A few days ago, a proud mom posted a video of her daughter playing ukulele and singing on Facebook. The daughter did a great job, but the song she was playing was too low for her voice. I don’t blame anyone…we all tend to sing songs where they are printed, and a lot of people are weary of transposing things. Beginning players, however, want to stay with the chords they know and love. An easy answer for anyone wishing to transpose is to use a capo.
Be warned: there is a level of ukulele snobbery that looks down on anyone that uses a capo. This isn’t a surprise, as those same people look down on others for just about anything else…
- Size of ukulele
- Type of strings used
- Use or not use of a strap
- Type of ukulele pickup
- Ability or inability to read tab/notation
- Ability or inability to play by ear
- And more
Simply put, there are some miserable people that play ukulele, and misery loves company.
To the rest of you, I say this: “Ukulele…it’s all about YOU.”
You play and learn ukulele how you want to play and learn ukulele. Want to play ukulele as an accompaniment? Do it. Want to play chord melody? Do it. Want to play full tabs? Do it. Want to make instructional videos? Do it.
Want to use a capo? Do it.
In my suggestion to the mom about the use of a capo for her daughter, I included two suggestions. One is the Dunlop elastic ukulele capo (about $5, Amazon referral link), and the other was a capo I saw on gotaukulele.com, the G7th Ultralight Ukulele Capo (about $15, Amazon referral link). Both of these capos have a lower profile than a normal ukulele “trigger” style capo, and make it easier to play around the capo.
I have wanted the G7th for a while, so I did a search and found the lowest price at the time at B&H (about $12 with shipping). It was supposed to take 7-10 days to arrive, but it arrived with a couple of days.
In the video below, I unbox the capo and try it on several ukuleles…and it works on everything from sopranino to 8 string tenor and baritone ukuleles. It is light, it is small, and it has a lifetime warranty. It is easy to use (I put it on the wrong way the first time I used it), and the only challenge while playing would be if you wrap your thumb all the way around the neck (it would collide with the screw and base of the G7th. The only negative of the capo, considering the lifetime warranty, is the possibility of easily losing the capo.
I would absolutely recommend this capo (I haven’t used the Dunlop…that will be a future purchase), and just would warn you that there is a guitar version that is metal versus this model that is plastic for ukulele. It would be nice if the capo could come in other colors, making it less easy to lose (but more noticeable on the instrument).
Tom Kramer, a producer/writer/director with a significant résumé (www.tomkramerfilms.com) has started a YouTube channel based on his character Pismo, who is teaching ukulele for the “pre-beginner.” New videos post every Thursday.
I find it HILARIOUS. HI-LAR-I-OUS.
Tom’s character is spot on, and it reflects, honestly, some of the challenges of beginning ukulele players, as well as the stereotypes of YouTube instructional videos. Tom worked with Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” so keep that in mind as you watch it. Another great similarity would be the early videos of Colleen Ballinger’s “Miranda Sings” who taught “voice lessons.”
One of my favorite aspects of Pismo is that Tom posts the videos on various ukulele sites, and people LOSE THEIR MINDS in the comments section. If you can’t see Pismo as brilliant satire, you’re going to miss the point–and people that lose their minds are buying into the point. In one episode, Pismo teaches you how to say, “ukulele,” (one of the ridiculous things ukulele players get worked up about), and it is just brilliant commentary.
I have no doubt that Tom loves the ukulele, and that he can really play. Most people have no idea how hard it is to play badly once you know what you are doing. I also love that Tom is working with an entry level, previous generation Lanikai ukulele–an instrument that was frequently looked down on by the ukulele elite (I’m not joking about that–Lanikai completely redesigned their ukulele line in 2017).
I’d love to see Pismo interact with James Hill or Jake Shimabukuro.
If you are a ukulele player, spend some time watching Pismo, from the beginning (the character has changed a bit over time). Remember that it is satire, and I think you’ll enjoy the series as much as I do. Right now, the channel only has 151 subscribers…that should change.
