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Just now, in looking more closely at the Hallifax Ukulele Gang songbook cover, I noticed an outdated link to a program called UKEPIX (here's the current link), which looks like a DOS-based program for creating little images of chord fingerings.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