Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Living Water Strings - now Low G strings too! From Ken Middleton

If you like good fluorocarbon strings on your ukulele, and you use a low G string, you'll be pleased to hear Living Water Strings are now available from Ken Middleton with a low G option in concert and tenor sizes.

I am trying out the concert size and am thrilled with how it sounds and blends with the full set. Like the other Living Water Strings, there is a very pleasing crystalline ring to these strings - I will be writing in greater detail shortly - watch this space!

Meet Michelle Carter and "The infinite melancholy of the urban horse" original song

"The infinite melancholy of the urban horse"

I have great admiration for anyone who can write their own songs - and play them. Well, meet Michelle Carter, of Yorkshire. She got a ukulele for her 30th birthday and has fallen in love with playing - and song-writing.

She writes "I've just been messing about with writing songs to try and make my husband laugh.... I'm currently writing up my PhD so playing the ukulele is a brilliant way to engage a different part of my brain when I've just lost the plot looking at statistics all day, it's also an excellent way to procrastinate when I can't be bothered to write anything!"

A girl after my own heart, there, then!

She says that this song was inspired by a story in the Yorkshire Evening Post (online) about a horse that was found living in a terraced house in Armley in Leeds. "Not to be confused with other horse related songs such as "wild horses", "crazy horses" and "my lovely horse"."

Michelle has posted three of her songs on Youtube. There is something in her style and way with words that reminds me of Victoria Wood and of Jake Thackray..... remember him? The great American songwriter, too - Tom Lehrer. Listen to her songs, and see what you think.....

I asked Michelle how she went about writing her songs. This is what she said:

"I have no idea how I wrote the songs to be honest usually just strumming and messing around. So with urban horse, I’d had the idea that this could be an amusing concept and then I started strumming some chords that sounded good together and the lyrics came after that. I had an idea for a new song the other day and wrote some notes but I found it impossible to write anything without strumming the chords first. The song about washing up came after my husband James and I were watching Jamie Oliver’s 30 minute meals and he turned to me completely seriously and said “I bet he doesn’t do his own washing up” and it just really made me laugh, because he looked like he was really troubled by that thought. So for me it goes idea, chords and then lyrics last."

Other songs by Michelle Carter "Washing Up" and "By the Time I'm Thirty"

Good luck, Michelle, with your Phd.... but also, and especially with your songs.

Whatever else you do - keep 'em comin'!

Saturday, 28 July 2012

"It's a Grand and Healthy Life" on Banjo Uke - John Bianchi

As the Olympic Games begin in London after a truly amazing opening ceremony last night, this George Formby number just has to be the best song for today! A Grand and Healthy Life, indeed...very sporty, a little saucy, and as ever, John Bianchi pulls it off with his own brand of New York panache, making those split-strokes look totally effortless - even sitting in his car in 100 degrees of heat...

Here are the words:


Some chaps like a game of tennis, some like boating on the sea.
Some are fond of cricket or a ball they want to kick it
But there's only one sport that appeals to me.

I love to hike, that's what I like, Ee! but it's a grand and healthy life.
I tramp a mile, then sit a while
A bumblebee there in the grass comes and stings me on my elbow.
Down comes the rain and I get wet through,
I can’t blow my nose because it's already blue
I catch a chill, and feel so ill. Ee! but it's a grand and healthy life.

I love to hike, that's what I like, Ee! but it's a grand and healthy life.
While tramping back, the night was black,
My girl tripped into a ditch I said, "you are a clumsy bounder."
She shouted help! I thought I'd begin
Pulling her out but she kept pulling me in
The ditch was high, we drank it dry, Ee! but it's a grand and healthy life.

I love to hike that's what I like, Ee! but it's a grand and healthy life.
My girl and me, sat neath a tree
A great big blackbird with its claws came and tore off my girl's jumper
When she got home she heard mother shout
You haven't come home the same as when you went out
She hung her head and blushing said, Ee! but it's a grand and healthy life

(all rights reserved)

Go and enjoy those Games now...

Or.... take a look at John Bianchi's excellent blog, The Ukaholic ...

Friday, 27 July 2012

My Slingerland - a tinker-toy indeed

The other day I declared my intention to bite the bullet and do some adjustments to my lovely 1920's Slingerland banjo-uke. It had been sitting on a shelf staring morosely at me, stringless and with the tension hooks all loosened off for at least a month - but I did it, I removed the resonator and then the calf-skin vellum to inspect it - and have now put it all back together. Phew - not too bad at all. It really is a beauty, if a humble one, compared to the later Dallas's and the Ludwigs!