I will make a point to share some of the other humorous ukulele resources that I come across in the future.
I thought it might be interesting for you to see the set-up that I use to make the video play alongs. This doesn’t include apps (I can list those later), but it does include all of the hardware that I use.
My main device is a 12.9″ iPad Pro. I love it, and it is my main tool for work. The only device I use more is my iPhone–but I don’t use my iPhone to make the videos (I COULD, but I prefer the larger screen of the iPad Pro, which is actually larger than the screen on my 13″ MacBook.
The Apple Pencil (white, underneath the MacBook) is a great tool as I work with LumaFusion (video app). It just allows for easier manipulation of things than my finger…and there is a lot of screen touching as I make these videos.
My case is a Speck case that I found on clearance at Walmart. It has a negative in that it is so wide (because of the pencil holder) that my iPad stand can’t hold the iPad if it is in that case. Otherwise, it allows me to lay the iPad flat, or to have it at various angles.
The Bluetooth keyboard is from a previous iPad case. For me, there are moments that I just work faster on a keyboard. I could get Apple’s keyboard case, and I may still do so.
As for a ukulele, my Kala Pocket Ukulele is pictured. I will create videos with all kinds of ukuleles that I own (there are currently 28 to choose from in the house–it’s a problem), but when the school year starts, my creative time starts at 8:30pm when everyone is in bed and goes to 11pm. When that happens, I need a ukulele that won’t wake people up, so I will use one of my small ukuleles. It is also nice to have a ukulele that I can set on the table that isn’t going to take a lot of space.
Coke Zero…my main beverage of choice…and my life would probably be better without it, but it is my main vice (other than ukuleles).
And I don’t work at a desk or have an office…I generally just work at the kitchen table, as my “studio” is fully portable. As long as I have Internet, I can work on material anywhere.
As for apps, I generally use:
- LumaFusion (main video app including uploading…This is the tool that makes it possible. Not cheap as apps go, but worth every penny)
- iCab Mobile (a way to get music videos via browser)
- AnyFont (allows me to use ukulele fonts in videos)
- Safari (resources–images, lyrics, chord charts)
- Kala Ukulele (tuner)
- Workflow (Allows me to remove formatting on copied lyrics to paste into LumaFusion)
- Apple Notes (where I keep the templates for the notes I put on each video)
- Art Studio Pro (allows me to edit images including adding transparency when needed)
- Chrome (Editing videos once loaded into YouTube)
- And…the fonts created by John Baxter, Chordette for Education.
You don’t necessarily need an iPad Pro to run LumaFusion–but the big screen size helps!
So, that sums up my video play along creation studio! I hope this is helpful to you if you plan on making similar videos!
The summers in Wisconsin/Minnesota are very ukulele friendly–relative humidity is always in the “safe zone” of 40%-60% (unless you leave a wooden ukulele outside in the elements). This time of year, I remove all humidifiers from my cases, and let the humidity “material” dry out.
As you are aware, I built 10 water bead humidifiers this past spring out of quarter coin holders with a screw lid. I had “charged” them all with distilled water, and have not filled them again since I made them. For the record, the weather started improving when I was making these humidifiers.
Yesterday I pulled out a ukulele that had one of these humidifiers still in it, and was pleased to see that the humidifier is working. The humidifier on the right was in a soft case (the case that comes with the Kala Travel Ukulele)–the humidifier on the left has been on a shelf for some time. This tells me that the wood and the interior lining of the case has been absorbing water out of the humidifier. You can see some wetness on the inside of the humidifier. I opened the quarter jar, and did a smell test–and I am not smelling anything moldy.
I have a number of test tubes coming with which to make more humidifiers, but what I really want, I think, is a coin holder for dimes that could go between the strings of a ukulele. That’s my next project. I also think I will drill double the number of holes into the tube. Currently I am at 20 holes; I think the diameter of the hole is fine. I can even re-drill the existing tubes, temporarily moving the water beads to another container as I do the work.
