I just looked through my YouTube channel, and it has been a busy year. I attempted my first two lyric based play along videos shortly after meeting Dr. A at the Maryland Music Educators Association Conference.
While I had other videos throughout the year, my main focus was to add to the library of songs that could be used as play alongs for schools and ukulele groups. Here is the monthly totals:
- February: 2
- April: 2
- May: 2
- June: 43 (34 With KeyNote/iMovie before switching to LumaFusion on my iPad Pro)
- July: 49 (!)
- August: 28
- October: 8
- November: 25
- December: 17
Total Play Alongs in 2017? 176
That is pretty amazing considering the slow process of the first 50 videos (KeyNote & iMovie) and that it is at least an hour of time to make one video.
The purchase of my iPad Pro and the creation of LumaFusion really impacted my ability to make these videos, as I was able to download audio/video via iCabMobile, transpose songs (as needed) using TwistedWave, use the Chordette for Education font through AnyFont (a shout out to Robby Burns for teaching me about AnyFont), and of course, bring it all together using LumaFusion. Early on, I abandoned using the existing lyric video from another YouTube video, deciding to create my own lyrics (very easy to do in LumaFusion).
So a huge round of thanks to the creators of LumaFusion, and also many thanks to John Baxter, who was willing to create the Chordette for Education font, in both traditional and KIDS colored versions!
Remember that the rights to these songs remain with the copyright holders. YouTube has agreements with many rights holders to let you use their music, as long as ad revenue and tracking information go back to the rights holder. This is brilliant, and the way it should be. I only have three videos that I cannot publish at this time: “Too Good at Goodbyes,” and “Sing” from “Sing.” (Oddly, Kevin Way, another creator of videos was able to publish “Sing.” I honestly have no idea what is going on there). Havana was blocked for a while, but that was changed. When something is under copyright, we are notified via e-mail that we can use the song, but that revenue and tracking data are being followed. If the rights holder makes income off the videos—perfect. Hopefully, you love the songs and are buying them or listening to them on subscribed services (Apple Music, Google Play, Amazon Music, Spotify).
Remember that there is a huge index of the songs (over 350) by a number of video creators…you can find those Google Sheets by clicking on the “Video Play Along” page.
if you would like to see the first play along video to see how much things have changed and stayed the same, see the following videos. The first video used an existing lyric, and then a couple of pass through of iMovie, along with the non-education version of Chordette. The current videos are all one-pass created in LumaFusion.
And my last video from 2017:
I have recorded a number of other videos, and moved some older videos to my ukuleletenor channel, as they fit better there than with my techinmusiced materials.
Are you interested in joining us in making videos? See my previous post on the matter, and see Dr. Reese´s materials from a NYSSMA presentation and video (Dr. Reese is the creator of the “genre”) and my video!
As a final note, if you have made it this far…if you are a songwriter who would like me to create a play along video for your song, contact me. I think play alongs are a great way for artists to connect to their audience. I could do so for a very fair price—so reach out. And if you have an existing song that you would like to have made into a play along, let me know as well. I cannt promise anything…but you can always ask!
Happy New Year!
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I had the opportunity to be on the Ooktown podcast twice this year, and had the pleasure of visiting with Stuart Yoshida and Doug Brown (hosts) and other guests.
If you like ukuleles, Ooktown is the leading podcast in the field, and definitely worth subscribing to!
I thought it would be good to write about what I was given this Christmas in terms of my ukulele playing. I keep an Amazon list of things I want to buy eventually—and it turns out that is a public list. My parents decided that I didn’t have enough on my family’s Christmas Wish List, so they started to order some things from that list, too. The links are Amazon referral links.
So…here is what I received this year…
- Martin M600 Ukulele Strings for Soprano/Concert Ukuleles. These are my favorite strings, along with the M620 Martin Strings for Tenor Ukuleles. There is a new type of string from Aquila that is coming soon (sugar strings) and I look forward to trying them, but the Martins feel good, sound nice, are available everywhere, and are usually inexpensive.
