The Original Ukulele Songs Project

Friday, December 1st, 2017

By Matt Hicks

The Original Ukulele Songs Project - OUSThere’s something strange happening in the ukulele world online. Swathes of ukulele players have joined a very special community that has developed over the last 6 months. The brain child of singer songwriter and front man for The Small Change Diaries, Nick Kemp, the Original Ukulele Songs project was set up to provide an online space for existing ukulele songwriters to showcase their music. But something extra special has occurred. Between the team of Nick Cody, Bianca Brochet and myself who moderate, mentor and encourage and the songwriters who regularly contribute, new aspirational songwriters have joined in the experience. Some people who have never written before tune in to see what its about and then very often begin to put pen to paper themselves.

The facebook OUS page is totally supportive and encouraging to those who want to give it a shot and it has paid dividends to the likes of Harry Parker who says:

“I started to learn guitar and wrote my first song in 1962. That would be an impressive background if I hadn’t given up in 1964 and didn’t think about making and creating music again until 2015 when I retired (a short 51 year break).”

The OUS group works on the idea that good music and songs all come from strong communities and that is essentially what it aspires to create online. Harry has steadily built up his confidence and songwriting ability to the point where his output is deeply appreciated by OUS and ears outside of it.

People are encouraged to join the group with an open mind and a supportive heart. Some come to the group knowing exactly what they want to achieve. Harry says:

“My overarching plan (still is) was a determination to learn to play and sing well (struggling with that but persistent*), write a body of work (*as above) and to make a good quality CD of my music to leave behind for my granddaughter to have always after I’ve gone.”

Having gone some way to achieve that, what is it about the OUS community that has put Harry in the right direction?

“OUS is the most inspiring place for a ukulele player/writer. It’s the first thing I do every day, to check the new song posts (there always is). It’s the most eclectic mix of creative song writing and hearing new stuff all the time really keeps up your own enthusiasm and desire to create. I’ve contributed regularly – too much at first – churning out a new song every couple of days, not the best when I look back but a necessary part of my creative development. What’s great about the group is there’s not a trace of negativity or criticism – just good solid helpful advice, suggestions and thoughtful critique from other members. I’ve collaborated with others a couple of times which really teaches you a lot and improves your writing. More recently, I spend more time tweeking, refining and re-recording before posting and I’m learning about recording and mixing. My contribution, aside from my own songs, is that I listen to EVERY song that’s posted (a few times over if I like them) and if there’s anything I like (and I mean anything) I say so.”

So on any given day you may well here a songs ranging from novices like Harry to well respected professionals such as Victoria Vox who is headlining this years Grand Northern Ukulele Festival in the UK. The variation is unlike many other pages and this has been compounded by the fact that many of the songwriters are encouraged to collaborate.

This year at the Grand Northern Ukulele festival, I met up with a man called Alan Thornton form the United States for the first time. Despite there being a rather large pond between us, Alan and I have been songwriting together after meeting through the OUS. But we’re not the only collaboration. On the main OUS website you will see countless artists and their collaborations with each other taking establish writers down paths they never expected.
The OUS community sponsored a stage at the Grand Northern Ukulele Festival in the UK last May, where a select handful of OUS songwriters performed. The Facebook page, the website and the stage all had a global village feel, and we are looking to continue our work with representatives in many different countries from the USA, Canada and New Zealand.

With Love My Ukulele being based in New Zealand, we would be delighted if any songwriters from New Zealand felt they were encouraged by visiting our online page or website and contributing from an already well establish and beautiful New Zealand songwriting tradition.

You can visit the facebook page and join up here.

The website for the OUS is here.

You can get a taste of Matt Hicks’ music here.

