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:

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.png

Now the fun begins…January through March

I divided the first three months of our school year between sight-singing (S-Cubed Method), singing, and ukulele.  With the ukulele, the students only learned C and F chords.  When you only meet every other day and have ten minutes or less on an instrument, it is amazing how slow things go (particularly with some classes of 60 students).  I think it is important to emphasize that the ukulele is NOT easy for all people.

I assessed their ability to play these chords by asking them to make an instructional video that demonstrated how to play a C and F chord, as you would see on YouTube.  The goal was to give them different options to earn a C, B, or A.  This worked reasonably well, and the majority of students went for a B.  I will use this assessment approach in the future–it is an authentic assessment that shows their ability to do the skill, and saves valuable classroom time (instead of seeing every student play the chords individually during class).

As the concert (held this past Thursday) approached, ukulele time all but disappeared as students had to learn words, practice on the risers, and so on.  At the current time, I am unable to get my students to sing in parts, and even getting them to sing a single parts can be a challenge (and we just sang “fun” holiday music).  As I have mentioned before, choir isn’t really “choir” in our school–it is general music.

We only have two concerts a year, so the next concert occurs in June.  As as result, I have three months of the year that I can dedicate to other things that deal with the study of music.  I will continue with sight-singing with the choirs, but now we can shift our focus to ukulele for a while.  I have two non-singing music classes (students that were not well behaved in choir in the past), and they will start ukulele.  My plans for the next three months include:

  1. Adding G, G7, C7, D7 (Hawaiian), D7 (Barre) (Introducing C and F to the non-singing classes)
  2. Teaching all of those chords in terms of function…example: F to G7 to C
  3. Teaching how to tune
  4. Offering a composition unit on ukulele using, either the free version or a paid version.  Single notes, with minimum guidelines, asking them to go further if they want…and assessment will include them playing their piece.
  5. Personal song choice/study.  One thing we all hear is “we don’t sing music I like.”  Well, the ukulele is simply a vessel that isn’t constrained to a single musical style.  So…choose a song that you want to learn, learn it, and record yourself playing.  I will have to determine grading for this…chord difficulty and number of songs has to come into play.
  6.  Student input on Spring Literature: I have some songs I want to sing with my students…”I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” with 7th Grade (as we did last year), Iz’s “Over the Rainbow” with 8th Grade, and Danielle Ate the Sandwich’s “Peace to You, Brother,” and an Irish folk song for each grade level.  Not sure about 6th Grade–I do not necessarily want to do “Lava” again.  With the HUGE amount of repertoire represented on YouTube, as well as 731 songs in the Daily 365 that we can work with, as well as my own ability to transcribe songs–just about anything is possible (as long as the music is appropriate for school).
  7. Back to the student personal song…also offering a coffee house/open mic to let students perform for others?
  8. Additionally, offering a parent ukulele night where parents could come in and learn some beginning ukulele?  Getting kids involved in the process, too?
  9. Faculty in our school have expressed interest in learning ukulele…so perhaps offering an after school session or series of sessions?  Again, with student involvement?

And that is likely a very FULL three months of every-other-day authentic teaching that should be meaningful for our students.  We will also be preparing the middle school music (rehearsals start in January), so it will be a busy period of time!

In late March, we will switch back to sight-singing and singing first and ukulele on the side–but hopefully students will be able to accompany me for the next concert.

Since we studied ukulele last year, you would hope that students would retain that knowledge–but even in our older grade levels, I get between 20 and 30 NEW students each year that do not have that prior knowledge–so every year is a start-over.

In fact, since our first trimester ended, 3 students have left the program, and five have entered!  We are used to a lot of mobility at our school–but it does make teaching difficult sometimes.

So…the fun begins in a couple of weeks!

I Have a Ukulele…I’m Famous! (Not really)

I listen to the Tony Kornheiser Show (now exclusively on podcast). Every day they feature songs and “jingles” from listeners. A couple of weeks ago, a listener in Cincinnati, Ohio (Tony Beeson) submitted a humorous jingle entitled, “I Have a Piano,” where he simply records himself singing and playing the piano. You can hear that at the TK Jingles site:

That jingle has taken off like crazy on the podcast–it was hilarious–and I couldn’t get it out of my head. So I transcribed what I heard (multiple keys) and brought it all back home to a tonal center (F).

I submitted the result with a note to the Tony Kornheiser Show on Sunday night. The jingle was played TODAY (12/13/2016) around the 32:30 mark, where Tony read my complete note to him on the air. I don’t have a link to the audio from the show (you can bet that I’ll keep it)…but you can hear the jingle itself on the TK Jingles site, too.

That makes it a fun day!

All Is Well

Today as I was driving in the snow that is falling in Minnesota and Wisconsin with my boys in the car, “All Is Well” came on my iPhone Christmas Playlist.

I love this song.  And while I no longer have the boy soprano voice that is featured in the original recording, I wanted to sing this…so when we came home, I worked out the notes and chords (in Notion), and recorded the song as soon as everyone else went to bed.

I can use some more practice time, particularly with the chord melody section…but I wanted to get this out there anyway.  I had to splice a couple of sections…and it isn’t perfect.  Recorded on my iPad Air 2 (no external mic) with my KoAloha Sapele Tenor (Low G).

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Setting Up Caramel Ukuleles

This video shows the steps I go through when setting up a Caramel ukulele (or any wooden ukulele) for our school. The tools are minimal and inexpensive–but essential. We are using Aquila’s new KIDS Strings which are colored Super Nylgut–special priced for education in packs of 20, and colored for instructional purposes. I show all the steps from removal of strings to sanding of frets, fret edges, and nut, measuring action (all the ukuleles in this batch were set to optional action at the 12th fret, so no sanding of the saddle was needed), and restringing. 

Tools needed:

  1. String action ruler
  2. Clipper (or peg winder with clipper)
  3. Sanding block with 220 grit sandpaper
  4. Sheets of sandpaper (220 is fine)
  5. Ziplock bags if you want to save the strings
  6. Tuner: may I suggest the $4 Reverb Tuner (see
  7. Optional but wonderful: Eddie Ball String Winder