Ukulele & Languages

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Ukulele Learning Posts

In fact, this post could just as well have been entitled ‘Some ideas on how to play the guitar with a ukulele player’. If you are playing the ukulele and your best friend is playing the guitar, there is a chance that you might tire after long hours spent arguing which of the two instruments is best. How about trying to combine both instruments to play together instead ?

My friend Gwilym and I would like to share our experience on playing the ukulele and the guitar together. Gwilym is playing the guitar and I the ukulele. For a few years now, we have been trying different ideas to play our instruments of choice together in a way that allows both of us to make progress. We have chosen to write this post and to make two videos to illustrate how the ukulele and the guitar can play different roles when played together.

Of course, in order to play together, we needed to have a common structure, which could be seen as the ‘spine’ of our tunes. This is where playing the blues is interesting : the ‘spine’ consists of 12 bars following a set pattern (see below). We have opted to play a minor blues in the key of (Am and Dm are among my favourite chords). We have used the same structure for both videos but each of us improvised his/her part according to his/her fancy.

Our 12 bar blues is very standard and uses the following chords in I-IV-V progression :
(Am is I, Dm is IV and Em/E7 are V)

Am / Dm / Am / Am   (The Dm here is a quick four)
Dm / Dm / Am / Am
Em / Dm / Am / E7

Chords for A Minor Blues

In the first video, Gwilym is playing a melody on his guitar which he plays a bit like a bass, while I strum the accompaniment on the ukulele.
The ukulele accompaniment uses the strumming pattern below in Swing time.
(Where ‘X‘ means ‘Chnk‘ and ‘‘ means ‘silent‘,  means downstrum and  means upstrum).
One bar of 4 times works like this :

Rhythm Pattern for ukulele accompaniment

For more information on Swing Time and Chnk, read Al‘s article on Ukulele strumming, paragraphs on Swing/Shuffle Strums and Chnking.

First video :

A Minor Blues – Guitar and Ukulele duet

Second video :

In this video, Gwilym is playing the accompaniment on the guitar while I play the melody on the ukulele. He uses roughly the same strumming pattern as I use for the ukulele in the first video but with barre chords.

A Minor Blues – Ukulele and Guitar duet

To make things easier for you to create your melody, all you need to know are the 5 notes belonging to the A minor pentatonic scale as they will always sound right in a blues in A. The following diagram shows you the 5 notes of the A minor pentatonic scale : A, C, D, E and G.

Basically, you can try to create melodies using all the notes that are highlighted on this ukulele fretboard (notice that open strings are included). They are all either A, C, D, E or G at different places on your fretboard.

Trust your ear to retain whatever melody sounds nice to you!

Am Pentatonic Scale

If you wanted to play a blues in a different key, then you would need to learn the corresponding pentatonic scale. For example, if you played a blues in C, you would then need the C minor pentatonic scale.

Afterword :

You may have noticed that in both videos we have tried to play the instruments so that each can sound distinctively from the other. This is why the guitar emphasizes the low notes on the first video and in the second video, starts each bar with the root of the chord which is the lowest note of the chord.

On the ukulele, it is interesting to look for the higher notes in contrast so don’t hesitate to navigate up the fretboard ! Another thing to point out is that one instrument is playing chords while the other plays the melody. If we were both to play chords or melody, it would either sound dull or confusing.

What we wanted to illustrate with our two mirrored videos is that the guitar and the ukulele can reverse roles while using the same melodic and harmonic tools.

We hope you will find these ideas useful, we are still learning and there are many more possibilities we haven’t explored yet ! Music is a never-ending journey !

Please let us know what you think in a comment !

Further reading :

You can find more information about playing the blues on the ukulele on Al‘s site in this post and I strongly recommend Al‘s e-book How to Play Blues Ukulele.

Further listening :

You can listen to our other ukulele/guitar experiments :

Ukulele playing arpeggio and guitar experimenting different strums and picking

Guitar, ukulele and singing ! Our original song : Countryside Walk

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One of the things I find most difficult in my ukulele learning process is to keep time while playing. An excellent exercise is to play with others.

My friend Ganymede Gwilym and I often like to play a series of chords to practise keeping time when playing together. Today we had great fun doing a video of an improvisation on 4 chords of Clocks by Coldplay (initially D Am C Em, transposed to G Dm F Am). Trying to keep a steady ukulele fingerpicking while the guitar is changing rhythm is excellent practice.

Here is our rendition of passing time :

I never knew my Pono baritone ukulele had a truss rod until a couple of weeks ago. I suddendly noticed, much to my horror, that my Pono had started to buzz badly when I played certain strings.  I knew the strings were not to blame as I had changed them shortly before the buzz first occurred.

I couldn’t understand what caused the sudden change in the sound. I hadn’t dropped my ukulele and it had received no shock, nor did I leave it in the sun or in the cold.

I showed it to my friend Guillaume and he spotted that the truss rod was slightly coming out. We could take it out even more when we pulled it gently. I quickly searched on the internet and found this explanation from Ko’olau Guitar and Ukulele  Company on how to set the truss rod. This guitar page (in French) was helpful to understand the principles of a truss rod too.