Jane Cameron- How Ukulele Changed My Life

Thursday, May 7th, 2015

Some people buy cars, some people sell everything to go sailing around the world but for my money you can’t beat picking up a uke for a mid-life crisis! I first decided to teach myself uke in July 2010, mainly because I was singing with two novice guitarists who kept changing chords at the wrong time – I needed to play some sort of instrument just to keep them on track! But one thing led to another and before I knew it I was obsessed – every spare moment would find me… read more

Source: Jane Cameron- How Ukulele Changed My Life | Spruke

Strum Blocking – Advanced Technique

Friday, December 19th, 2014

Strum Blocking Pic for blog post
In this post we wanted to share with you an advanced ukulele playing technique called strum blocking. Strum blocking is a way of playing single notes with strums. You block off the strings you don’t want to sound so only one note rings.

There are a few advantages to doing this. It makes for a much smoother transition between chords and single notes in terms of tone and in terms of playing. It also gives you much more attack and makes it easier to play quickly.

The first thing you need to get down is how much pressure to put on the strings. You want to rest your hand on the strings hard enough so they don’t ring but soft enough that you’re not fretting them. Test it out by resting your fretting-hand fingers on all the strings and strumming. If you hear a sharp click like the first half of this MP3, you’re doing in right. If you hear some tones coming through like in the second half, press a little harder.

Keep reading the original full tutorial over at UkeHunt.

If you want to see this technique done really well you have to check out James Hill playing Down Rideau Canal.

 

Seven Tips to Make You Want to Practice

Monday, October 20th, 2014

Introduced by Jamie Houston. Original Article by Ralph Shaw.

Jamie Houston - Founder of the LOVE MY UKULELE CLUB

Jamie Houston – Founder of Love My Ukulele

Have you ever wondered what question you would ask if you had the chance to ask some of the world’s top ukulele teachers and educators one question? Well recently Ralph Shaw was at Tutti – an annual weekend of ukulele workshops in Langley, British Columbia, hosted by James Hill, and the teachers were asked to provide one practice tip each. Here is some of what was said:

1) Practice for one minute – every day.

2) Keep it fun. Remember it is called PLAYING the ukulele.

3) Really listen to your instrument.

4) Any time can be practice time so keep your instrument/s within easy reach.

5) Get a good instrument.

6) Practice with performance in mind.

7) Consider the future if you fail to practice now.

So if you won’t practice for you, at least do it for the sake of your instrument.

These tips have obviously been abbreviated, and unfortunately Ralph has removed the original blog post so we can no longer link you to his original post 🙁

About Ralph Shaw

Alfredo Impromptu

Monday, September 29th, 2014

Thanks so much to Alfredo Canopin Sr and his wife Jovina for recording and sharing this video of Alfredo performing The Shadow of Your Smile with us. His beautiful chord melody style of playing is just beautiful and he plays with such feeling. Why not leave him a comment if you enjoy his performance 🙂

Ten Tips to Write Better Songs (Part 1 of 2)

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

By Ralph Shaw

Today I offer five songwriting tips to help lift your lyrics and make new and mesmerizing melodies.

When a fan of my albums Love and Laughter wrote to tell me that he appreciates my “clever songwriting and wordplay that reward close and repeated listenings” he endeared himself to me in two ways: first he proved there are still some people who engage in active listening and second that there are those who pay close attention to the art of songwriting.

There’s no magic recipe book for manufacturing hits. And it’s a good thing too, for great songs usually contain an element of the unexpected, some surprise to delight our ears. But inventing sweet surprises; that’s the tough part. There is no map for finding serendipity; we can only hope to be in the right place at the right time and to recognize it when it visits. But, despite music’s ability to make our spirits soar, songwriting is still a down to earth craft. And many elements of that craft can be learned and mastered. What makes a well-crafted song and how do we go about writing one?

Here are five of my ten ways to write better songs.

1) Grab the Ephemeral.
Create space for song ideas to come by removing obstructions to your daydreams. Everyone has their own way to do this, find yours: sit in an empty room, travel, meet people, sit up all night, go for a walk, wake up early. Whatever works for you is what you need to do. Make sure you have some means to record song ideas and have the sense of purpose to grab voice recorder or pen no matter how inconvenient the circumstance. Be conscious and aware of your own sense of creation.