- Ukulele Ornament. What ukulele player doesn’t need one of these?
- The Classical Ukulele. John King was a master of the ukulele and known for his Classical Approach. Great book.
- Duets for One. James Hill is one of the world’s leading players and ukulele pedagogues (see his Ukulele Way as well).
- Classical Hits for Ukulele. I’m a classical musician turned ukulele player. Enough said.
- Jake Shimabukuro Teaches Ukulele Lessons. I saw Jake in person just over a year ago. I’m curious about his teaching style and how he would introduce ukulele to others.
- Ukulele Basics. I am a music teacher, and I am always curious as to how other teachers teach new concepts to their students.
On Stage QK2B Microphone Clip Quick Release: I use an iPad to read all of my music. This quick release will allow me to detach my iPad holder from the stand very quickly for transport.
Ortega Guitars OMUH-BK Ukulele Clamp Holder for Mic, Guitar & Music Stands, Also Works with Other Small Folk Instruments, Black This clamp can attach to my iPad stand and allow me to put down my ukulele in a secure way without damaging the stand. I love this.
The next step will be to send the books in for digitization (1 Dollar Scan) so that I can use them on my iPad Pro.
I hope you and your your family had a Merry Christmas—and if you don’t celebrate Christmas—a very happy holiday!
You were given a ukulele? That’s great news! Although you were probably not given the world’s greatest ukulele (don’t worry—I don’t own it, either), there is a good chance that your ukulele will be quite serviceable until you buy your next ukulele.
I’m going to warn you right away: owning a ukulele (and liking it) usually leads to something we call UAS, or Ukulele Acquisition Syndrome. As you learn to play, you will learn more about the instrument and want to add different sizes and types…and quality…of ukuleles to your collection.
If you are brand new (or relatively new) to ukulele, the first thing I would do is recommend some reading. Check out Barry Maz’s (The creator of the Got a Ukulele website) book The Complete What Ukulele Players Really Want To Know.
The next thing to do is to check your ukulele to make sure that it isn’t broken. Look it over—even shake it. You shouldn’t hear any rattling or see any major imperfections (unless you were given a family heirloom). The next step is to play up and down the fretboard on each string to make sure that each pitch sounds clearly without a buzz. Press down hard enough that the string can vibrate when you are on each fret. If you hear a buzz, you may want to exchange that ukulele. Buzzing happens—and can be very difficult to diagnose. Sometimes it is just easier to get a different ukulele.
Ukulele set-up is really important. This means that the saddle and nut of the ukulele have been adjusted so that the strings are not too far away from the fretboard (we call this “the action of the ukulele”). Really good ukulele vendors adjust action before selling a ukulele (Mim’s Ukes, Mainland Ukuleles, The Uke Republic, and the Ukulele Site). Many music stores and most Amazon vendors do not set up ukuleles. If your ukulele isn’t set up correctly, it becomes more difficult to play the first few chords, as you have to work much harder to press down on the strings. It is worth checking the action. If the first fret is more than 1mm away from the strings, and the 12th fret is more than 2.65mm away from the strings, your action is probably too high. If that is the case, you have some options. You can try to adjust the action yourself, you can take it to a luthier (instrument repair place), or return the ukulele and order one from a vendor that sells them set up. I understand that may not be desireable at the moment—but it makes a difference, and is worth the wait. Let’s make this abundantly clear: $1500 ukuleles need a proper set-up just as much as a $50 ukulele. Ukuleles are meant to be able to be adjusted. There are some Amazon vendors that are doing well with set-ups, such as Enya Ukuleles and I had good experiences with the Aklot brand.
The third thing to do is to tune your ukulele. Chances are that you were given a soprano, concert, or tenor ukulele. These ukuleles are usually tuned GCEA (some Canadian schools tune too ADF#B). Tuning is simple…but hard. If you received a tuner with your ukulele, use the tuner. If you didn’t…try some apps. I recommend the Kala App Tuner, John Atkins (the Ukulele Teacher on YouTube) has the Ukulele App, and Elise Eklund another YouTube personality) suggests the Tunefor Ukulele Tuner. There are MANY YouTube videos about tuning ukuleles.
