Video Play-Alongs

With eight chords in our arsenal, my students are ready to tackle some real music.  (Incidentally, in order: C, F, G, G7, C7, D7 [Hawaiian], Am, Dm).

I had forgotten about some of the wonderful resources on YouTube, such as the play-along videos of Dr. Jill Reese and Dr. A.  So I used some of these videos the last two days of class, and my students were jamming along with:

Participation massively shot up (some kids who have chosen not to use their ukuleles quickly got up to get theirs).

For the record, I download the videos from YouTube with Workflow (iOS App) or KeepVid, and if there is instructional material, I delete it so the clip starts with the playing.

I am going to add the following YouTube Clips in the days to come:

So tonight, I made my first play-along, specifically for my own needs, but I want to share it.  I have some songs that we use for certain chords.  One of those chords is the Hawaiian D7, which uses two fingers instead of a barre chord.  I use “Red River Valley,” so I made an accompaniment with iReal Pro (I bought the computer version), then imported that into GarageBand, recorded a ukulele track (you can hardly hear it), as well as the vocal line (pinao–I am not singing it).  Then I imported that file into Notion, where I had already created a score…and did some editing to make the score one continuous score without a repeat.  I exported the scrolling (kind of) video with QuickTime Player, and then used iMovie to re-stich the audio to the video.

The end result is a scrolling video with accompaniment that is a better marriage between my own desire for music literacy and ukulele playing.

We’ll see how this goes…there are a LOT of ukulele play-alongs out there, but play-alongs that feature more than “just” ukulele are helpful.  There is great power in everyone being able to look at the screen and follow along.

And if you want to use this video in your own instruction, please do so!

I’ve Been Working on the Railroad

My students at this point of the year have learned 6 chords.  Yes, if you study ukulele independently, you can probably learn all 6 in one 30 minute session.  I’m dealing with a number of students who didn’t choose the instrument (usually there is a correlation between those that don’t want to sing and those that don’t want to play–they just don’t want to be there) and therefore, I have to move slowly enough that I don’t lose a majority of the kids before this point.

Last year, with a month, we learned these same 6 chords.

In my philosophy, I teach C, F, and G first.  Then I teach the 7ths that lead to those chords (G7, C7, and the Hawaiian D7).  Next we will move to the subdominant chords and the submediant chords.  I’m not teaching my students that terminology–but I am teaching them where chords lead.  This is because music follows these conventions, and if they learn and practice these progressions, they will be ready for most music.

G7 and G go to C; also F -> G or G7 ->C

C7 goes to F

Hawaiian D7 goes to G; also C->Hawaiian D7->G

We talk about how a 7th chord has a specific purpose and pulls strongly to a specific chord.

I think the next chords will be Am and Dm, followed by Em.

I am still avoiding barre chords (Bb will be our first), although in warm-ups I am having them “barre” from the fifth fret up to the first and back, just to get them used to barring in the meantime.  The D7 barre won’t be introduced for a while.

At any rate, I need some music for students to practice the Hawaiian D7…one of those songs is I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.  I found it in the Key of C, which is ridiculously too low for most singers other than a true Bass or a true Alto.  While you could certainly substitute other chords, the intent of the arrangement is to give practice with the Hawaiian D7.  I am also working on a version of Red River Valley with the Hawaiian D7 (the existing version, I believe, shows regular D7).

Yet another arrangement…

The next addition to the public domain vocal/ukulele library is Nina which is attributed to Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, yet scholars are pretty sure he did not write the song.

Nina tells the story about a loved one who has not been out of bed for three days.  It is wonderful that it switches between the relative major and minor keys, in this case Em and G.

The only part that doesn’t exist in this arrangement is the wonderful chromatic (and collapsing) progression that would normally be in measure 6.  A chordal analysis shows one of two options…either a static minor triad with passing tones (moving in contrary motion) or V7, D7, Fm, D7.  I couldn’t get the chordal sequence to work out, and I couldn’t get a collapsing chromatic sequence to work out on the ukulele,  so I just went with an Am in that entire measure.  It works, it sounds good, and I figure if a high school student were playing and singing this arrangement, it would be easier.

I also did not include any vocal embellishments in this edition (or my others).  I imagine that if you are looking up the Italian Art Songs, you will listen to recordings and add those yourself.

All that is to say that while I can produce a vocal/ukulele edition of an art song in a couple of hours, some theory and analysis are involved, along with choice making.

I leave things up to you as to how you want to strum or pluck each of these arrangements.

Again, if you have suggestions for improvements to scores or suggestions for additional versions, e-mail me!

New arrangement

I received positive feedback about the arrangements of public domain art songs for voice and ukulele at the 2017 Florida Music Education Association Convention.  Tonight I had some time, so I arranged Per la gloria d’adorarvi.  This is another one of the “popular” Italian art songs.

This arrangement is a little different, as I wrote out the introduction, interludes, and coda as ukulele tablature.  This is also my 20th available arrangement on the blog.

Bonanza Tenor Ukulele (Cherry)

We purchased a special ukulele for our school, which will stay with the program as we open a new school in less than two years. Bonanza is somewhat new to the ukulele world, the result of Pete and Shelley Mai’s efforts. Pete has been a lifelong woodworker, and his wife Shelley fell in love with the ukulele, and Pete started making ukuleles for his wife.

