Ukulele & Languages

Different countries,
Different cultures
one common language... the ukulele.

Posts Tagged ‘beginner’

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

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I’m taking a break from my blog slumber to give anyone wishing to improve his/her fingerstyle ukulele technique enough to work on until I release a new post.

There has been quite a lot happening on the classical ukulele front lately.First piece of news, Wilfried Welti from Switzerland has created his own website where you can purchase three ukulele ebooks of his arrangements for a very moderate price. If like me, you do learn by ear more than by studying music sheet, you should consider buying the series of recordings (MP3 format) Wilfried has made along with the ebooks.

All three ebooks are available on his site :

Alte Musik mit der Ukulele (Early music on the ukulele, mostly Renaissance and Baroque)
Keltische Musik mit der Ukulele (Celtic music on the ukulele)
Klassische Musik mit der Ukulele (Classical music on the ukulele)

Wilfried has kindly sent me a sample of his work and I can say that it is very neatly laid out, with great attention to detail, in fact with much more information than I am able to read as far as music theory is concerned. His work is as neat as his playing and listening to this video will give you an idea just how neat that means.

The Frog Galliard by John Dowland, arranged and performed by Wilfried.

More videos are available on his YouTube channel.

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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 :

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Today multi-string-instrumentalist Herman Vandecauter from Belgium discusses the importance of using the little finger when playing the ukulele and illustrates his point with an exercise for ukuleles in GCEA tuning which you can hear and download further in this post.

Here is what Herman says :

I am always impressed when I see good left hand technique on the ukulele. I attach the greatest possible importance on the use of the fourth finger (the little finger or pinky) of the left hand, so often neglected.
Your little finger can become extremely flexible and fast if trained in the right manner.

The 4th finger should be your first choice when you reach the third fret of the first string.

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A lot of my fingerpicking ukulele learning process has been about setting myself some challenges which were reasonably difficult for me to make some progress but not completely out of my league.

After 8 months of ukulele fingerpicking, both learning via Skype with Herman Vandecauter and working things out myself, here is a reflection on the things that worked for me.

1. Liking a piece

First and foremost, and mostly because the amount of time I can dedicate to my ukulele learning process is rather restricted, it is absolutely essential for me to work on pieces that I choose myself.
This is a crucial motivational factor : if I like a piece, I’ll be very intent on learning it.

2. Finding a piece that reflects your emotions

In addition to liking a piece, it has to be in accordance with my emotions.

Music is an important vector of emotions so if I feel melancholy, chances are I’ll be much better at playing John Dowland arrangements rather than say, a lively Spanish tune. On the contrary, if I feel joyful, I’ll be glad to work on Irish reels or other upbeat pieces.

3. How should the piece sound ?

Once I’ve chosen a piece I like that reflects my state of mind, I move on to the next step which is to figure out how the piece should sound when played properly.

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Ukulele Beginner ?

You’ve chosen to learn to play the ukulele. Read interviews of skilled ukulele players and find out about tips they are giving. See posts on useful tutorials and links.
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