The screws inside the head all needed tightening - but I have done it - I don't know whether they're too tight, but it's done - the vellum has gone back on, in exactly the same place, and I've tightened the 16 tension hooks back up, a little at a time, working evenly back and forth around the head. It wasn't too onerous after all - it has been a few days now and it all looks and sounds ok. I scoured the internet for advice, and there is good information and advice to be had from highly respected banjo-uke people; John Croft, "the ukulele man"and the late great Dennis Taylor's website.

One thing about a Slingerland is that they are well-built, sturdy little instruments, always recommended to new players wanting a well-made vintage instrument at an affordable price. Well, I hope mine stands up to the tightening-up treatment that I've given it! New Mya-Moe fluorocarbon strings on it now, sounding very nice; they are still settling in and needing frequent retuning. In a few weeks I plan to try out the very popular GFS nylon strings...

Thursday, 26 July 2012

"Some of these Days".... I can get all the chords by ear!

Whether it was the tranquility of the summerhouse that did it, I don't know - but I was going through some pieces and songs the other day, and playing "I Wanna be like You" - the first chords being back and forth between Am and E7. I realised that they also sounded like the opening chords of "Some of These Days"

I tried to work out the rest, by ear - and here's the result.

Some of these [E7]days you'll miss me, [Am]honey

Some of these [E7]days you're gonna be so [Am]lonely

You'll miss my [F]huggin'; you're gonna miss my [C]kissin'

You're gonna miss me, [D7] honey, when I'm far a[G7]way

I feel so [C]lonely, for you [F]only

'cause you know, [A7]honey, you've always had your [Dm]way

And when you leave me [Cdim]you know it's gonna [C]grieve [A7]me

Gonna miss your [D7]big, fat mamma, your [G7]mamma some of these [C]days

Some of These Days, written and composed by Shelton Brooks, became a signature song for Sophie Tucker (1886-1966)styled "The Last of the Red Hot Mamas"

Noticed the diminished chord? Scrumptious!

(All rights reserved)

I'LL FLY AWAY - Ken Middleton and friend....

I'll Fly Away - traditional spiritual

Ken and Lorenzo in the garden of the Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza, Italy, last weekend;
there for the huge ukulele festival in Caldogno.

Simply gorgeous. As Eugeneukulele commented - "guess it helps when you have two superb musicians, a gorgeous setting and one of the best spirituals ever written. Yes."

My sentiments entirely.....

Ken playing clawhammer, if I'm not much mistaken....

Cripple Creek- Clawhammer Ukulele - Aaron Keim

Here's Aaron Keim playing clawhammer style on a Mya-Moe uke - clawhammer is a percussive way of playing fingerstyle originating from banjo playing in the Appalachians. Back in the 60's, Pete Seeger used it to great effect with the long neck 5 string banjo, which he invented.

I love this - had to share..... hope you like it too....

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

"GOING HOME" from Dvorak's "NEW WORLD SYMPHONY" - Ukulele solo arranged by Mike Lynch

Another of ukulelemike's (Mike Lynch) wonderful solo ukulele arrangements, this time of the beautiful and rightly popular Largo from the New World Symphony by Antonin Dvorak.

Also known as "Going Home", and played by Mike Lynch himself.

I couldn't wait to get my hands on the tab for this. £3.33 in sterling...

I now have enough uke music to keep me amused until 2022...



Monday, 23 July 2012

An eventful sort of week, in many ways...

To all those who follow me here or otherwise click on a webpage during a search and arrive somewhat bemused on one of my pages .... well, welcome and thanks! I'm on a journey of discovery and delight with my ukuleles and am happy for you to tag along with me here.

Hint - look at the label cloud at the bottom of the page - it shows you what I've posted on different subjects... click the label to see the related posts.

It has been a funny week... I got my computer sorted and upgraded, installed a webcam and posted my first Youtube video; I discovered the talent and history of Roy Smeck for the first time, thanks to a video a fantastic player posted on the Ukulele Underground Forum; I have been called "sassy" (for writing a blog) and "dynamic" (for organizing stuff)... people who know me better would probably choke over their cup of tea!

I have been given a surprise gift of a CD by Jake Shimabukuru by someone I've met only once... how lovely! I can't get over that - and I have just added "Taking a Chance on Love" to my "Summerhouse Practice List". What a great song - full of minor 6ths and minor 7ths... what delicious chords - had to go and play them down LSH's (Long-Suffering-Husband's) ear as he sat working at his own PC...

