Herman Vandecauter from Belgium is primarily a pro classical guitarist and mandolinist, but he took up the ukulele in January 2009 and quickly found out how to get the best sound out of it.
Before I ask him a few questions, let’s hear a video of him playing Courante by German lutenist Sylvius Leopold Weiss. I find this piece really soothing after a stressful day.
Interview with Herman Vandecauter :
U&L : What is your favourite ukulele for fingerpicking ?
Herman : the tenor ukulele in my case for the reason that one can play more complex compositions on it. A soprano uke’s fingerboard is really small so I did choose a long-neck soprano but those small instruments are not easy to keep very steady. The more you can stabilise the instrument without the help of your left or right hand the more freedom it will give you to move in all directions accurately and this you can nearly only achieve with the tenor.
U&L : Do you have any piece of advice you would like to give to ukulele players who would like to learn to play fingerpicking ukulele ?
Herman : any chord sequence can be fun for standard pluckings. But you should learn to alternate your index and middle finger to play melodic parts. This could be used to play Bach or other styles of music.
Another thing is to decide whether to play with fingernails or not ! I do play with my fingernails but this will depend on the quality of your nails.
One can also produce a nice sound without using fingernails but not everybody can do that. What if you are sweating easily and your fingertips stay nearly glued to the strings! Impossible to play that way and training wouldn’t help you there…
Finally, I find it useful to learn to read music scores instead of just tablatures. The more you know about music theory the more you will be able to make your own arrangements and the easier it will be to find alternative fingerings! For this you need to think in notes not in tab numbers. Once you are used to it, reading music scores goes much faster than tabs. We can hear the music before we play the notes..
I’ll give you a good trick to memorise the fingerboard. Everybody can memorise 7 phone numbers, well for each note you have to remember a 4-digit-number. The first digit will indicate the position of the note on the 4th string, the second digit the position of the note on the 3rd string and so on…
C (Do) : 5 0 8 3
D (Ré) : 7 2 10 5
E (Mi) : 9 4 0 7
F (Fa) : 10 5 1 8
G (Sol) : 0 7 3 10
A (La) : 2 9 5 0
B (Si) : 4 11 7 2
The first thing to do when you pick up your ukulele is to go trough all your notes on the fingerboard.
If you are waiting for the bus just go trough them in your mind!
U&L: Can you think of any tune to recommend to beginners in fingerpicking ukulele ?
Herman : I used renaissance dances (Bransles) from the French Adrian Leroy since they were written for renaissance 4-string-guitar and in the same tuning as a a standard ukulele (G C E A).
Let’s now watch Herman play his own arrangements of three gigs :
Lark in the morning / O’Casey’s jig / Paddy Carty’s jig
Many thanks to Herman for doing this interview and for the tips he shared!
Herman has just informed me that he has also uploaded a ukulele version of Water Music by Handel, which you can listen to here.