Here is my Pono with its truss rod sticking out. Thanks to Guillaume for the picture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not wanting to risk doing any damage to my uke, I emailed Ko’olau Guitar and Ukulele Company for advice. I got a very fast answer from John and applying all he said restored my ukulele’s natural buzz-free warm and mellow tone. Thanks John !

Here is the explanation I got, in case you ever have the same problem :

If the truss rod has tension then it will not come out. So push the truss rod back in, then turn the rod counter clockwise. If the rod nut only turns, but just feels loss, then continue turning counterclockwise until you feel the nut threading again. So after a little tight when turning, continue to turn approximately 1/4 turn. This will cause the truss rod nut to stay inside and will not come out. Also this will cause the neck to develop a slight dip (like ski slope), and this will cause the buzzing to stop. If you do not see any space around the 5th to 7th fret, then turn again, another 1/4 turn, counter clockwise.

When neck is too straight it is because weather is dry (natural dry, or heater or air conditioner). and when weather is humid (moisture), then neck will have dip (warp, ski slope), and you will then need to turn clockwise.

But remember, between clockwise and counter clockwise the truss rod nut will be loose and have no threads. When this happens, continue turning until you feel it tight again, then turn only small 1/4 turns at a time.

For more information on baritone ukuleles, check out Jeff‘s site Humble Baritonics. Jeff is collecting information on baritone ukuleles, including, tabs, chords and baritone ukulele videos.

 

I was at the same time pleased and embarrassed when I was asked for the tab for my original tune Maelström. Pleased in the sense that it felt great to hear that a piece of music I had written was appreciated and embarrassed because I had never thought of ever tabbing Maelström, having but very little knowledge of music theory.

I have written Maelström completely ‘by ear’, relying only on how pleasant it sounded to my ears. So I never gave any thought as to how it would fit in with music theory. After much procrastination on my part, I finally decided to try and discover how my piece was constructed. I focused on trying to learn how to use Powertab and after a difficult start, I found this excellent post which helped me set up the program for the ukulele.

So I am now glad to oblige with my attempt at tabbing Maelström for anyone who feels like playing it. A big thank you to those who asked for the tabs, I learnt a great deal from working on it. Many thanks to Guillaume for his help and to Al for reviewing the tab.

Download Tab for Maelström (for standard GCEA ukes, I might do the baritone tab later if anyone asks for it).

Here is my video of Maelström for all that is not mentioned in the tab (ie. strumming pattern for the strumming part)

Any suggestions on how to improve the tab are welcome.

I have played my Fluke intensively ever since I bought it in December 2008. My Fluke has always been my all-weather ukulele as its plastic structure made it the ideal uke to take along whenever I went for a walk in my beloved hills of Burgundy.

My Fluke did however start to show some signs of wear: some of the plastic frets had become dented and playing a Dm for example sounded really bad.

Here is what my fretboard looked like before I replaced it. You can clearly see the dents:

I couldn’t keep my Fluke as it was as its altered sound really bugged me. Some chords gave a very snappy sound and I couldn’t be blamed for it (honest, I was not trying to play barre chords or an E chord).

I followed Al‘s suggestion and contacted Flea Market Music to find out if I could get a replacement fretboard. I got a very swift answer from Beth who has been extremely helpful and who sent me a new plastic fretboard in no time. In case you ever have the same problem with your Fluke or Flea, it’s worth knowing that you could go for a rosewood fretboard upgrade to avoid having similar problems in the future. I chose to keep my Fluke plastic for my outdoor wanderings.

And now comes the tricky part of the story: unmounting the plastic fretboard and putting on the new one. I am sure some purists will object to our layman’s work but I was determined to get a better knowledge of my own instrument by fixing it myself despite the risk it involved.

With the precious help of my friend Guillaume, we put some masking tape around the old fretboard so as to protect the uke and to mark the exact place where the fretboard was.

Removing the glue with a paint scraper from the top of the neck down was rather easy until we reached the part of the fretboard that was glued on the body. The glue was really strong in this area and we had to heat up the fretboard with an iron covered with a cloth for some minutes before it gave out with the help of a sharp thin knife.

We couldn’t prevent some of the hibiscus finish to come off together with the glue but as this is a hidden part of the uke it was not such a big issue.

Once the fretboard was removed and the surface of the neck cleaned from glue remains, we just mixed some epoxy glue and applied a layer to the surface of the new fretboard and a layer on the neck.

We’ve been really careful about the placement of the new fretboard, using our markings to place it exactly where the old fretboard was. Once it was in place, we placed some pieces of hard cardboard under the neck and on top of the new fretboard and clamped the whole lot for 2 hours.

As we had just received some new sets of strings from Savarez, one of the sponsors of the FIUL festival which we will be attending (17th-18th-19th of June), I decided to try them on.

To check out the new sound, I recorded one of my originals, Maelström, which involves both picking and strumming.

Many thanks to Guillaume who helped me make my Fluke playable again and to Al and Herman for their advice.

And now for the result of the surgery:

Disclaimer: Try this at home at your own risk as we cannot be held responsible for your messing up your Fluke or Fleas.

 


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