The summerhouse - yes, the sun is out, it's gorgeous, and I have sat for a while playing my uke down there, in the tranquility of the garden. Bliss. What a difference a little sunshine makes....

I've resolved to bite another bullet today; my lovely 90 year old vintage Slingerland banjo-uke has to be tackled. I was told at the GFS Convention that it needed some adjustments, but - in true style, I have been putting it off.

Today's the day.

Sharp intake of breath.

You all have a great day now. Or Evening. Whoever and wherever you are. And if you've got a uke - do play it today! :)

Another one to knock your socks off - St. James Infirmary Blues - Eugene Ukulele

I just love Eugene's work, and there are many more folk who do, too... here's another great piece, St James Infirmary Blues. Eugene writes "This song has been adapted and performed by countless jazz, blues and folk musicians. Consequently, numerous versions abound with variant verses that focus on different aspects of the story. In my rendition I have left out the bar room scenes to highlight the death of the girl and the meditations of the protagonist on his mortality."The song was first collected in England in its version as "The Unfortunate Rake" by Henry Hammond by a Mr. William Curtis at Lyme Regis, Dorset in March 1906. Read more here.

Eugene has a great talent for putting over a blues song - he has a feel for the music and the lyrics that in the delivery of them just grabs you and won't let let you go until you've listened - at least twice.

Please Eugene, keep these comin'....... and your original songs, too!

Saturday, 21 July 2012

A Week for Biting Bullets

If there is one thing I excel at, it's procrastination. I can put things off for...ages. When I'm working myself up to tackle something I've been putting off, I have strategies to prepare myself. When I was teaching, to gear myself up for the mammoth task of end of year report-writing, I would tackle the ironing basket, another hated job - but when I'd done a load of ironing, I would feel that at least I could settle to the reports with a clearer mind.

At the beginning of this week, to prep myself for a monster paperwork job for a relative, I tidied my office, and felt SO virtuous... but the eight piles of paperwork now on my desk are a little easier to face in a nice, tidy environment.

I have also been putting off an overhaul for my PC. But over the last few weeks it has nearly gone out of the window just too many times, as it threw various tantrums and stormed out altogether, banging the virtual door behind it. So that bullet was bitten, too. Thanks to my friendly neighbourhood computer services, the gremlins inside have been banished one by one, and I now have a nice speedy system. Fabulous.

No excuse now for not installing a webcam and contributing to the "Noobs Challenges" on the Ukulele Underground Forum.

And I have done it! My first video! The challenge - "Put your best foot forward. Play for us the tune that you feel the most comfortable with. Not the fanciest or coolest or hardest. Just the one that you KNOW you can play and can play so well you finish and think "Hey, I did ok!"

So I have done Finlandia, ukulelemike's arrangement. Only once through, mind.....and now I'm wondering, should I post it here also? Or is that a bullet I really don't want to bite just yet? Hmmm........

As it has stopped raining at last after about seven solid weeks, and the sun is actually shining - I think I'll go and do some weeding instead......

Too much too soon........ :D

Monday, 16 July 2012

Compelled to de-clutter, and feeling virtuous...

I'm not proud of it but I have to admit that LSH and I are quite capable of functioning surrounded by quite a degree of clutter. And I am just a little bit of a hoarder. But it gets to a stage where it starts to bug me - and then the feeling grows until I feel compelled to tackle it. When that happens, everything gets turned upside down, inside out, and then, for just a short time, that part of our home environment is worthy of actually being exposed to the gaze of visitors.

What set me off this time was a TV programme about people who are compulsive hoarders, severely disabled by an inability to throw anything away. I'm not usually around when LSH is watching it; I'm usually at my ukulele or my computer - but last week I was watching it with him - and there was a woman who, along with everything else, in a mountain of belongings and mess, had a massive pile of plastic bags. Unfortunately, that resonated with me in a big way... behind my chair in my "office" was stuffed away... a huge pile of plastic shopping bags! Well, they come in handy, don't they? When that programme finished I went straight upstairs to sort them out. God there were loads, I was surrounded by them when I pulled them all out - but I narrowed them down to half a dozen, and ditched the rest. Phew, that was a close call....

And I have finished the room - every shelf tidied, every drawer gone through - bits and bobs that I have "churned" for years, thrown out; little things set aside for the neighbours' children - drawers tidy, floor and desk top clear! I am feeling SO virtuous! And talk about multi-tasking - I did it whilst trying to sort out glitches and gremlins on my PC. It's amazing what you can do in a room while a computer takes over an hour to fail to download software..... and while you restrain yourself from throwing the thing out of the window.

