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Category Archives: Playing Help – Sites & Resources

Ukulele Festival of Scotland 2019 – Day 2

Saturday morning saw me up early to grab the bus to the Festival site in time for the first workshops of the day. Arriving with tons of time to spare, I wandered round the Marketplace in the Gilchrist Room of Easterbrook Hall, packed with stallholders selling ukes, straps, books, T-shirts, raffle tickets & more.

I spotted Colin Tribe, who is a very prolific poster of chord melody tunes on YouTube & writes the syllabuses for ukulele grade examinations. I’d previously bought a set of his arrangements & his Uniquelele book, so we had a nice chat & he showed me some better fingerings for some of his music, kindly giving me an updated copy of Spanish Flea to try out & a uke-shaped keyring.

I also said hello to Matt Warnes, who runs World of Ukes & would be performing later in The League of Ukulele Gentlemen. He gave me a spare copy of UKE Magazine to pass round PLUC members who’ve not read it before (& is arranging for uke club discounts on his merchandise – let me know if you’d like details). I’ve been to a couple of the events he organises before – including seeing Taimane Gardner in Birmingham & a Big Boat On The Mersey weekend, which culminated in us playing our ukes at the Cavern Club!

Then off to the first of three workshops I was attending today: An Introduction To Chord Melody Solos, with Stuart Butterworth. I was interested to see how this would be run, as Stuart had led a mass session on the final afternoon of last year’s UFoS & teaches many different groups in Dumfries & Galloway. He gave us extracts of his new book & took us through the chords, tabs & sheet music. There were useful summary sheets of the various chord voicings used as a way of helping people familiarise themselves with the fingerings before playing.

The second workshop was Richard Durrant‘s Ukulele Circuit Training One. He’s a classically trained guitarist who was introduced to the ukulele by the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain’s George Hinchliffe when they both were at the Royal College of Music – George gave him a uke tuned in fifths (ie like a violin) & he was soon enjoying playing that & the more usual reentrant-tuned one.

His workshop was very different & useful: at the outset explaining how vital it is to cultivate a good neutral posture with relaxed & efficient hand positions; giving us a two-finger strumming pattern (‘strumming with one finger is like being a drummer with only one stick’); and getting us to play rhythms & sequences that suddenly turned into other well-known tunes.  These techniques were designed to improve your playing & help advance you as a musician by guiding you towards effective ways of focused personal practicing.

There was then just under an hour for lunch before the afternoon concert. Folk eyed me eating my packed meal enviously as the queues for the eateries were massive with so many people rushing to use them simultaneously. One of the advantages of being in a self-catering flat, as I had grabbed plenty of interesting vegan goodies from M&S & Morrisons when I arrived on Thurs afternoon, so I could make decent meals & take snacks with me instead of risking nothing being suitable for me at the venue.

 

A Few of My Photos From Saturday’s Shows

The afternoon concert was nearly four hours long & packed with an interesting selection of acts. The compere, Paulus, did an excellent job throughout, as he had last year:

  • Local uke band, A Touch of Purple – led by the kilt-wearing Stuart Butterworth (who had been warned several times last year that he was revealing a little too much with his wide-kneed posture – & slightly disconcerting for me, sat in the front row!). I don’t know if their choice of playing Come Together was a hint! These were the best of his students.
  • Ukulele Simon, who had won one of last year’s competitions. He played several numbers, including Crazy Little Thing Called Love.
  • The Ukulele Evangelists – completely crackers, as this YouTube of Kung Fu Fighting shows.
  • League of Ukulele Gentlemen – a familiar trio to these events, here playing Blue Eyes.
  • Stables – the one on the left on my photo is a local Lewisham lad from Forest Hill & they sang a song about the Horniman Gardens, Dandelions & Daisies.
  • Peter Moss, a regular at every uke festival, celebrating fifty years of performing.  As ever, he gave us a selection from his wide repertoire, including Roy Smeck’s Rockin’ The Uke, Georgia On My Mind & the last movement from the William Tell Overture (the tune he used to win a competition at the age of twelve).
  • The Naked Waiters – back by popular demand after their UK debut here last year. I Wanna Be Your Butterfree is one of their originals.

No rest after the gig as it was straight into another workshop! Sandwiches were included (& somehow I ended up with two – possibly because someone else had eaten mine last year!). This was Circuit Training Two, with Richard Durrant again.  A little recap of some of the introductory principles, then off into another selection of interesting & deceptively tricky strengthening & dexterity exercises that aim to improve your accuracy, articulation & other areas of playing. More of that is covered in his online Ukulele Launch Pad course.

After the workshop, I was surprised to see folk were already queuing to gain entry to the main concert hall, over an hour before the doors were due to open for the Gala Concert from the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. So I joined the throng & swapped uking tales with people until we were let in. Being on my own I still managed to get fairly near the front, with a good view.

Eight UOGB members were performing & it was a full gig, with interval. as expected, it was all very slick, tightly choreographed & enjoyable, with a mix of familiar numbers & others I didn’t know they covered. It was nice to see Dave Suich in full performance mode! They got a standing ovation at the end.  What a way to finish the day! I grabbed a taxi back to town whilst others jammed long into the night…

Here they are doing Highway to Hell:

 

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Sing Along A Max

At this week’s session we were talking about people being shy of singing, ways to gain confidence & improve volume.

I’ve put some singing guides from different sites in the Instructional folder of the PLUC Box to help folk start doing some gentle practice at home, get more used to the sound of their own voice and be able to both sing & play the uke at the same time.