In my mind, a couple of these in a case, along with one in the sound hole, should more than adequately humidify a ukulele. I might have to buy D’Addario’s Bluetooth hygrometer to test my theory next winter.
After six months (!) of waiting, YouTube denied my channel’s request to be monetized by advertisements. The reason? “Duplication,” specifically using existing audio as play along material.
Now, I want to make it clear that I fully understand that any songs with someone else’s audio will (and would) receive the ad revenue. On a negative aspect, none of my other videos can earn income from ads.
Now, let’s be realistic: a massive percentage of the traffic on my YouTube channel comes from people watching (and hopefully playing along with) the play along videos. One video in particular, from The Greatest Showman, has well over 1,000,000 views.
As I plan to continue making play along videos, YouTube is not going to approve my channel for monetization. This just goes to show the importance of Patreon in my work–and if you are reading this blog and watching the videos, and you’re open to it, becoming a Patron at a $1 level would sure be appreciated!
I’m working on some rewards; and have sent one e-mail to a ukulele company with the idea of offering a give away to Patreon subscribers (at a low level of sponsorship). More about that if anything happens on that front.
And to those of you who are sponsoring my work at Patreon, THANK YOU!
The ukulele world seems to have an odd relationship with Baritone Ukulele. Most ukuleles are tuned GCEA (C6) or ADF#B (D6)–these are soprano, concert, and tenor ukuleles. There are exceptions and other tunings, and the D6 tuning is more prevalent in Canada and Europe. I only have one ukulele tuned to D6…my sopranino Caramel ukulele. The baritone ukulele generally is tuned DGBE (G6).
I have one, and only one Baritone ukulele (I cannot say that for any other scale of ukulele). The baritone ukulele was on a special “gambler’s” eBay offer, as a company bought a carton full of rejected Lanikai LU-21B ukuleles and sold them at a “make an offer” price. I bought one ($35 shipped), and in addition to a string change, it needed some work on frets and the saddle…but it plays O.K. If I were to play baritone full time, I’d want another instrument. I also put on Ken Middleton’s Living Waters all-fluorocarbon strings on my ukulele so that I wouldn’t have to deal with metal strings (many baritone ukuleles have one or two metal-wound strings).
Most ukulele resources, at least here in the USA, are written for GCEA ukulele. That said, there are a growing number of baritone ukuleles on the market. A lot of people like baritone because of the deeper sound (most baritones are linear instruments) and the baritone’s similarity to the guitar. The four strings of a baritone ukulele are tuned like the top four strings of the guitar. As a result, many guitar players like the familiarity of chord shapes–at least in part–to the baritone ukulele.
There are baritone ukulele resources out there, including Jim Beloff’s “Daily 365” and the Leap Year Edition. Still, the large majority of ukulele resources are GCEA resources–reflecting the overall popularity of GCEA tuned ukuleles.
Most schools in the United States are using GCEA tuned ukuleles (Many Canadian schools use ADF#B tuning) and as my occupational interest lies in GCEA ukulele resources, I haven’t made resources for baritone ukulele. I do know of some schools in the US that introduce baritone ukulele in 8th grade and guitar in 9th grade.
I have even heard people in ukulele clubs (leaders, even) make jokes about baritone ukulele players–meant in jest (I think). But I also watch the reaction of those players who don’t really think the jokes are funny. Have you ever been irritated by someone seeing a ukulele and asking, “Can you play Tiptoe Through the Tulips?” That’s how many baritone ukulele players feel in ukulele groups…as a “novelty instrument.” Let’s just take a stand at this point and say that baritone ukulele is every bit as of legitimate instrument as any other instrument.
Yesterday afternoon I participated in a Facebook play along with Pete McCarty, and I decided to use my baritone ukulele. As you would expect, I did fine (Pete’s song book lists chords but then shows chords on the side for GCEA or DGBE), but I did find it the most difficult to remember the F chord.