So now I have a clear, polished desk-top to sort out and deal with some important paperwork, and tomorrow my PC goes to be upgraded and generally put to rights. That was another bullet I needed to bite...

I said the floor was clear - I lied - both my concert ukes are right behind me, propped up against the bookcase.

I think I'll play one... I've earned it.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Our Sargeant Major - George Formby Nashville-style, by Johnny Foodstamp!

Johnny Foodstamp of Nashville, badass banjolele player, is now a fully-fledged member of the GFS, the George Formby Society. Oh how he would have loved the Convention in Blackpool in June!

And I just know they would love him. Go, Johnny!

I don't know how many Formby fans in the US play the banjo-ukulele Formby -style, but I suspect there aren't that many. There's John Bianchi in New York, and ..... anybody else out there?

There's no middle ground with George Formby - you either love him and his music or hate them. George had a huge, cheeky, goofy grin, a broad Lancashire accent and an innocent way with saucy lyrics, brimful of double-entendres. He was a huge star until his untimely death in 1961 - read more about him here.

To this day, his skill as a banjo-ukulele player wins him new fans. The "Formby" strum, or split-stroke, is the one that wins the most admiration, especially delivered in fast, complex syncopated cross-rhythms. No two people play Formby-style the same, and no-one plays it quite like George did - it's like a personal fingerprint. But if you can play it at all..... respect!

So, respect to Johnny - flying that Formby flag across the Pond!

In my local music shop today, something as rare as hens' teeth - a new, quality banjo-ukulele!

Yes, I couldn't believe my eyes - as I was passing through, I called in to Colbecks in Sutton Coldfield today, and saw - a ukulele banjo! It came in this morning, they said, a top of the range Ashbury AB-48, and the first they've had in since Christmas. It's a lovely-looking instrument, with a mahogany resonator and rim, a brass tone ring and 16 tension hooks and I have a feeling it won't be there long, these little babies are in such demand and such short supply.

If you've been after one, give Colbeck's a call.

Monday, 9 July 2012

At Last a Great low G - What Now? Fingerstyle Ukulele Instruction Low G Tuning by Aaron Keim

Over the moon at having a good low G string on a uke at last,(new Aquila Red Series)I've found this great video tutorial on fingerstyle with a low G by Aaron Keim.

Find Aaron Keim, "The Quiet American" here. If you vaven't come across him before, do look - and his videos are superb.

In this one he teaches and then combines two fingerstyle techniques; the roll and the pinch.

Stringing the ukulele with a high G at the 4th string, known as re-entrant tuning, is the traditional way to string a uke. It's bright, it gives that traditional uke sound, and most chords and tabs are for a uke strung this way. The high G is great for bluegrass and clawhammer fingerpicking too. But for classical and jazz pieces, people often choose the low G option.

For a fantastic and popular classical piece, see John Moen's arrangement for Prelude for the First Suite for Unaccompanied Cello, posted 5th May this year, and for more on jazzy chords with a low G, see Glen Rose Jazzy Ukulele. (Post done here 31st May 2012).

Sunday, 8 July 2012

New Aquila Red Series low strings - review

Presumably in response to a general lack of satisfaction with low G strings for ukulele, Aquila Corde of Italy have developed a new unwound low string, the Aquila Red Series. I couldn't wait to get my hands on one, because all efforts so far to get satisfaction from a low G have ended in disappointment.

Well, mine arrived yesterday and I've put it on my faithful old Greg Bennett UK50 laminate mahogany concert uke. I'm thrilled with it.

So - more information.

The strings are about twice as dense as Aquila's standard new nylgut, and the brick-red colour comes from a copper compound which they have impregnated into the material to alter its characteristics. I find the colour quite pleasing.

The string is very, very stretchy; it takes many more winds than usual to get it up to pitch, so the tuning peg ends up very full. It will obviously take a while to settle in, and will need tuning up for some days - for me, anyway. I haven't done any pre-stretching. It looks slightly thinner than the C string - this can be checked on Aquila's website. Once up to tension it does drop properly into the 4th string slot, and the if you buy from DrClucks Musical Emporium, they enclose a very helpful info sheet about care during installation, including a warning about taking care that the slot at the nut is rounded and smooth. The feel is good - it doesn't feel at all plasticky, but feels rather like the old real gut strings.

What I am really impressed with is the sound. No problems with intonation now, and the sound balance with the other Aquila strings on the uke is good. The loudness and level of sustain are just right. The strings all do seem to belong together.

It's great to have this string now on my "2nd" uke; it means I can now start to get to grips with the pieces that do need or sound better with a low G.


