Ukulele & Languages

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

Posts Tagged ‘guitar’

Today’s feature is a lovely song by Icelandic band Ylja, Á rauðum sandi.

It will take you on a road trip across Iceland towards the end of the summer, to the sound of guitar and ukulele accompanying the vocal harmonies of singers Gígja Skjaldardóttir and Bjartey Sveinsdóttir.

This song is taken from Ylja’s album Ylja which you can purchase on Bandcamp here.

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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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Let me start this post by wishing you all the very best for 2014 ! What better way to start this new year than with something fresh, say songwriting ?

When you’ve been playing covers of songs for a while you will eventually reach a stage where you’d like to try writing your own. The whole process is great fun but not without hurdles. Patience and persistence are your best friends…

One day, an event triggers a creative process in some obscure area of your brain : suddenly, you have a melody in your head, a few words pop out and there you have it, the skeleton of a song… You can choose to ignore it because, when you think of it, turning it into a real song is going to cost you hours and hours unless you’re a real pro. But, if you feel slightly adventurous you will decide to move ahead and try to make something out of it, no matter what.

That’s exactly what Ganymede Gwilym and I did. It all started with a walk in the hillsides that didn’t turn out to be as pleasant as we would have hoped. This inspired me a few words and a melody which I sang to Gwilym. He enjoyed the melody and decided to pick his guitar and try to make out the chords by ear. We used a trial-and-error approach until we were happy with the chords. From there on Gwilym polished up his guitar playing, adding transitions and a nice rhythm to the song. In the meantime I worked on the lyrics and the singing and eventually added the ukulele solo part.

Here is the result, our song Countryside Walk on guitar and ukulele. We hope you’ll enjoy it too !

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Some of you may be wondering why I am posting much less than I did before and may even conclude that I have fallen out of love with the ukulele. That’s certainly not the case. I play the uke as much as ever, if not more. I keep on learning and trying to improve. So what’s going on then ?

Last November I have started working on a project that means incredibly much to me, on many counts. The kind of project that swallows you up and which requires that you put all your energy and efforts in. A project that asks of you to face your own daemons. A type of project that cannot be finished overnight. All this means no more time for hunting for ukulele videos from around the world…

So at this time I’d like to thank my fellow ukulele bloggers for carrying on writing posts and keeping me up to date with the ukulele world. Special thanks to Al from Uke Hunt, to Lou, to Jeff from Humble Uker Ramblings. Many thanks to those of you still contacting me despite my silence, with a special mention to Valérie from Les Poupées Gonflées.

Music is a great help to keep going when things seem to go slower, when you feel drained and worthless. The ukulele and its cheerful sound is a reassuring presence. I have also taken up the guitar, not to replace the ukulele, but to add another means of expression, with a different feel. I converted my best friend Ganymede Gwilym to the ukulele back in 2010 _ he now plays way better than me _ and he in turn is now teaching me how to play the guitar.

Here is our guitars-only cover of the day,  The Pirate’s Gospel by Alela Diane.

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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 :

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