Bonanza Ukuleles: Amoeba Tenor Ukulele (Aspen/Black Walnut)

Last August, I attended the Silver Creek International Ukulele Carnival north of Duluth (hosted by the Two Harbors Ukulele Group).  As it is a small venue (but free and fun), they only had a couple of vendors, which included Pete and Shelley Mai, who own Bonanza Ukuleles.  Pete is a life long carpenter and cabinet maker, and his wife started playing ukulele.  Pete decided to make her a ukulele amplifier shaped like a ukulele, which eventually became a ukulele and then a decision was made to sell them to others.  They started out selling ukuleles made of counter-top laminate (they still do), and last summer moved to solid wood ukuleles made of Apsen, Black Walnut, and Cherry.  In addition to making a ukulele, they can personalize the ukulele with laser engraving.  The top and bottom are carved out of a larger piece of wood on a CNC machine (unique approach), and my ukulele is one of the new versions that has wood bracing–they had been using corian for the bracing as well.

I ordered a Cherry Tenor for our school, which has the school song as the rosette as well as the choir logo.  We also ordered a ukulele table for the choir room.

In the months since, Bonanza Ukuleles can now make mixed combination of ukuleles, such as different woods and even wood to laminate.

A few weeks ago, I attended the ukulele sessions at the Minnesota Bluegrass Winter Festival.  Pete and Shelley were there, with their new ukulele, the Amoeba.  I sat and played the ukuleles for several hours–and eventually decided to order one.  I wanted a specific set-up…Aspen front, Black Walnut Body and headstock, white tuners, corian nut and saddle to match the tuners.  This came in under $300.  Oh…every Bonanza comes with strap buttons, too.

I expected the ukulele at the end of April, but it came today–and I am just thrilled with it.  It isn’t loud, but it has a clear, bell-like tone. I think it may develop harmonics as the wood continues to age.  And while the shape is unique, it sure is comfortable to hold and play.

If I had to choose one ukulele, it would likely be a KoAloha–I cannot get that instrument out of my head.  However, I don’t have to own “just one” ukulele, and this Bonanza will be fun to play and bring around to various events.  It is also wonderful to support a small Minnesota business–and to spread the word about these very cool ukuleles.

Kala Concert Waterman Ukulele

As soon as the new Kala Concert Waterman were announced, I placed an order for my school. We ordered six (three black, three green), and they arrived today. Thanks to Mike at Uke Republic for ordering and shipping these to us, as promised, as soon as they came in.

Kala gave our program 40 Waterman Soprano ukuleles (turns out in discontinued colors, which isn’t a problem until you need to replace one that goes ‘missing.’ We are incredibly grateful for these ukuleles), and it made sense to have some of these Concerts, too.

I have been fiddling with one of the Concerts today, and I created a video this evening. The video also shows the prior Makala Soprano Waterman and the Tenor Outdoor Ukulele.

The Concert Waterman does sound more plastic-ish than the Tenor Outdoor (not surprising), and styling seems to be exactly matched to its Soprano model. It seems to have the same painted frets and screened side dots, all which will fade over time. Action is good…no idea if Uke Republic had to work on them or not…and intonation is okay. Pitch seems to go sharp as I go up the fretboard, but the strings are not settled and it is hard to really get an idea of what intonation is really like.

The ukulele comes with a “sling bag” that will offer very minor protection. The bag has a smoothing inner lining that allows the ukulele to go in and out of the bag quite easily. The ukulele carries the traditional Waterman logo on the headstock, and has Kala pressed in the plastic on the back. Gone, however, is any mention of Makala. I seem to remember that our Waterman are labeled with “Makala.”

The box itself sells itself as a starter package for ages 3 to 103 (If you hit 104, you have to give the ukulele back). But they are right…you have the instrument, a bag, and online resources such as lessons and a link to Kala’s very decent tuner app. Sure, a clip on is better in a noisy environment…but Kala really does give you everything you need to get going for less than $60.

The strings are super Nylgut–but the tag in the box says, “Red Series.” I’m not sure what to make of that, but I will be moving the ukuleles to our KIDS colored strings for instructional purposes (Ukulele Kids Club has started using those strings).

My only complaint is that I am not sure where strap buttons could go on this ukulele.  I like straps on my ukuleles (this has been a process over time)

This is a ABS plastic go-anywhere Concert ukulele for what should be less than $60 for most vendors. This is a great price, and also a great price and option for schools for a rugged instrument. You can find the Bugsgear Concert for $60-$100, so this instrument, styled after the Macaferri, is at a desireable price. Remember that the new Ukadelic ukuleles are also now solid plastic Waterman ukuleles, as well (no more wood top, like a Makala Dolphin). Outdoor doesn’t have a Concert ukulele, but you get a different sound from Outdoor for $100 for a Soprano and $150 for a Tenor. I know you can leave that Outdoor in your car, winter or summer (strings might take a beating)–not sure you should do that with a Waterman or Bugsgear. But if you aren’t going to do that and would like an affordable larger-than-Soprano travel ukulele the new Concert Waterman is ultimately very replaceable and quite affordable.

Ernest Kaia: The Ukulele, a Hawaiian Guitar and How to Play It

The most recent edition of Ukulele Magazine featured an article on Ernest Ka’ai’s, the first ukulele pedagogue, who is also cited as being the first to standardize GCEA tuning for the ukulele in their methodology.

His first book, The Ukulele: A Hawaiian Guitar and How to Play It, was published in 1910.  This would make it in the public domain–but I could not find it available online. So I contacted some universities that had it, and eventually ordred a copy from the University of Hawaii ($25 fee).  I was interested to see how much ukulele instruction has changed in 107 years (the answer: a little).

For the sake of sharing this knowledge, I am sharing this PDF. Again, as this is a publication from 1910, I can share this with you legally.

PDF: The Ukulele: A Hawaiian Guitar and How to Play It

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.