2) Write Lots, Edit Later.
Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan are highly regarded as wordsmiths par excellence. But their work style differs in that Dylan would often complete songs in a short period of time (hours or days) whereas Cohen might spend years perfecting his lyrics. But both share the technique of writing more verses than would appear in their final work. Both knew better than to accept the first ideas as being the final product. Only by pushing further will you accumulate the material from which you can choose the very best.

3) Which Comes First – Melody or Lyrics?
The overriding philosophy amongst tin-pan-alley songwriters was, “melody first, then lyrics” and it was held for good reason. It’s important to remember that song lyrics are not poetry. They die or fly depending on the melodic wings with which they are bestowed. The less intellectual nature of music makes it far likelier that perfect words will be inspired by a melody rather than the other way round. When a melody is grafted onto a lyric the tune tends to be uninspired and intellectually driven. But as with any general rule there are notable exceptions: Dorothy Fields and Jerome Kern wrote their 1937 Oscar winning song The Way You Look Tonight with lyrics first. And classically trained Elton John formed his greatest songs by putting tunes to Bernie Taupin’s lyrics.

4) Try Chords First.
A favourite way I have of writing songs is to look for a chord progression and rhythmic feel that pleases me. If you get those things right then you have a better chance of laying a decent melody and lyrics on top. It’s also possible that words and melody originate together in a leap-frogging sort of situation.

5) Let the Song Tell You What it Needs
Do learn from your predecessors, but know when to go with your instincts. Don’t add extra verses or a solo because you think that’s what you’re supposed to do. A song can be shorter or longer than what you consider “normal” and may contain other elements deemed eccentric. Remember the “hook” of a song (some unique quirk that makes the song stand out in a good way) is always different from the run of the mill. Do what the song demands.

Next time: Five more tips to help you write better songs!

© Ralph Shaw 2014

About Ralph Shaw

How To Lead A Great Ukulele Jam

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

By Jim D’Ville

As the popularity of the ukulele grows, so does the number of ukulele groups and jam sessions. How to make yours better than average? In this article Jim D’Ville shares practical tips that EVERY jammer and jam leader should know!

Ukulele Jam

This article is in C6 tuning (g, c, e, a).

Introduction

Join the ukulele revolution and after an incredibly short learning curve you are ready to jam! Yes, the jam session, crown jewel of the phenomenon known as the ukulele club. But how does one go about facilitating an “interesting” jam, not one in which people sit stone-faced like Easter Island statues staring at their music and strumming in a rhythmically mono-syllabic down-up-down-up pattern with the musicality of someone dribbling a basketball?

Get The Group In Tune

If you want your jam session to sound good from the very first note, get the group in tune. Have everyone tune-up their ukuleles, then have the group tune their ears and voices. I use an A-440 tuning fork to accomplish this (since the first string on the ukulele in C tuning is tuned to A). Strike the A fork on your knee and place it on your uke. Hum the resulting A tone. Get the group to join the hum fest. At this point you can introduce the concept of playing together in time. Strike the fork again, place it on your uke and count off 3-4-1 (4/4 time-four beats per measure). On the 1, get everyone to loudly sing: “AAAAAAAAAAAA!” In a group setting, this usually comes out sounding pretty good.

How does one go about facilitating an “interesting” jam, not one in which people [strum] with the musicality of someone dribbling a basketball?

To read the complete article in full click here to go to James Hills’ www.ukuleleyes.com website

The headings in the rest of this brilliant article are as follows:

  • Use The Numbers
  • Choosing The Right Songs – One-chord Wonders
  • Scrap the Sheet Music
  • Move Up To Three Chords!
  • Call-and-response
  • The Blues
  • Create Simple Arrangements
  • Get Some Harmony Going
  • Playing In Different Keys
  • Bring Everyone Along

 

Care and Feeding of Your Ukulele

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

By Gordon and Char Mayer

From buzzing and broken tuners to storage and re-stringing, Gordon and Char Mayer take you through the essentials of ukulele maintenance and DIY repair.

Introduction
We’re Gordon and Char Mayer, otherwise known as Mya-Moe Ukuleles. In this article we’re going to cover three things:

1. how to take care of your ukulele
2. how to fix some common issues
3. how to recognize problems that are best left to a professional.