On that same note (or chord), one of the challenges with baritone ukulele for new players, particularly when playing with GCEA ukuleles, is that they Key of C isn’t friendly on a baritone ukulele…it requires F, which is the same as Bb on a GCEA ukulele. If you have beginners, you will want to start them in the key of G versus C.
At any rate, that play along was the longest continuous time I have played my baritone ukulele. As I have mentioned before, my “happy place” seems to be concert ukulele. Just for reference, sopranos have a scale length (nut to saddle) of 13″ or so, concerts 15″, tenors 17″ and baritones 19-21″. While I find it harder to stretch to reach chords on a baritone ukulele, I certainly understand why people like baritone.
As I prepared my latest play along, Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride, I decided to go back and convert the font from GCEA to DGBE, which wasn’t easy…the Chordette for Education font does not align with Chordette for baritone. I had to change all of the fonts AND change the size of every “follow-the-chord” box. I may ask the creator of the Chordette for Education font if he would be willing to make an educational font for baritone (showing fingering with numbers). I’ll see what the view count is for this video, and will likely make DGBE versions in the future, particularly when no “custom” chords are needed for a song.
I cannot remember if I have told the story of my 2004 KoAloha Concert Ukulele. I just sent it in for repairs, and will not see it for at least a month (shipping included), and I wanted to post some photos, as my ukulele will never look the same again.
In February, I stopped by a local second hand music store because they were offering a Kamaka Tenor for $800. That’s a great price, and while the Concert size of ukulele has become most comfortable for me, I still own and play plenty of tenor ukuleles. In fact, most of the ukuleles we are buying for our new school are tenor ukuleles, as Outdoor Ukulele does not make a Concert size instrument!
I played the Kamaka and it clearly had some damage to it on the bottom (it had been dropped as happens to all ukuleles). I played it and just wasn’t moved by it…and then looked around the room. There were some other very nice ukuleles..it turns out that a very good customer of the shop had died, and they had purchased all of the ukuleles he owned from the estate. Handing on the wall, looking rather plain was a KoAloha, marked for $399. It was labeled, “Mahogany KoAloha.” The neck stamp (where all KoAlohas are dated) read “January 2004.”
I played the instrument, and it was lovely. It had some bumps and bruises on it, too (the person that owned these instruments was clearly a player). But I wasn’t sure about a mahogany KoAloha, as I knew some of their earlier instruments were in a line called KoAlana made of Sapele (then later laminate…a new series of KoAlana instruments are due soon).
I contacted KoAloha and asked if they had made mahogany models in this time period, and they did not…and indicated that instruments from this era of KoAloha’s history would likely have a Koa fretboard and a Koa neck, too.
This instrument has an orangish glow, making it pretty clear why the store would have thought it was Mahogany.
I’m not sure what a solid Koa KoAloha from 2004 is worth, but new models (with non-Koa necks and fretboards) are selling for more than $1000 these days; and well over $750 used.
I went back to the store the next day after hearing from KoAloha, asked if I could get a teacher discount, and walked out with the ukulele in a hard case for under $400 (including tax). It also had upgraded Gotoh UPT tuners (About $65). That was a steal. I don’t feel bad, because I know the store paid less than that for the instrument to the family.
Upon closer inspection after buying it, I noticed that the bridge is lifted up. It hasn’t gotten worse, but KoAloha has the best warranty in the business. If something happens to the ukulele due to construction issues, they will always fix it. And if you do something to your ukulele, they will do their best to fix the problem (although you may have to pay for your error–which makes sense). KoAloha calls this their, “Better than the weather warranty.”
So I reached out to KoAloha last week, and they told me to send the ukulele in, as this was a problem with some of the older models with a slotted bridge. New models have a tie bar bridge (My Concert KoAloha Opio actually says, “KoAloha”). They will repair the ukulele and refinish it and send it back.