Congrats to Aquila and thank you!

They are not yet widely available but you can buy Aquila Red Series single unwound low G and Baritone D strings easily, either from Aquila Corde of Italy's website, or on ebay from DrCluck's Musical Emporium, US. I got mine from DrCluck's and they were delivered to the UK in five days, dropping through the letterbox with no extra charges. Great service.

POST SCRIPT .... edit April 2013

The Aquila Red Series of strings, for example a low G for ukulele, has raised a lot of interest but as followers of Ukulele Underground Forum will know, some players have experienced problems with them, e.g. strings snapping.

Aquila responded to the feedback very quickly and worked on improving the Red Series, and there have already been favourable responses from folk on the Forum.

I haven't tried the new improved strings yet, but Andrew Kitakis of Hawaii Music Supply has written a detailed review of the new improved strings and you can read it in full on his blog here.

Andrew also talks about fluorocarbon low Gs, and here's a reminder that Living Water Strings, a brand of excellent quality fluorocarbon strings sold by Ken Middleton, now include sets of strings with low G.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

"I took my harp" - when things just don't go according to plan...

Sometimes you take in a situation and straight away you know that the plans are dog-meat.

A wedding had been planned, and at the end of a highly sociable evening, the soon-to-be-bridegroom had asked me to do a ukulele sing-along to entertain the guests after the reception meal. "Are you serious?" I'd asked. "If you really would like that, I'll sort out some songs and get it organised..." Oh yes, deadly serious, that would be really great, please...."

So yesterday, after the wedding, and in the lashing rain, after a catalogue of small but unpleasant mishaps to various family members, we all found the venue, a country pub recommended for its food, some miles away from Birmingham.

As we went in, it was soon pretty clear that the chances of having the sing-along were rather minimal.

Everything was running late, everyone was desperate for liquid sustenance and was queuing up at the bar, and getting everyone to their seats for the meal was going to like herding cats. And - being a fairly informal affair, the landlord needed everyone to be finished by 8.00pm as other diners were booked in at that time. Time for a sing-along? No way... also, the room was split in two, with the wedding party at one end, the bar in the middle, and the general public using the other side. All open-plan. Not really ideal... but at any rate, there was never going to be time. And the bridegroom had forgotten that he'd ever asked... yes, that's right! But even if he had remembered, we wouldn't have been able to fit it in.

So there, we go; "I took my harp to a party and nobody asked me to play!"

Well, of course it didn't matter. It was a lovely wedding, a really happy day, the bride was radiant and everyone had a great time in spite of the weather and the mishaps.

But there are lessons to be learned here, to be sure.

I've learned 'em...

Friday, 6 July 2012

Today - a Wedding Sing-Along!

It's going to be an interesting day. We're going to a wedding. I only mention it because as soon as the wedding date was announced, I was asked to do a sing-along with my uke for the guests at the reception. The father of the bride, a close friend, plays guitar, so I suggested that we do it together - I knew the family would particularly enjoy his participation. So it's planned. And we are ready; we have a list.

But after the weather gods relented and gave us a lovely sunny day yesterday - darn it - today they have forecast for central England torrential rain, amber alert for floods, a month's rain in 24 hours. No less than eighty-six flood alerts issued for the UK. What a shame for the happy couple, lovely people who have been together for years and are tying the knot after she exercised her prerogative and popped the question on leap year day, 29th February.

My uke stuff is ready, and I keep finding new wedding-friendly songs that I wish I'd found earlier. Darn it again. Like "Happy Together" by the Turtles - beautiful - We might sing 'em anyway.

I've posted a page, listing the songs we'll be singing, and some more...I'd love to hear from you if you have more ideas - and I'd love to hear from you anyway! You need a Google account to comment, I think - check it out!

Whatever you're doing today dear readers, I hope the weather gods are kind to you - and thanks for looking in - I appreciate it!

Thursday, 5 July 2012

I discover Kalei Gamiao and The Unknown

A thoughtful Galei fan on the Ukulele Underground Forum offered a link to click - and I saw this video for the first time.

Take a deep breath.....

The videos I feature on here, I choose for a variety of reasons. They entertain me and make me smile; they inspire me or help me in learning to play more skilfully, and to play more interesting chords; they move me... this great piece of instrumental playing grabbed me by the scruff of the neck, caught my breath and quickened my pulse. Pure adrenalin, pure excitement. People want to be able to play this. I want to be able to play this! Sometime.... patience - practice - practice....

Kalei works with Kamaka Ukuleles of Hawaii. Suffice it for now to say that Kamaka is the oldest of the "K" brands of ukulele - the top flight, the best. And for those with deep pockets!