Most ukuleles—particularly starter ukuleles are tuned in a “reentrant” method where the 4th string, the string closest to you as you hold the ukulele, is the G above middle C, where the next 3 notes are middle C, E, and A. If you have played guitar, this is a little weird—but you get used to it. Having your ukulele in tune is really important. Also…ukulele strings are made out of very stretch compounds—so they stretch and go out of tune for quite a while before they settle down—and even then, you’ll need to tune regularly. At school, I tune over 250 ukuleles each day…sometimes more. My advice: go slow, try to move up to pitch (stretching the string instead of making it looser), make sure you are tightening the right strings (it happens to all of us). And once you have it in tune, keep tuning it. Play for a while…then tune. Play for a while…then tune. And so on.
If you are a left handed player—you have a choice to make. You have to decide whether to change your ukulele to be left handed (usually swapping the strings in the opposite direction) or to learn how to play right handed. It is your choice…but if you decide to go “lefty,” you need to learn how to change strings.
As for chords, I would encourage you to follow the sequence I have written about on this blog before:
C (or C Major) -> F (or F Major) -> G (or G Major) ->G7 -> Am ->Dm -> Em
These seven chords can play a huge percentage of the music that is out there.
There are MANY videos on YouTube showing how to play these chords. Learn them. Learn how to switch between them. And then start putting them into songs. That’s when you can follow YouTube accounts like The Ukulele Teacher, Elise Eklund, Cynthia Lin, Ukulele Underground, or the play alongs created by Dr. Jill Reese and myself (UkueleTenor). Or go find ukulele song sheets for the music that you want to learn, such as at ukutabs.com.
As you play and learn, you will add other information to your knowledge of the instrument, such as care and feeding of your ukulele, ukulele maintenance, and more.
Congratulations! Enjoy your new ukulele!
One of the reasons that I fell in love with the ukulele is that I saw groups of people getting together to sing and play (ukulele jams). Many of these players were not musicians earlier in their lives. Admittedly, most of these groups (in the United States) are made up of retired people, as they have the time in their schedules to meet together. People are playing in other age groups as well…but the social circles are different (as they are in all walks of life)
Isn’t this the goal of music education? For people to make music on their own initiative, on their own or with others?
I just saw this video about Thomas Ruggles, age 92, who is entertaining people in hospitals with his ukulele. You can watch the video below or read this from Good Morning America.
I don’t like making comparisons with other activities, but can you tell me what other activities—music or otherwise— you can do successfully at age 92? Sure, you can sing—I’m not sure I’ll be able to play the tuba at 92. I’m surely not going to be playing sports at 92. (Good Morning America reported he was 89…the video below says 92. It doesn’t really change what I am saying).
What is the potential reward for music—particularly the ukulele—considering the same initial 20 hour investment? Obviously, it is priceless. Can you see why this instrument is so appealing to me?
P.S. Mr. Ruggles better not purchase a Kala Waterman ukulele. He would only be able to use it 9 more years (see below):
Our school uses Caramel Ukuleles. They are inexpensive and they hold up to a lot of damage. Sadly—I know—as some of our middle school students do not take care of the instruments in any sense of the imagination.
If you go with Caramel, you are going to have to learn how to set them up (check out my YouTube channel for a video that shows what I do), and you are going to have to watch fret ends as humidity drops (if humidity drops in your area). Right now, a concert scale ukulele is $36, and a tenor is $42. When you buy into Caramel Ukuleles, you need to know what you are getting into. If you want to avoid this—paying $60 or more per ukulele, you can order from a great vendor like Mim’s Ukes or The Uke Republic—but sometimes the stretching of the dollar is worth the process of setting up a ukulele.