My 2004 KoAloha is going to be all shiny and new when it comes back. It cost quite a bit to send it…$35 for the lowest cost I could find; UPS quoted more than $120! I don’t know how companies work out deals to send ukuleles for under $15. However, my KoAloha will never look the same…both the bridge and the finish will be different–and I doubt it will be orangish any longer! Also, this one has a black nut and saddle…KoAloha doesn’t use these any more, either! I had dropped the ukulele this Spring (a strap slipped loose from the strap button), so there is a little extra damage than when I bought it…but it is still in sound overall shape.
So that is the story of my “real” KoAloha (I have a tenor and concert Opio, but they are made of sapele and acacia, respectfully). I’ll make sure to post photos when it comes back.
I thought I had blogged about this, but apparently I only made a video.
My friend Paul Marchese, who runs ukuleleforteachers.com, made a video showing how he created his own humidifiers for his Mainland Ukuleles (solid wood ukuleles).
I followed his example, originally ordering plastic coin tubes with twist on caps, made for quarters. I just ordered some plastic test tubes today.
Here’s what you do to make your own humidifier:
- Order water beads. 20,000 were less than $7.
- Order some kind of plastic tube with twist on cap. The quarter coin holders worked well, we’ll see how these test tubes go. Ten test tubes were less than $2.
- You’ll need a power drill. I used a 1/16″ bit. That seemed to work well.
- You’ll need a container to put water in, where you can submerge the humidifiers while they “charge” or absorb water. I suggest using distilled water in your humidifiers. You can buy a gallon of distilled water for less than a dollar.
- Drill a hole in the cap, in the event that you want to tie a string on the humidifier (string: fishing line or old ukulele string)
- On the coin holders, I drilled a series of holes on the bottom (at least eight) and then a series of holes in the sides, puncturing two sides as I drill right through…at least 12 holes. I might go with more on a longer test tube
- Put the water beads in the tube. I filled up the bottom at least 1/4″, sometimes as much as 1/2.” This is probably too many beads, but they are super cheap.
- Put the cap on. If you want to make sure the cap doesn’t come off, use some super glue. I haven’t done this yet. If you are going to run a string through the cap, do that before gluing.
- Place the plastic container in a container with distilled water and let the beads expand. They will only expand as far as they have room to grow.
- Take the plastic tubes out and dry the exterior off. The beads do not leak water, and the surface of the bead is contained in the plastic.
- You can put the plastic tube in a case or gig bag, or you can put them in a ukulele (use the string method if this is your plan)
An Oasis humidifier–the Rolls Royce of humidifiers–is about $20 (sometimes more). It uses gel packs. You have to replace those gel packs after a few years…I might replace them with water beads! This method requires some assembly (actually, you have to fill the Oasis humidifiers the first time. too, if memory serves…and certainly for replacing the crystals).
I have come to the realization that any ukulele with wood on it (laminates usually have solid wood fretboards and bridges–not to mention glued bridges) should be stored in low humidity situations with a humidifier. Leave your Outdoor, Blackbird, Waterman, and Bugsgear ukuleles out in low humidity situations (for us, it is the winter)—but consider helping any ukulele with wood bu keeping it in an enclosed environment with at least one humidifier. This approach is a very inexpensive way to make that happen.
And here is the video I made earlier this year:
Do you suffer from Gorilla Grip or Monster Grip? This is what happens when you press too hard with your left hand while you are playing.
If your ukulele is set up correctly, it should take very little pressure to play a note with the left hand. If you press too lightly, you might hear a “buzz.” Nothing good comes out of playing with too strong of grip.
Some things to check:
- Have your fingers as close to the fret wire as you can without your fingers muting the strings or causing buzzing.
- Press no harder than you need to press to play a chord.
- Try an easy song…such as “You Are My Sunshine.” Instead of worrying about the chords you are playing (which shouldn’t be a problem) focus on playing close to the fret wires and not pressing very hard.
If you find that you cannot play without pressing very hard, your ukulele may need to be adjusted to have lower action at the nut and/or at the saddle!
Avoid Gorilla Grip or Monster Grip! Your hand will thank you later.