If you fancy having a go at this, see the great Dominator's tutorial videos here.

To read more about Kalei, click here - a blog page I found.

Oh, and needless to say - Kalei Gamiao has to be another ukulele hero!

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Pennies from Heaven for Ukulele - Tutorial by Ukulelemike

I've never known a summer when it has rained so much. The whole of April - the whole of June - and it hasn't stopped so far in July. Well it has - for a few minutes here and there, just while another cloud rolls in off the Atlantic. One minute the sun is actually shining, and you look again and the rain is pouring down. The sky is a patchwork in shades of grey, white and a little blue, but darkest grey predominates. Early this evening the sun was shining while the rain fell really heavily - the edge of a cloud I suppose. But not usual.

There have been some incredible rainbows, really bright, and double ones... a little beauty to behold, while you remind yourself that elsewhere at other times, people actually have lost their homes and their lives in flooding. So it's not so bad, and I must stop moaning.

One of my favourite old songs is Pennies from Heaven, (1936) by John Burke and Arthur Johnston.

I found this great tutorial video from ukulelemike, Mike Lynch, my favourite ukulele teacher! This arrangement has some lovely minor 7th and diminished chords - delicious! Just the thing to chase those rainy blues away.

Every time it rains, it rains pennies from heaven
Don'tcha know each cloud contains pennies from heaven?
(You'll find your fortune fallin' all over town)
(Be sure that your umbrella)
Is upside down

Trade them for a package of sunshine and flowers
If you want the things you love, you must have showers
(So when you hear it thunder) Don't run under a tree
There'll be pennies from heaven for you and me

(Every time it rains, it rains) Pennies from heaven
(Don'tcha know each cloud contains) Pennies from heaven?
(You'll find you fortune fallin') All over town
(Be sure that your umbrella) Is upside down

Trade them for a package of sunshine and flowers
If you want the things you love you must have showers
(So when you hear it thunder) Don't run under a tree
There'll be pennies from heaven for you and for me

I haven't found the link to the chord sheet, but the tutorial is great - I'm hoping to get this under my belt eventually, but a chord sheet would be really useful.

And here's a few more songs about the rain.....

Just Walkin' in the Rain
I'll Do my Cryin' in the Rain
Raindrops Keep Fallin' on my Head
It Might as Well Rain Until September
Pennies from Heaven
April Showers
Drip Drip Drop Little April Shower
Let a Smile be Your Umbrella
Bus Stop (Wet day, she's there....) - The Hollies
Singin' in the Rain
Raining in my Heart
Stormy Weather
Don't Rain on my Parade
Rainy Night in Georgia
Rhythm of the Rain
Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Tip of the Day for Beginners - Play a 3 Chord Song by Ear

And another ukulele hero - Jim D'Ville

The best way to develop your musical skills is to test them, challenge them - and develop your musical "ear".

Check over the list of 3 chord songs on the 3 chord song page here... choose a song that you're familiar with, and have a go at strumming it without a song sheet.

Chances are, the first chord will be C, because when you play a 3 chord song with C, F and G7, you're "in the key of C" and C is the chord you'll start with and end with - it's the "home chord".

You may well hear when the chord should change - and you've only a choice of 2! As you go through it, and it will likely be by trial and error for a while, try to remember the right chords as you find them. Practice changing chords in the right place - it will get easier. It's rather like doing a puzzle, but the right chord will sound right, that's the thing.

Gradually you will learn the song. A boost for your skills, and a big boost for your confidence!

I love this approach and I've always played by ear from childhood, being desperate to play (piano, recorder) and unable to lay my hands on sheet music, I used to work it out. It was and is fun....I still do it - it's only practice, and perseverance. I'm not brilliant at it; (Jools Holland learned to play piano by ear and IS brilliant...)

Of course, 2 and 3 chord songs are only the beginning - as new chords are added to those three in more complex arrangements, the interplay of major and minor chords is an entrancing revelation.

A big ukulele exponent of playing by ear is Jim D'Ville. Check out his website, there's great stuff on there - and a link to his "3 Chord Club" - worth more than a few minutes!

George Butterworth - The Banks of Green Willow - a Must for an Arrangement!

And still it rains... a Scottish lady on the short holiday I have just had told me that in the part of Scotland where she was brought up, there were lots of different names for the different kinds of rain. Beautiful-sounding names they were, too - I can't remember one, of course, but I think they were all onomatopoeic... beautiful.