Restringing your uke headstock image

Most importantly, you bought your ukulele to play it. It is made to be used. In fact, a strong argument can be made that playing it will keep it in better condition. If you keep it in a case, then you likely won’t play it much; strange, but the very act of getting up out of your chair and opening the case is often too much of a barrier. Better to keep it on a wall hanger or floor stand where you can just pick it up and pluck it if only for a minute or two. Just don’t put it in a place where it receives direct sunlight (more on this later).

To read more please click here to see the original and full article on James Hills’ www.ukuleleyes.com website.

It is a very useful resource that we highly recommend you take some time to read. The sections are as follows:

  • Cases, stands and transportation
  • Heat and humidity
  • Care of the finish
  • Re-stringing and changing from a high 4th to a low 4th
  • Intonation
  • Buzzing
  • Sharp Fret Ends
  • Broken or loose tuner
  • Other issues
  • Summary

We encourage instrument owners to play and enjoy their instrument. It doesn’t need to be handled like an egg, but following some common sense measures will help to minimize problems.
Re-stringing your instrument is the best thing you can do for its tone; this often fixes apparent buzzing and intonation problems that have crept up as well. You should be putting on new strings about every 3 months. When you do, you’ll be surprised at what a difference it makes.

 

New Ukulele T-Shirt Has Companion Song

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

Following the launch of our latest Limited Edition T-Shirt titled “UKES NOT NUKES!”,  we were sent a link to this great song by one of our members and prolific singer/songwriter Mookx Hanley of Byron Bay, Australia. We think it is very cool that he already has written a song that embodies the spirit in which we designed this cool t-shirt.

You can listen to his song by clicking the play button below…

And if you want to get your very own “UKES NOT NUKES!” T-Shirt to wear, click the shirt below for all the details. But make sure you do it NOW as this Limited Edition design, available in 4 eye-catching awesome colours, is only available until March 27th.

Ukes Not Nukes Limited Edition T-Shirt Image

Now the way the T-Shirt works is that we must hit our goal of 40 tees before they get printed. So if on the end date (March 27th) we have hit target then your credit card will be charged, the shirts will be printed and posted out all over the world. If, however we don’t hit target, no one will be charged and no one will get their tees. So let’s get ordering and we can all enjoy wearing them.! 🙂 They can be sent just about anywhere in the world, and if you combine your order with a friend or with your uke club members, you can save heaps on shipping costs.

We are hoping this tee will bring about world peace in no time LOL! Click here to get yours now!

These T-Shirt sales allow us the budget to keep the Love My Ukulele community alive.

Ukulele Song Writing

Saturday, March 15th, 2014

By Matt Hicks

So you’ve been playing the uke for a while. You’re pretty happy because every time you video a cover of a song YouTube fires back that it recognises it as a possible infringement on copyright. You’re there. You’ve arrived; but something is missing. You find yourself thinking that you’re just churning out the same songs as everyone else.

Now there is nothing wrong with churning out the same old songs. The ukulele is best as a community instrument on many levels but occasionally you’ll feel you want to do something different. What better way is there to turn peoples heads at the uke club or even on YouTube than by writing your own song?

I know that many people will think that is a near impossibility. Many people think songwriting is a skill that only a few people are blessed with. Well I’ll let you into a little secret: For every great song even the best songwriter creates, there will likely be about ten really bad ones. No one is born a great song writer. It takes a lot of persistence, bloody mindedness and a bit of cheek.

Top Hat & Wand

A bit of cheek? What could I possibly mean? Well writing a song is a bit like learning a magic trick. Most people who learn how to do an illusion are usually a little disappointed that the explanation for how the trick is done is very simple. It’s the delivery that makes it astounding. Writing a song believe it or not is very similar. Have you ever learnt to play a song by your favourite artist and, once you’ve mastered it thought “Why couldn’t I have written something so simple?” The truth is that most people can and the following guidelines I hope will help you.

