A couple weeks ago I was asked to submit a playlist for the new site, The Bad-Ass Baritone Ukulele, and I was surprised to see that it’d been almost three years since I last recorded myself playing!
I haven’t found as much time to play since the baby was born, especially with my instruments tucked safely away from the winter humidity, but I finally took some time this weekend to record some videos.
P.S. If I look a little beat on these, it’s because for the first couple hours of takes I forgot to start the camera, so I had to redo them with the hot afternoon sun coming in.
For a while now I’ve wanted to record some videos of myself playing ukulele, both to keep tabs on my progress and to introduce some more slack key uke videos online. Now it’s true I’ve recorded some videos in the past, but I was never impressed with the video quality of my regular webcams. So this past week I finally found a HD camcorder I liked (the awesomely cheap Zoom Q2HD) and on Saturday I sat down to record.
These were all recorded on my Black Bear baritone ukulele, which I talk about in the first video. Enjoy!
Last year I attended the first annual Port Townsend Ukulele Festival, and had so much fun that I jumped at the opportunity to preregister for this year. Yesterday marked the end of this year’s festival, and I thought I’d take a moment to review some of the wonderful things I’ve learned in the past few days.
The festival consisted of four sessions of ukulele workshops a day for three days, along with ad-hoc non-ukulele classes, daily open-mics, jam sessions, and two live concerts featuring the instructors. The classes were held in the various buildings at Fort Worden, and included one-day drop-in sessions for shorter topics, along with three-day classes let you really dig into particular subjects.
Besides all of the wonderful opportunities to just sit down and jam with other ukulele players (there were some 160 participants this year), I also came away with a bunch of new techniques to practice, songs to learn, and a greater appreciation for all of the music that these little instruments can make.
Of particular note this year was the acceptance and accommodation of baritone ukuleles. In fact, one of the biggest highlights for me was the positive reception to my playing of Hawaiian slack-key on my baritone uke by both the staff and other participants. (I really need to make some videos, at the very least so I can get on Humble Baritonics again.)
The other highlight was showing off Chordious, which also elicited a positive response from some of the instructors, especially those with upcoming books.
It would be impossible to list everything that happened this weekend, but here are some of my notes (grouped by class and not in any particular order):
Embrace the wound string. Enjoy the color it adds to the music. Only you will hear the squeaks.
There are only so many string factories, so pick the material and gauges you like and feel free to make your own sets. For baritones (tuned dgbe’), Mya-Moe uses D’Addario silver-wound classical guitar strings (0.033w and 0.028w) for the basses, and Worth clear fluorocarbons (0.0319 and 0.0260) for the trebles. (Mya-Moe sells their strings here if you’re not interested in making your own).
Keeping your thumb behind wherever your 2nd (middle) finger is will make chording easier.
Barre with the bony side of your finger, not the fleshy part, for a cleaner sound.
Hang your hand at your side, then raise your elbow – that loose grip, straight wrist, is how your hand should be shaped when fretting.
If you play smaller ukes too, use your knowledge of those chord shapes by jumping down and barring at the fifth fret on your bari to play them.
When you’re the only bari player in a group, look at chord names, not grids, and not other people’s hands.
Play around with chord fingerings to try to get the root note on your bass string, ie. the 2130 E7 with the root note on the bass sounds better than the 0100 E7 with the 7th note on the bass.
Don’t worry about transposing or being in the same key as the paper when you’re playing by yourself.
Swapping out that low-d for a high-d will give you a nice, more “ukulele” sound, and isn’t a new idea – jazz ukulele master Lyle Ritz has been playing that tuning on the tenor uke for decades.
There is no “official strumming pattern” for songs. Some strums just sound better than others, depending on the feel you want the song to have.
It’s not hard to make up your own strumming patterns – just think of it as reductive rather than additive – start with your basic down-up, down-up, down-up, down-up and then remove strokes, replace one with maybe a thumb on the bass, change which fingers you use, etc.
In a 4/4 strum, put emphasis on the back-beats (2 and 4). Say chat-ta-noo-ga chat-ta-noo-ga as you strum.
If he could only have one thing, it would be wire brushes. Wire brushes on a sheet of paper on a chair and you have enough sounds to have a good time.
Play thinking as if you’re whipping down from your shoulder, to get the right attack, but don’t actually do it as you’ll get tired too fast.
Lots of warmups go a long way.
Practice slower and speed will come naturally
Practice with a metronome to test (and humble) yourself
The biggest refrain was about practice. It’s a dirty word to some, but it really is the only way you get better. Period.
I could fill up post after post with highlights from the festival, but writing about it just isn’t the same as having been there. This year there were some 160 participants with another 180 or so on the waiting-list, so rumor is that next year they’re going to try and meet the demand with two separate festivals back-to-back.
Not long after I released my free standard ukulele chord charts and slack key ukulele chord charts I got a request for some left-handed versions, where the diagrams were horizontally mirrored. Now it’s a little controversial, but for the ukulele at least, the main argument against switching the order of your strings is that it makes it harder for you to find and use resources designed for “right-handed” players. From a tab/diagram perspective, it’s essentially a different tuning.
Well, I myself already use non-standard slack-key tunings on some of my ukes, where there are exactly five printed uke books using those tunings. None have great chord charts. So for those southpaws who really do just want a nice set of mirrored diagrams, I feel for you. Play what makes you happy. I understand how frustrating it can be to constantly tweak charts in your head- it’s why I started making chord charts in the first place.
The next version of Chordious will have an option to easily mirror charts, but in the meantime, here are mirrored versions of all of the charts I’ve released in the past:
As before, all of these chord charts are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. Basically it means you’re free to do whatever you want with these charts, even sell them, as long as you credit me with having made them in the first place.
And again, as an added bonus, I’m also giving away the individual chord images I generated for the charts. Do whatever you want with them. Hell, you could print them out on stickers and “fix” all of your “right-handed” songbooks.