They make ukuleles out of countertop laminate and American sustainable woods, like Ash, Cherry, and Walnut. The design of the ukulele uses a neck from another vendor, but the bodies are CNC’s from a solid piece of wood…including the side bracing of the ukulele! A stone (or stone-like) substance is used for the saddle, nut, and additional bracing in the ukulele. If you wish, you can have Bonanza laser engrave a ukulele–giving a custom made ukulele a further custom touch. Pickups are also available.

The sound of the ukulele is pleasant (please listen), but does not match the resonance or power of a K Brand (Kamaka, Ko’olau, etc.) but neither does the price. The Bonanza is easily 1/4 the price of a K Brand ukulele and its sound will open up as time passes.

I also love that these ukuleles are made in Northern Minnesota.

In the video, I show a little bit of strumming, finger picking, and my singing along. I also compare it to our bargain Caramel Ukuleles, as I did not bring any of my personal instruments to school that day. Please note that we are running strings on the Bonanza that I would not run if it were my own personal ukulele.

Need a great first instrument? Caramel. Want an affordable customized ukulele from a small company without paying thousands of dollars? Check out Bonanza!

Ukulele T-Shirts

This is a post about something for sale…

Earlier this fall, we attempted to make a ukulele t-shirt as a fundraiser for our choir program and Ukulele Kids Club, and that didn’t work out.  The shirt apparently cost too much with the donations attached, and people didn’t like the artist’s name in the logo (see the Ukulele Typogram at

I still wanted to offer a ukulele shirt, so I asked our local graphic artist to take a t-shirt that used to be on the former UU store (based off another club’s shirt)…and to lightly tweak it for our school.

The end result is the shirt that appears below. It is a black t-shirt that has half a ukulele in green on the top (this was the tweak), plus the Ukulele in white (school colors are green and white).

We ran a small batch of these, and in order to meet a minimum order, we have some extras. Currently (adult male sizes): 5 small, 3 medium, 5 large, and 3 XL.

The shirts are Next Level brand, and are 60% cotton, 40% polyester. $9 covers a shirt (set-up, printing, and shirt itself), and shipping in the United States in a USPS Priority Envelope is $6.85…and PayPal is $0.77.

So…would you be interested in a ukulele shirt for $16.50? Send me an e-mail (techinmusiced @ g m a i, without the spaces), and I will send the e-mail address for PayPal payment to our choir booster account.

Also…if anyone wanted to buy more than one, it would lower the cost…I might be able to get two or three shirts in one package.  I will update this post if all the shirts are sold.


Using MuseScore to make lead sheets…

I just posted this on a thread on Ukulele Underground, one of the most active forums (THE most active forum?) about ukulele.  The thread was asking about using MuseScore to make ukulele lead sheets.  I generally use Notion (desktop/notebook version) to do this…so I wanted to try MuseScore (which is free)

I just took 15 minutes to download the latest version of MuseScore ( and my test of a notation package is to just throw myself into it and to make it work. Please keep in mind that I do one thing that the average user doesn’t do…if I can’t find the answer, I look in the manual (search) and if I cannot find the answer there, I look on the web.  Most average users just give up when they can’t figure out what to do.

I was able to make a linked part easily enough (a ukulele part with standard notation and tab notation)…select ukulele, then add linked part, and then scroll down nearly to the end for ukulele tab in the set-up.

I then entered the notes to Twinkle, Twinkle. MuseScore works from the perspective of always working with a full measure, so as you add notes, you take notes away. This is a challenge, I think, if you need to add a note between other notes…I think you often are better off deleting the contents of a measure and starting over.

The next task was to add chords…CMD + K adds chords above the notes. Spacebar toggles forward to the next chord.

Then I added fretboards…there are stock guitar chords in the palette, so I selected a note and then double clicked the “C” guitar chord, placing a fretboard above the desired notes (underneath the existing chords). The fretboard DOES NOT match the existing chord, so you can end up with a printed letter and fretboard that do not match. Once the fretboard is present in the score, you can right click it and chose to customize the fretboard to the pattern you want.

My shortcut, since there is no ukulele library of fretboard shapes, was to copy the one I had just made (select and CMD + C), then to go to every other similar chord, select the note, and paste the fretboard. I copied this step for all 3 chords in the song.

The final step was to add lyrics (CMD + L), adjust the position of the “composer”, and to take a screen shot.

In summary…Notion is more friendly to ukulele lead sheet completion on iOS or computer, and it costs money. Even so, I was able to create a short score on MuseScore in a very short amount of time (less time that it has taken to write this review), and suffice it to say that if you want to create lead sheets with MuseScore, you can do it with just a bit more effort than Notion. Interestingly, I would suggest MuseScore over Finale for this purpose, as Finale makes dealing with fretboards very difficult.  MuseScore is a better option in this case. Notion has a library of standard fretboard diagrams and by default creates a linked part–but Notion was created by guitar-friendly owners and developers.

Here’s a snapshot of my score, if you are interested:

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