ukestuff

Ukulele in secondary music education

Music Nomad 8-in-1 Octopus Tool

A couple of weeks ago, Katie DeNure (One Music School YouTube Channel) demonstrated how she changed strings on ukuleles, and in the process, she used a Music Nomad Octopus 8-in-1 tool on her ukulele to tighten the nuts on her tuning heads.

I ordered one right away.

I have been doing a lot of work with tuning heads lately…swapping some tuning heads for Gotoh UPT tuners, and installing tuning heads on my cigar box ukulele. I had been struggling to find a way to tighten the nut on those heads with traditional wrenches.

One thing I have learned is that there is always a right tool for the job–often a custom tool. And if you are going to do that job more than once, you might as well buy the tool (particularly if it is not that expensive). If you own a ukulele or a guitar, I think the Octopus is a good investment.

The Octopus has 8 tools…both types of screwdrivers (Phillips and flat head), five different “sockets” made of ballistic nylon (10mm…for your tuning head nuts, 12mm, 1/2″, 7/16″, 14mm, and a 1/2″ socket where the screwdriver attaches, too. I can see some wear in the nylon after using it a few times–but at the same time, this might keep you from over-tightening a nut on your instrument.

I think this is a brilliant purchase…and they can be bought in the range of $13. I’ll include an Amazon referral link below:

Amazon Link (Referral) for the Music Nomad 8-in-1 Tool


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YouTube Channel/Blog News! (First Patreon Reward)

It is with great excitement that I announce the first Patreon reward for anyone that sponsors $1 or more: The first installment of the Video Ukulele Method.

I discuss the method in the video below, but ultimately, the method is based on how people seem to use ukulele most of the time: learning new chords, practicing those chords, and then putting those chords into use in songs. I am not providing content via the method (the content remains the right of the Copyright holder via YouTube), but simply an organization of material with scaffolding in mind.

The method is packaged in a Google Slides document, so that I can update the presentation as necessary, and so that it works on any platform, WITHIN the presentations. It does require that you have an Internet connection, however.

And if you use an existing method, I think you can use parts of this method as supplemental material. The method can be used in schools, or it can be used individually or in other community groups. Anyone learning ukulele will benefit from this approach.

Remember, when you sponsor me on Patreon, you are helping me provide content.

If you join me on Patreon and want access to the Google folder, be sure to e-mail me (address appears on the right) and let me know what address you would like me to invite to the folder (e.g. work or home).


Ukulele Video Play Along Podcast: Episode 0008

I decided to make the most recent version of the UVPP a video podcast as well. You can access the audio via Apple Podcasts or Google Play, or follow the links below for audio or video.

In this episode, I introduce my new Ohana CK-70-8 taropatch, discuss my new approach which includes play alongs for baritone ukulele, talk about our recent trip to Memphis to attend a Tuesday night meeting of the Memphis Ukulele Flash Mob, my “new” KoAlana Mahogany Soprano, and I talk about a couple of upcoming projects that I am excited about.




Installing a Strap Button

If you ask ukulele players whether you should use a strap or not, you are going to get a wide range of answers. Everyone has an opinion, but they differ greatly.

I started playing ukulele not wanting to use a strap–as a pure beginner, I thought it showed weakness. In my collection of musical skills, I am also a tuba player, and I have never had a strap for my tuba! Furthermore, there were a lot of professional players who did not use a strap.

As I progressed–quickly, with my guitar background–to barre chords, it became increasingly clear to me that it was more difficult (not impossible) to play barre chords without a strap. I decided to get straps that would not require me to drill into my instruments, as I felt this would ruin the aesthetics of the instruments that I owned. I found the Uke Leash and the Hug Strap, both which I would recommend, although as I have blogged about before, the Hug Strap is still the most comfortable strap that I have ever used. It wasn’t long before I accepted the idea of using a full strap with ukulele, and I also disliked having things connect to the headstock of a ukulele, so I bought strap buttons from eBay, and started installing strap buttons on all of my ukuleles.

I also like straps from a number of vendors, which I have also blogged about in the past. Straps not only help me to balance the instrument as I play and allow me to use both hands while teaching without putting down the ukulele, but they also can be a fun way to customize your “look” while playing.

I don’t regret installing strap buttons, and I put them on all ukuleles, even my sopraninos and sopranissimos!

I do strongly suggest using a rubber washer to “lock” a strap on a strap button. I have failed to do this and have had a ukulele slip from a strap end (off a button) and hit the ground, including my “real” full koa KoAloha concert. Ouch!

While I don’t have a ton of wood working skills behind me, I have done plenty of projects in my life, including finishing our basement. I figured that I could handle putting on strap buttons. I will say that if it causes you undue stress and you want strap buttons on your ukulele, visit a luthier who can install them for you.

If you want to install strap buttons yourself, here is what you need:

  • A towel to put your ukulele on (I did not do this on the video)
  • Strap buttons (I like them to match the tuning heads), screws, and washer (comes as a “set”
  • A sharpie
  • Masking tape
  • A piece of paper
  • A drill
  • A drill bit thinner in diameter than the screws used for the strap button
  • A screw driver

Make sure that your ukulele has a tail block before you install a strap button on the bottom of your ukulele, and if your ukulele has electronics, make sure that you aren’t going to drill into a wire.

Here is my process:

  • Put masking tape over the areas where you want to drill the holes. For me that is on the bottom of the ukulele and on the side of the heel underneath the fretboard as I play it (this keeps the strap out of my way). When I have installed strap buttons on our school Caramel ukuleles for left handed players, I have reversed the location of the strap button. The tape will help protect the finish around the drill hole.
  • Mark the location of where you want to drill the holes with a Sharpie. As seen in the video, I use a piece of paper to find the center of the ukulele (no measuring needed), and I eyeball the horizontal position of where to put the hole. Measure at least twice, drill once.
  • Drill the holes. The bottom is an easy straight hole; I use a framing technique on the heel, staring the hole straight, and once it gains entry, rotating the drill to the angle that I want to drill. With the heel, you need to have an angle that goes into the top of the ukulele and does not have the screw (or drill) come out the other side of the heel! The top strap button doesn’t sit perfectly “flat” when you are done, but it works and you will never notice it.
  • Remove the tape
  • Carefully screw in the buttons until they do not move any more. Screw, button, washer–in that order.

Again, drilling into your ukulele is at your risk, and if you can’t bring yourself to do it, see a luthier.

G7th Ultralight Ukulele Capo

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).


Pismo Ukulele

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.

Pismo’s Channel:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1xrYJyJOfgtNJ5yQn_mqwA


The Video Creation Set-Up

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!


DIY Water Bead Humidifiers – Update

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.


No Income from YouTube

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!