The Caramels we have do not have strap buttons or side markers. I took it upon myself to add those to our ukuleles over the last days. I bought strap buttons for $0.16 each on eBay (look for bulk packages), straps for less than $1.00 each, and then 1” rubber washers in bulk (to put over the ends of the straps). Yes, there are thinner ukulele straps, which retail starting at $10 each. When the total cost of your ukulele is $50 at most (with the KIDS ukulele strings and a tuner), it makes no sense to provide a strap that costs $10-$25 each. These sub-$1.00 straps will do the trick.
For the side markers, I had tried using some adhesive stickers…which did not last. They wear off or students rub/scrape them off. I had tried putting side markers on a couple of my ukuleles that did not have them using fingernail polish. It worked…but wasn’t great. Someone on Ukulele Underground suggested using spackle compound (drywall compound) in the holes…so I bought a small container of spackle at Wal-Mart.
Next, I drilled side markers with a 1/16 drillbit. Only drill in a little bit…if you drill too far or at a wrong angle, you can create a sinkhole in your fretboard. For the strap buttons, I use a 3/32 bit, although a smaller one could be used. I use a piece of paper to measure the bottom of the ukulele, and then fold that paper in half to find the place to drill the hole; I like to put the top strap button on the heel of the ukulele on the side under where I play. I flipped that on our reverse strung ukuleles.
I don’t mind experimenting with these ukuleles because they have no resale value. If they break—they get replaced versus repaired. Therefore, I sand the frets with a sanding block and no concern for masking tape. With the drilling…I do not worry about being super accurate or detailed measuring…and no masking tape (masking tape can help prevent wood splinters on a solid wood ukulele).
A side note about the side markers (no pun intended)…usually you would get side marker material from a place like StewMac, and then drill, then glue the material in the hole, cutting it and sanding it down. The use of spackle in the place of side marker material is definitely a budget move. I would not do so with my KoAloha Opio ukuleles—but they already have side markers. I was just looking at my Lanikai UkeSB, which has side markers at 1, 3, 5, 7, 10, 12, 15, and 17! I just put the markers where Caramel had put front markers…5, 7, 10, and 12. I also did both sides so that ukuleles could be swapped for lefties if needed.
I wrapped up the ukuleles today…a three day process to work through 50 ukuleles (40 concerts and 10 tenors). They look pretty good.
Why the straps? It makes it easier to play barre chords (we’ll get to them), and it should stop a number of the ukuleles from dropping as they have been dropped over the past 2 years. We’ll see how it works. As for the side markers…why not? It only took time (almost zero cost for mateirals) to do. However, I was able to do all of this work for under $100. Having this work done by a luthier would have cost a lot more…easily well over $500, and that would be only $10 per ukulele.
I’ll be sure to let you know how things work out.
The full video appears below:
For some reason, this TED talk came to my attention today. It is by Josh Kaufman, and it talks about learning anything, and how any basic skill can be learned with about 20 hours of practice (unlike the 10,000 hours that are required for mastery). He learned the ukulele to prove his point.
If you have time, watch the video (additional comments after the video):
I agree with his basic premise…that you can pick up some skills with 45 minutes of practice per day for about a month, following a four step process:
- Deconstruct the skill (what is your goal when you are done)
- Learn enough to self correct
- Remove practice barriers
- Practice at least 20 hours
And I’m quite happy that he decided to learn ukulele.
All that said, there are some things that I would like to point out.
- The ukulele has a really low level of entry opposition. I’m not saying that it is easy, but it offers less resistance than many other activities, including other musical instruments. It is small and unintimidating. It has only four strings. It is (relatively) inexpensive. And entry level chords are pretty simple to play (C, Am, F, and C7 in particular).
- I am not a fan of the song that he chose to learn as his example: the four chord song by Axis of Awesome is in a key (G) that makes it possible for Axis of Awesome to sing the song. For a real beginner, wishing to hit that 20 hour threshold, would be better served in the key of C. (See below)
- Addtionally, I love the Axis of Awesome four chord song, but the song itself only shows how snippets of songs use the four chords. In reality, many pop songs are more complex as you look at the whole song (intro, verse, chorus, pre chorus, bridge, ending, etc.). So the four chords do get you part of the way…but not all of the way.
