavy palm trees and other vegetation. If ever an ukulele gave physical expression to the feeling of Hawaiian music, this is it.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

2-Chord Songs

One year ago the founding members of Yolo Y'Ukes gathered in a living room to teach ourselves ukulele. At that first meeting, we picked out songs from The Daily Ukulele which had 2, 3 or 4 chords—the number we could hold in our heads at the time.

Over the past year we've learned a few more chords, but it seemed fitting to start 2013 by revisiting our beginnings and trying to integrate all we learned in 2012.

So yesterday we looked at the Circle of Fifths and noted the I and V chords in a number of keys: C, F, G, D, A, Bb being the more common for ukulele songs. Then using the I and V7 chords, we played the following songs:
  1. Row Row Row Your Boat
  2. Mary Had A Little Lamb
  3. Buffalo Gals
  4. Banana Boat Song
  5. The More We Get Together
  6. Skip To My Lou
  7. He's Got The Whole World In His Hands
  8. Simple Gifts
  9. Clementine
  10. Jambalaya
  11. Iko Iko
  12. Polly Wolly Doodle
  13. Singin' In The Rain
  14. Taps
In the key of C, the two chords would be C and G7. In the key of F, the two chords would be F and C7. And so on. No music was given so that we could focus on listening for the chord change.

We played the songs in different keys. We played them faster and slower, varying our strum patterns. We played songs in a medley, in rounds, and on top of each other. We played with chord inversions and with alternating a couple of chords, an idea demonstrated here:

Clearly we're still beginners, but there is quite a lot that can be coaxed out of 2-chord songs. Do you have a favorite to add to the list?

Bring Me Sunshine

When the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra hit 5000 facebook friends, they put out this cheery video, complete with playalong chords. Enjoy:

Bring Me Sunshine WIUO version

         G                Am
Bring me sunshine in your smile
         D7               G
Bring me laughter all the while
In this world where we live
There should be more happiness
So much joy you can give
To each brand new bright tomorrow

        G                  Am
Make me happy through the years
      D7           G
Never bring me any tears
Let your arms be as warm 
As the sun from up above
         A7            D7                 G
Bring me fun, bring me sunshine, bring me love

         G                Am
Bring me sunshine in your eyes
         D7                G
Bring me rainbows from the skies
Life is short to be spent 
Having anything but fun
We can be so content
If we gather little sunbeams

        G               Am
Be lighthearted all day long
        D7                    G
Then be singing (those) happy songs
Let your arms be as warm 
As the sun from up above
A7                     D7                 G
Bring me fun, bring me sunshine, bring me love

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Start Your Day (and your year) With A Song

A new blog for a new year with our newly renamed ukulele group. And I can think of no better way to begin than with this song from Lisa:

Start Your Day With A Song by Lisa Nalbone

C                     F
Start your day with a song
C               F
Sing it all day long
C              F
It'll make you strong
   G7                    C
To start your day with a song