Thursday, 14 November 2013

Strum along with Ken Middleton in the Smoky Mountains!

I caught up with Ken Middleton again at the weekend, at the November convention of the George Formby Society in Blackpool. What a great weekend that was! (More about that very soon, I promise...) Once again Ken wowed the Sunday afternoon audience with his playing; first the Tennessee Waltz, then George Elmes joined him on stage to play the old bluegrass tune "Snowdrop". That's built around a repeated chord progression, so it's fun to join in for a strum.

Improvisation is what Ken is doing in this video, recorded during his recent travels to festivals in the USA. And it's something of a speciality of Ken's. I think it's time we heard Ken play in a festival in the UK.....

To improvise, (also called extemporisation), means "to play or sing (music) extemporaneously, especially by inventing variations on a melody or creating new melodies in accordance with a set progression of chords". The point is, it's "as you go along", with no previous planning. Clever stuff, eh? I've always been scared stiff of it..... deep water, as far as I'm concerned. But Ken is pretty good, don't you think?

The set progression of chords in this improvisation is G Dm F C. Playing this progression, I feel that it has a really haunting quality. That's strange, because it's in the key of C major, and major keys are bright keys, whereas minor keys have a sad or melancholy sense around them.... certainly the Dm chord adds that feeling in this progression. It's so effective here because of the beautiful autumnal Smoky mountain setting. Autumn seems to embody a sense of melancholy, with the retreating sun and the retreating green from the leaves, but the beauty is there in the reds and golds.... and the melancholy and the beauty are all here in this improvisation.

So if you've got your uke to hand (haven't you always?) strum along with it, it's fun! That's how I started my day today. I subscribe to Ken's youtube channel (good idea) so this lovely piece dropped into my email inbox this morning. And as Ken has kindly told us the chord progression he's using, I picked up my Tanglewood uke from its place right next to my computer and joined in along with Ken's friend Pete.


Good morning World.....

Oh - and actually, is this piece modal? Comments please!

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HI! I hope you enjoy this blog and I'd love to hear your comments! But I know you'll forgive me if I read them over before I click the "publish" button! Thanks!