So today I can only call it Scotch Mist - the English name for the fine, steady rain that just drenches you. I took one look at it early this morning, had a cup of tea and went back to bed. LSH got up and obligingly switched on my favourite radio station, Classic fm...

Now I love English 20th Century music, especially Vaughan-Williams and Elgar. But one of my favourites is "The Banks of Green Willow" by George Butterworth. It was on the radio this morning and I realised that it's a piece of music that puts you immediately at peace with that sort of rain... you can listen to it and not mind the rain at all - because the rain is at one with those banks of green willow.

Please, treat yourself and lay aside five minutes to listen to this gorgeous orchestral piece, and enjoy the beautiful images of the countryside...

So I want to play those themes on my ukulele. I'm working on it already - chords with a picked melody in between...I've done the eight bars of the first melody.... in C, of course... and if I can get something finished on the lines of the two melodies and a cheat link, I shall write down the tab. Now that, for me, will be some sort of challenge, and some sort of progress....

Ukulelemike, Mike Lynch, did an arrangement of the theme from Finlandia, with a video and tutorial, and I featured it here - and it was not too difficult to learn from those, without the tab; but what I have also learned from that, is that the chords used, (key of C again) I can use here....it's starting to learn my way around the fingerboard by playing music, not by studying a chart in isolation.

If you watch the video on Youtube, (it was shared with permission), you'll find more information about the music, for which the inspiration was two English folk tunes.

How tragic, that like Mozart, like Gershwin, Butterworth died young; a lieutenant in the Durham Light Infantry, at 31 years old, he was killed by a sniper's bullet in 1916, leading a raid in Pozieres in the battle of the Somme, WW1.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Living Water Strings by Ken Middleton - Review

Just over a week ago, before rushing off to spend a few days mooching around Devon with a very nice bunch of WI ladies, I put a set of the new British made fluorocarbon Living Water strings by Ken Middleton on my Tanglewood Cove Creek concert uke before I packed it to take for a sing-along at the end of the trip. We had such a busy schedule each day, rushing off to see the sights and going out in the evenings for meals (fabulous!) that until the last evening I had only a minute or two each day to play my ukulele. Just enough time to tune it up and strum a few chords and pick a few notes.

I now feel ready to give you my review.

First of all, remember - I'm relatively inexperienced, uke-wise... so please read what I say with that in mind. I can't give you any personal comparisons with other brands of fluorocarbon strings, because I've never used them; this is my first experience of fluorocarbons. (I do have a set of American ones ready to put on my banjo-uke, but that wouldn't count, anyway; a banjo-uke sounds so different.)

I have allowed just over a week for the strings to settle in, as they are flexible and stretchy. I did not tug at them in an attempt to stretch them and make them settle more quickly; I felt that was the safest approach so as not to risk spoiling them.

So this is my review, now that the new strings have pretty well settled in, and I have relaxed and played, and listened.....

First impression on receiving the strings was of the packaging, which is very attractive. Strings for each size of ukulele are packaged in a different metallic shade; e.g. concert size are in silver. Each string is in its own sellophane packet, clearly labelled by name and by position.

The strings are made of 100% clear fluorocarbon; they're colourless. They are, like all fluorocarbon strings, I believe, thinner than Aquila New Nylgut, which are the highly acclaimed brand leader in ukulele strings, and the strings I have bought and used up to now.

Here are the diameter measurements so you can see the difference.

Living Water fluorocarbons in the concert size are in diameter

1 = 0.52mm
2 = 0.66mm
3 = 0.74mm
4 = 0.57mm

Aquila New Nylgut concert strings are

1 = 0.62 mm
2 = 0.80 mm
3 = 0.95 mm
4 = 0.67 mm

Being thinner, the Living Water strings feel quite different under the fingers for fretting. The biggest difference is in the thicker middle strings, especially the C string. I like the feel of them very much. Although I love Aquilas and do swear by them, Aquilas feel thick and hard in comparison when I turn to my other ukes, which are still strung with them.

The sound of these Living Water strings is beautifully bright and crystal-clear. The more I play them, the more I love them, especially in finger-picking. The sound reminds me of the clear resonant sound when you flick the edge of a crystal glass. When I first put them on my uke and played it, I was immediately aware that I needed to get used to fretting them in a more precise way; I was getting some buzzing and the strings were showing up my lack of expertise. But it hasn't taken me long to adapt, and the sound is heavenly. Apt, I think, because Ken states on the front of the packets "Made in Heaven!"

This difference in diameter does make a difference to the sound. Generally speaking, thicker strings are louder, and I have noticed a difference in volume when strumming a song accompaniment. Aquilas are the loudest strings on the market, I think I can safely say! But this is only a small part of the story. For more information on strings generally see Ian Chadwick here.

