It is too good to be true…but it isn’t false…

I just took delivery on two new ukuleles. One is a "custom" Bruce Wei concert ukulele that was $99 plus $65 shipping from Vietnam. The strings are still settling, and I will be removing those strings anyway…so I'm leaving that for now.

The other is an Enya Soprano Camp Ukulele. It is currently under $29, and comes with the ukulele, gig bag, tuner, cleaning cloth, truss rod adjuster, strap, extra strings (will say more about this later), picks (?), and a capo. Mine was $30.99 and the price has gone DOWN since I ordered it last week.

The ukulele is made of High Pressure Laminate…a higher quality and thinner (thinner usually equals more resonance)…apparently the same as Martin OX model ukuleles. The ukulele also has a radius fretboard (something only my high level Pono has), a truss rod (again, something only my Pono has), strap buttons (only my Bonanza came with these), and the neck is removable.

Right now, the uke is quiet, but easy to play…clearly high quality and completely insane that it is $29. Insane.

If you have been looking for a travel ukulele, or ukuleles for your school…and can get "in" on this deal…do it. You will need to replace the strings, which are junk…I prefer Martin fluorocarbon strings on all of my ukuleles (except my Banjolele), which are inexpensive…but strings are a subjective matter.

We still had some fundraising money at school, so I immediately ordered 10 for our program. That is less than $300 for 10 ukuleles. I was considering buying Outdoor Ukuleles (at a school cost, would still be $50 each) plus a gig bag ($15) for students to have access to ukuleles at school. I decided to get these instead with existing funds. We already have KIDS Ukulele Strings to put on them.

I'll post a video or two about this ukulele later…I'll try to record with the crummy strings, and then to later record with the Martins.

Oh…want a link? This is a referral which sends some of Amazon's profit my way:

Enya Soprano Camp Ukulele

Martin 600 strings (Soprano/Concert)

Want to get KIDS Ukulele Strings? Individual Packs are slightly more expensive than other strings, but the cost includes a donated set to a charity like Ukulele Kids Club; sets of 20 can be ordered directly from Aquila.

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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!

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.

58 Mahalo Ukuleles: Set-Up Complete

As you can read elsewhere on this blog, we bought 58 inexpensive Mahalo MK-1 ukuleles last January as a way to get into ukuleles with my students.  All said and done, we spent less than $2200 purchasing all of the ukuleles and the equipment needed to hang them.  That is less than the price of many single instruments.  Still..these are the lowest possible entry point into ukuleles, and the instruments are not something you would want to pass down as a family heirloom.

Now that I am fully invested in ukuleles as a part of our program (and back again at the school), I would like to upgrade those ukuleles–selling the existing ones to students at a significant discount (they have been played for many hours by many students).  The goal is to replace fifty-four of them with Concert ukuleles, and to add six or seven more tenors.  At the moment, we are holding a fundraiser which will raise some money for this process.

All that said, I have earned the equivalent of a master’s degree in knowledge about the ukulele since buying my first ukulele this past January.  I have learned how to set up ukuleles, and it became painfully clear that every Mahalo was set up wrong with very, very high action.  For the record, I have had to do some set-up work on our Caramel ukuleles, but our new batch of Caramel ukuleles only needed a bit of work on the saddle height (our older ones required some sanding of frets and nut).

As of yesterday, I completed set-up on all of 58 Mahalo ukuleles (it took me about 4 weeks trying to do at least one a day).  By the end, I was able to complete a set-up in 10 minutes or less.

There are SPECIFIC supplies for set-up, but they are very expensive.  As a result, I took advice from The Ukulele Site and bought non-specific tools to do set-ups.  This included:

  • String Winder
  • Action Ruler
  • Sheets of Sandpaper
  • Sanding Block
  • Sandpaper for the Sanding Block

I could have used some instrument oil (e.g. a guitar lemon oil) for the fretboard, and actual nut files (expensive).

Each Mahalo needed:

  1. Adjustment at the nut.  Strings were too high there, making 1st fret chords and notes difficult to play.  A piece of folded sandpaper was used to deepen the grove, both on the “leading” channel and to lower the depth of the nut.
  2. Lowering of the saddle.  Each saddle had to be sanded down, for this case to 5mm (often starting at higher than 7.5mm).  This was the hardest and longest part of the process.  You sand the saddle by sanding the bottom (flat) against a piece of sandpaper.
  3. Dressing the frets with the sanding block…making sure they are level, tapering back at the top and bottom of the fretboard.  This was also an opportunity to sand down sharp fret edges.  It turns out that you can do all of that sanding work without harming the fretboard.