So, in summary, I agree with him about the 20 hour rule—but just wish that these other points had been addressed.
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This season has been all about expanding holiday play along videos. I haven’t added all of these to the spreadsheet, and I plan to do 3-5 traditional carols this week.
In a Vlog (video blog), the Ukulele Teacher (Jon Atkins) mentioned he was working on “Snowman.” I had never heard it, so I decided to look it up and fell in love with the tune. The original is in C-flat, a ridiculous key for ukulele. So I lowered it a half step, and an hour later, this was complete:
I have always liked The Barenaked Ladies’ acoustic settings….and their version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings (featuring Sarah McLachlan) is no exception…and works well with ukulele.
It seems that I am hearing “Last Christmas” by Wham! everywhere this year…so here it is in two keys (C avoids a barre chord):
If you want to see a playlist of all of my holiday ukulele play alongs, visit: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL6m5m3jQoANBJOqejUVmojWzcn7TQ1pxJ
And if you want all the play along files I have found, visit: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL6m5m3jQoAND_VfqDTpUohOv92Q5xDmle
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My five year old son has a Christmas party coming up in the next weeks where he has to exchange a gift valued under $3. While we don’t want to be spend $20 on an exchange gift, you can buy very little for $3 these days that isn’t food (in some places, a bottle of soda costs more than $3). There is a new store at the Mall of America called Five Below (a rather clever name for a Northern store, although it existed other places long before it came here) where everything is $5 or less. It actually resides where the previous Dollar Tree existed.
We did find a gift for my son to give ($5, not $3) but my wife pointed out some toy ukuleles. The packaging was basic, but sufficient, and left the ukulele open for inspection. It appeared to be along the lines of a mini Waterman (by Kala) ukulele, with zero fret and plastic geared tuners…so I bought one (a wood pattern) for $5. The instrument is roughly 16″ tall, and 6″ wide, with a scale length of 10.5 inches. My wood pattern seems to be embedded in the plastic (it isn’t a sticker). The ukulele itself is smaller than my Caramel Sopranino.
When we arrived home (about a 45 minute trip), I opened the box and took out the ukulele, attempting to tune it. Three of the strings tune, but the C string will not tune as the gears slip. The plastic tuners seem modeled after metal tuners…so I thought I could remove them and replace them with some existing metal tuners. I should mention that there are not four strings, but two that are doubled under the bridge (see the photo), making G and C (4th and 3rd strings) the same diameter and E and A (2nd and 1st strings) the same diameter. This, too, could be remedied by new strings.
But then I tried playing the instrument, and it became clear that something was really wrong. The action was decent, but the first fret is significantly shorter than the next frets, fatally messing up the intonation of the instrument. Simply put, it makes it unable to be tuned on many chords (if you could get the C string to tune). That is sad, because had the original injection mold been correct, this instrument could be a player (add metal tuners which cannot be that much more expensive) for $5! That isn’t to be–as the frets are placed where they are placed, and it doesn’t look like you could remove the fretboard to replace it with another.
The box asked for comments and concerns, so I e-mailed and expressed these points, letting them know that the instrument could really have been a legitimate instrument–and I think all kinds of people would buy them–from ukulele players to parents wanting to buy a working but cheap ukulele for their children. No, it would never be a replacement for a “real” ukulele at a 10.5″ scale length–but it would have been a wonderful option. Perhaps they will fix the mold (the measurements can be obtained free of charge via a fret calculator on StewMac’s website) and add metal tuners. I would spend another $5 on that…and buy a few more.
I previously reviewed the toy Guitar Guitarre from the Dollar Store, a $1 unplayable ukulele. This Five Below Ukulele is SO much more than that–but the fret issue makes it unplayable. Maybe you want a toy ukulele around you home or office–if so, and there is a Five Below in your area, go get one of these ukuleles!