I’m a recent convert to the world of ukulele. I’ve been playing around about 10 weeks and am really enjoying it. I’ve managed to learn the basics and am managing to play many more full songs than I thought I’d be able to play at this stage when I first picked the thing up.
Anyway… I was asked to put together a few words on what I’m enjoying and not enjoying about ukulele. I’ve tried to do this below, its a little rambling (like myself), its personal to me and hopefully you’ll take these comments in the way that they were meant.
What I like…
I’ve only ever played the harmonica to the degree that I could get one tune out of it (Delilah) for a rugby tour (long story). Musically I’m about as illiterate as you get. However, with a little research and a little reading I found that I could strangle a tune out of the damn thing!! It seems that 4 strings and a limited range in chords makes life simple. As you’ll know, chords C, F & G get you a long way, and it’s enough to get you down the road. But I’ve found that the more I have learned, the more I have wanted to learn.
Ukuleles are not precise instruments:
You can make mistakes: you can play a G7 instead of a G, you can play an A instead of an Am and get away with it in most instances. Obviously, as a novice I try to play every note at the right time while using the right strumming pattern but as a realist I know that ain’t gonna happen. There is forgivingness about the uke that means that these can remain hidden and don’t cause me to shrivel and die of embarrassment.
The clubs or activities I’ve always been involved in have been really competitive environments (primarily rugby clubs). There’s always been lots of banter, lots of sarcasm and any kind of weakness has been relentlessly joked about. I find the really collaborative environment at PLUC quite refreshing. No one individual is trying to ‘beat’ another as you’re trying to make a great sound and you can do this by being an individual.
Ukuleles, especially sopranos, are ridiculous instruments:
I’m 5’10” and 18 stones and I’m playing this tiny ‘guitar’ that’s perched on my chest higher than Simon Cowell’s waistband. My right hand is thrashing up-and-down at an obscene rate (oooo eeerrr) and for some reason I’ve started playing this tiny instrument while wearing a strap (must be sooo heavy). The fact that it looks like a damn toy!! And then there’s the singing!! Enough said I think.
People are interested.
More and more people are playing ukes but they are still by no means commonplace so they want to hear you play… And, as mentioned earlier, tunes are not too difficult to extract from the beast. At the moment my ‘demos’ are Bad Moon Rising (Creedence Clearwater Revival) and C’mon Everybody (Eddie Cochran). I know I can play more complicated songs but these are safe ground. Three chord wonders with bitchin’ recognisable hooks = crowd-pleasers.
Ukes are CHEEEEEAAAAAPPPPP:
I paid £80 for my Brunswick. It’s not flashy, it holds its tuning, I haven’t had to change strings yet and it sounds good – sometimes. I could have picked it up cheaper on-line but it was very shiny when I went to look at it in the shop. Me like shiny shiny.
Things I don’t like:
There aren’t any really but I’m gonna nitpick…
There aren’t enough clubs:
I’m a novice and happy to be a novice. I’d like to play to a better standard so I’d like to play with more people of my level so we can learn together. This isn’t a criticism of PLUC: it’s possible the challenging ‘catch-up’ ethos has dragged me on further than I would have got if I had been spoon-fed practice drills. I’m the kinda guy that gets bored by scales and repetitive learning.
Inconsistency in musical notation:
As I mentioned earlier, I’m not literate in the musical sense. I’m getting by with the in-line type of lay-out to songs. However, I’m noticing that I’m gonna have to do some book work. What’s an A#, what’s a (sus), what’s a (dim)? Am I bothered? And then the crotchets and quavers rock up…MELT DOWN.
At risk of making this thing a bit too long (too late I hear you groan), I’ll add my three top tips for Ukeists:
Play at EVERY opportunity you get. chuck your uke in your kitchen and play while the kettle’s boiling. You don’t have to play tunes, play the chords you know to make something tuneful – even when you’re doing this you’re getting slicker at chord changes.
Play what you’re interested in. I love Foo Fighters & AC/DC, but grew up listening to Happy Mondays, Madness and that kinda thing. There are tabs out there for everything you can think of – those songs are not always as complicated as you might think. Playing these kind of tunes makes things fun. Isn’t fun the key?
3. Don’t Play Drunk.
I’ve found I get carried away, play too hard and smash my strumming hand against the strings. I end up bruising my strumming fingers and over-gripping with my fretting hand. This means the next couple of days are painful if I want to pick up the Uke again.
3a. Do Play Drunk.
While in a less than sober state I’ll try things that I know I can’t do in real life. I’ll play more, sing more and have a great time and nobody really cares (especially me). By taking on more challenging tunes you might just realise you can actually do more than you think you can.
Anyway… Where did I leave my uke…? and… Where’s that bottle of red we started?
Other PLUC Tales: Long-Distance Strummer – Gail; New Uker! – Sheila; A Tale Of Two Ukuleles – Tina; Ron’s Progress; Probably The Most Fun Instrument In The World… – Jos; It’s Been A Year – Part 2 – Jeanette; From Classical To PLUC – Andrew; A History Of The Ukulele – And Its Part In My Downfall – James; Santa Rides Again – Alan F; Steph’s Story; Ron’s Ukulele Acquisition Syndrome; Uncle Ron’s Legacy… – Wee Kheng; Dan’s Story; Five Years & Loving It – Simon; My Ukulele Origins… – Rufus; Why Ed Started Playing The Ukulele; Ron’s Song; It’s Been A Year… – Jeanette