I love the sound and feel of Ken's Living Water strings; the name is a stroke of genius... try them, and think about it!

In my last post on strings, last week, I mentioned that Aquila have now released a new line; their "Red Series" of unwound low G strings. Ken Middleton will also be releasing his own low Gs very, very soon.... so I await both kinds with anticipation!

The thing about Ken's strings is that he himself is a wonderful ukulele player, and he has researched and sourced his type of fluorocarbon string to get the sound and feel that he wants.

That itself says an awful lot about these strings! My advice - get some - they're going like hot cakes!

From his website; also now from ebay!

Sunday, 1 July 2012

The Olympic Torch, and A Moment to Shine for a Dear Friend

I never promised that this blog would ever be "pure ukulele" - it is, after all, "Life for a Lady with a Ukulele or Two".... and I am thankful to be able to say that life is never boring. For one thing, I don't "do" bored... LSH (Long-Suffering-Husband) and I have our health and plenty of interests, and can do much as we like, within the constraints of our budget.

But yesterday was pretty special by any measure. The Olympic Flame passed through our region on its way to London, going through the nearby, ancient towns of Lichfield and Tamworth and traveling on to the Black Country towns of Walsall, Wolverhamptom, Dudley and Tipton before going through Birmingham to finish on the south side at Cannon Hill Park.

We had particular reason to be excited. One of our oldest and dearest friends, Pete Woodfield, was honoured to be carrying the Torch for a stretch in Wolverhampton. As soon as it had been announced that the Olympic Flame would be carried by members of the public, who would be chosen on merit after nomination; many of Pete's friends, including LSH nominated him as deserving "A Moment to Shine" as a Torch Bearer. Pete has done a huge amount of fund-raising charitable work over the last 25 years, and also he is just a great, great friend, the sort you can depend on totally. No-one in our social circle was more deserving.

Everyone was thrilled when he was chosen as one of the 8000. Eventually he was given the date and the area where he would carry the Flame. The surprise was that it would be Wolverhampton, furthest away from where we all live.

Of course, we had to go and witness this great event! The Olympic Flame, proudly carried by our own Pete... but what time to leave the house? Which route? The Torch was being carried into Wolverhampton from the north and would continue south... roads would be closed - and where to park? But after much scratching of heads we made our plans, took a wide circular route into Wolverhampton and found the designated car park. We were VERY early.

Then passed an interesting couple of hours in a rather seedy public house, we not being able to find anywhere more promising... but when at last it was time to go to the 300 yards/metres stretch where Pete would carry the Torch, the atmosphere was building by the minute. Excited families of all creeds and colours, all lining the roadside, eager to witness a little bit of history, the Olympic Flame passing by, once in lifetime - once in many, many lifetimes. And our much-loved friend would be carrying it, so proudly for this 300 metres.

A hovering police helicopter gave away the position of the Flame as it made its way down the Birmingham New Road. And suddenly, the road ahead was growing flashing blue lights... it was here! As they slowly approached, even the police motor-cycle outriders of the "Met" were enjoying the day, waving cheerily to the folk roadside.

Hoots, cheers, a shrieked salute and puff of steam from the antique vintage steam engine that had been brought to witness the occasion... and Pete was coming, dressed in his white Olympic tracksuit uniform, flame held aloft, smiling proudly from ear to ear, flanked by a cheery but watchful police escort of young officers jogging along in specially designed sports kit uniform.

LSH, Pete's oldest friend from the earliest school days, had given me charge of the video camera, half-way down his route. As Pete jogged passed me with the Torch, I yelled just as loudly as I could - "Pete!" He turned and saw me and waved, and I'll never forget that moment as long as I live.

Then, after photos back by Wolverhampton Civic Centre, for celebrations it was off to Tipton to Mad O'Rourke's Pie Factory, a public house and eatery like no other you've ever seen - it really was once a pie factory.... their speciality is Desperate Dan Pie, a huge meat and veg pie with two pastry horns sticking out of it. It had been a day that called for such a pie, even for the likes of me.... but all the clientele wanted a photo with the Torch Bearer, to shake hands with the Torch Bearer, a photo with The Torch... Pete's Moment to Shine lasted the whole day. And rightly so.

And who's that with him? Someone I know...

If you want to check out the route for the Torch on its way round the country to London, click here ... there are links to all sorts of information about the Torch Relay, including info about the Torch itself, and a link to follow the Torch live on video on its journey. I might even get Olympics fever after all......