To do the work, you have to loosen strings…I loosened them enough to easily be able to hold them off of the fretboard, exposing everything from the nut to the last fret.

Re-tuning is an issue with these Mahalos.   Ukulele strings stretch–but the low quality strings REALLY stretch…even when already having been used for half a year.  The issue is that replacing strings costs about 1/3 the value of the instrument.  Therefore, we are using the original strings as long as possible.

The things I would like to invest in would be a fret file, a way to sand down a saddle more quickly, and power string winder.

The Ukulele Site suggests the use of a fine Steel Wool (can’t remember the number) to clean fretboards.

Now the action is set at 2.65mm (or lower) at the 12th fret on all the ukuleles, making them significantly easier to play (although the original low quality strings do stretch with less force).  If I needed to, I could help out at a ukulele store!

 

The obligatory first blog post

Greetings!

This is my blog about ukulele stuff (thus the name).  I am a veteran music educator with a background in vocal and instrumental music (tenor and tuba as primary instruments).  I taught choir at the high school level for sixteen years, and for a number of reasons, I moved to a middle school choir position in our district for the past three years.

These have been the hardest teaching years of my life, primarily because kids.have to take music, and if they aren’t in band or orchestra, they are in choir.  This means that a percentage of students do not actually want to be in choir, and as a result there is a reluctance to learn and work from many students.  At the high school level, I almost always taught students that wanted to be in music (even when I taught courses in guitar, music theory, and music history).  In addition, we are a Title 1 school in an overall wealthy district, and there are a lot of discipline issues (some kids have rough home lives and/or are dealing with mental illness).  

So I have been trying to find ways to make music work for my students while still trying to run a choir program AND meet our state standards in music education.  It isn’t easy.

Over the past year, I had seen article after article about ukuleles in schools.  I decided that I would try to obtain a set of ukuleles for my students to use as a supplement to “pure” choral music, with the hopes that the students who hated singing would perhaps be interested in ukulele.

For the record, I knew little about the ukulele, and relied heavily on the website of Shelbi Bushe.  I had never had a undergraduate or graduate class that mentioned the ukulele (my elementary education methods focused on the recorder and the guitar).  I now know that schools have been using ukulele for nearly 50 years (Langley, B.C., for example).

I asked my district if they would consider helping us buy ukueles–and while I was told it was a great idea, there was no financial support offered.  And I didn’t want to even try to ask for help from our school’s limited budget–so I asked our parents for help, and between $25 donations and using up most of the fundraising account, we bought 58 ukuleles for our students to use.

I will write more about which ukuleles we bought, as well as the other ukuleles we purchased and were given at another time.

My students have choir every-other-day, and I have roughly 330 students.  We have two concerts a year, one in Decembeer (a holiday concert), and one in May.  I have taken a break in January and February from  regular singing to study other things and to focus on some of our state’s (Minnesota) standards that cannot be met easily in daily rehearsals (the students don’t exactly enjoy those periods of time).  I thought I could drop ukulele into one of those months.

We started using the ukueles in school in February.  I bought my own ukulele and began playing in early January.  I created a lesson book for us to use, trying to make all of my own resources.  Overall, things went well, and there isn’t much I would do differently than I did.  But I will blog about all these things later.

Ultimately, since January, I now own  eight ukuleles of my own (my most recent purchase earlier today) and whereas teaching music to a mix of interested students for the past three years had stifled my love of music, the ukulele has brought that love back into my life.

This blog will be about a lot of things–ukulele in my life, ukuleles in school, and general observations.  There are hundreds of ukulele blogs, many that I read on a regular basis.  I am not a professional player, and am probably too old to ever become one at this point (I am currently 43).  But I can already hold my own at a ukulele jam, and I will continue to improve.  Having a musical background and three degrees in music education speeds things up quite a bit.

As a result, if this topic interests you, please follow along.  I also blog at techinmusiced.com, where I blog about my other passion–the intersection of music education and technology.  Yes, there will be discussion of ukulele technology as well.

Thank you for visiting the new blog!  I disable comments, but if you wish to contact me, feel free to do so at techinmusiced@ g m a i l . com.  Please make sure to let me know you are e-mailing about THIS blog and not techinmusiced.