We’ve previously shown examples of uke groups with a great ethos of getting all their members to sing along together and of my experiences participating in the Southbank’s Chorus Festivals in 2013 & 2014, which was brilliant fun once I got over my initial trepidation at singing with groups of total strangers! It’s always good to challenge yourself & try something different or you never gain new skills.

There are a number of YouTubes out there which show you how to assess your vocal range. This one from Playback.fm is fun, as it matches your range with different singers. Once you’ve watched the video, put in your result & it will give you your ‘vocal twin’!

 

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PLUC Weekend Workout

There are a growing number of podcasts out there, including some specific to ukuleles and others covering all types of music theory.  The twice-weekly Musicality Podcast (brought to you by the people who run the Musical-U community music training website) is having a Beatles Month for April.

Through a series of interviews they will be talking to different people and analysing how & why the songs worked;  the relationship between music & lyrics; production techniques; how a tribute act goes about reproducing those Beatles sounds and much more.

On the practical side, people are asked to remind themselves of the active listening techniques covered in a previous podcast – which is a great way of encouraging you to pay more attention to the music around you each day and put your musician skills to use in actually noting the instruments being played in a tune, song structures, rhythms, chord progressions etc – and pick three Beatles songs to consider in detail. There will be a live chat session later in the month.

Another exercise suggested on the forums are to make yourself a song interval chart (ie a way to help you recognise the gaps between two notes) consisting purely of Beatle numbers.

Linking nicely with this is Cynthia Lin’s annual Beatles Uke Jam. For 2019, it’s on Sun 14 April and streamed live so folk can join in worldwide. Get the 2019 songbook for free (or make a donation); play along with a recording of the 2018 Livestream & watch some of Cynthia’s lessons on the Fab Four and others.

 

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PLUCking Ukes – Rhythm Without Blues 2

It’s always more difficult to play the slowest numbers, such as Abilene – which we play in a much more leisurely fashion than the original – because you have to be very accurate with your tempo and there is always a temptation to start speeding up!

Spending just a few minutes a day for a few weeks working on your strumming (eg with a metronome, to a steady backing track or using other rhythm tools) will soon improve your sense of timing.

We’ve discussed this previously in an earlier PLUCking Ukes – Rhythm Without Blues entry. This introduced some useful rhythm exercises from Rhan Wilson’s All In Good Time site, which are always worth recapping.

Several of the music theory sites we’ve covered contain fun rhythm games – a good one to try out is Theta Music Trainer.

If you’re confident with those, moving on you could try some of the rhythm tutorials from Stuart Fuchs. Stu has a number of lessons concentrating on different strums and rhythms, such as ones from his ‘Uke-a-Billy‘ rockabilly collection, which are suited to rock ‘n’ roll numbers – including straight strums, shuffle, backbeat, Bo-Diddley beat (aka clave) & boogie. He also explains how to play many different rhythmic styles in his playalongs, including swing, rhumba, calypso, boom-ditty, funky, reggae & more.

Get out your metronome (Google brings up its free one or there are plenty of free apps available) and try out Stu’s backbeat lesson:

 

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Happy Birthday JS Bach

It’s  composer Johann Sebastian Bach‘s 334th birthday today. He’s known for his prodigious output of Baroque music, including many important works such as his Brandenburg Concertos, Goldberg VariationsSt Matthew Passion and the monumental The Well -Tempered Clavier, which was written using the adoption of the Western musical system we now use call ‘equal temperament‘ (ie what we use on our ukuleles, with adjacent notes all being split into equal steps) and contains twenty-four preludes and fugues in every major and minor key. (For example, here’s the one in C major.)

To celebrate his important legacy, today’s fun interactive Google Doodle lets you compose a short melody, which is then played back with complete Bach style four-part harmony added for you. Have a little play & practice writing some music! You can even change the key signature, note duration, tempo, add accidentals (sharps, flats & naturals) and download your creation as a MIDI file.

Bonus points if you can guess the PLUC tune reimagined in Bach harmonies below!

JS Bach Google Doodle

JS Bach Google Doodle 21/03/19

 

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Ukulele Bonanza Magazine

Many of you will already be familiar with the excellent UKE Magazine, produced in the UK by World of Ukes, and Ukulele Magazine, an informative US publication, with useful online articles on their site which contain plenty of playing tips.

Recently, the free Ukulele Bonanza e-zine has been launched by Shelley & Pete Mai, along with many supporting contributors. The first issue was January 2019.

The February 2019 issue is now out & contains an eclectic mix of articles in its 56 pages, such as what it’s like to attend a ukulele festival & how to set one up; a Travis picking lesson; performance tips from Ukester Brown; setting up the Original Ukulele Songs portal, along with a selection of artists on there; songwriting tips, including an analysis of the different sections in songs; playing classical music on the uke; music education and the uke; several stories of how people started playing or making ukes and more. They mix audio & video in with the text, which works nicely.

It’ll be interesting to see how it develops over the next few months.

You can subscribe here for future issues.

 

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PLUC Weekend Workout

Sometimes people get a bit daunted at looking at sheet music or playing along to it. The fun TED-Ed animation below from Tim Hansen is a good way to see the basics without having to delve into too much detail.

After watching through, you could initially practice using a few tunes you know well. Try concentrating on the rhythm first and think about the pitch (ie the notes on the fretboard) later.

If you pick a simple familiar piece and look at the music whilst listening to it, you can follow the notes before even trying to keep up playing.  YouTube handily lets you slow the speed right down in the settings feature.

We have links to other quizzes and different ways of learning more about reading music and the basics of music theory in other articles to help you widen your skills. Plus more PLUC Weekend Workouts.

 

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