Three Chord Wonder: You may have heard this term before. Most of the early Beatles songs and many great hits consist of just three chords. The first stumbling block of anyone aspiring to write on an instrument is getting the tune together. Believe it or not it’s not necessarily about having an ear for music. There are some specific rules which, if you follow, will help you come up with a tune.

All chords follow some specific rules in that the notes that make up the chord will sit at specific places within the scale of that key. Many simple songs are made up of chords in the 1st position and then use the 4th and 5th. Take the chord of A to start a song. The next chord will be the 4th note in the scale which will be D and then the next on the 5th will be E. AD and E are a popular mix for the twelve bar blues. Below are some chords with their 4th and 5th position chords. I’ve chosen them because they are fairly easy to play on the uke.

A D E
C F G
D G A
E A B
G C D

Now depending on what kind of song you want to write, it’s always worth having a play with the many variations of those chords to give the uke song a bit of variation and make the listener think you really are the mutt’s nuts at song writing. A great way to do this is by playing a 7th chord rather than the basic version. That means playing, for instance C7, F7 and G7. Or you can just put in one 7th chord such as the G7. Take a look at the video below. It’s a cover of an old Hank Williams song. The chords are C F and G7 is immensely simple but very effective.

So forget about the amazingly complex chord run downs, the ukulele is an instrument that is both forgiving to the player but also demands that the song is strong enough to stand on its own. Often the simpler the music, the stronger the song.

Lyric Writing

Now to writing lyrics. Well now I can’t teach you about what to write. To be honest this will be your most daunting task because not many people are happy to put their necks on the line by writing something and then putting it out there for people to love or not love. Here are some rules that I go with when I write on the ukulele.

Limericks- Start off by writing lines to fit into a limerick. This is whether you are writing a serious song or a jokey song. If you’ve not written a song before frankly the more practice you get using a format that you have grown up with the better. Perhaps you were brought up with gospel music or country etc: Use your roots to fit your words into. It will come a lot easier. Using limericks means that you can fit in quite a few words but you only need two of them to rhyme. i.e:

The boy stood on the burning deck
His trousers made of cotton,
The fire travelled up his pants
And made his mother feel just rotten.

Rhyming couplets such as the limerick above means you can put a lot of information in the lyric with only minimal rhyming needed. You’ll find that you can fit this format into most genres and music styles.
Cliches-Don’t avoid lyrical clichés. You may think they can be cheesy and vomit inducing and mind numbingly unoriginal but the simple fact is that clichés are clichés because they work and they continue to do so to convey what the writer wants to say. Even if you find a better way to say it later on, just go with the flow with some time honoured imagery. Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire is a perfect example. Simple, a huge cliché but one of the best three chord wonders ever written.

Accept it for what it is-Whatever you write accept it for what it is. It is the best reflection of your talent and ability at that moment in time. Don’t be ashamed of it. You may not want to play it in front of anyone for the minute but you have made your mark and you have begun an infuriating but exceptionally fulfilling process. Remember that when you play something on a ukulele, more often than not most people are not expecting to hear great things. They either think it’s a toy or they just think there is no way you will get a decent tune out of it. In other words you just can’t lose. If your song crashes, it doesn’t matter. If it does well it’s a real bonus. Regardless, most people whether friends or in an audience are often very receptive to the fact someone has shown balls enough to not only write their own song but play it in front of someone else. That takes guts and most people know it.

What you write about is up to you of course. I tend to like writing a story in my head and often the words then follow sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. For instance last Christmas I decided to write a song. I chose to write about a Turkey. Turkey starts with a T so that means the name of the bird has to start with T. I chose Tarquin. Turkeys get eaten at Christmas so I thought I’d inject some human relationships into the mix and discuss how his Mum uses euphemism to hide the fact that he is destined for the chop i.e. he’s going to be Santas Little Helper. Helper rhymes with Belper which is somewhere in the North of the UK which happens to have a lot of poultry farms.

When you get a bit of practice, you’ll be amazed at what comes together. Don’t force it. Don’t start with a preconception of the sort of song you want to write. I started trying to write serious, off the wall, philosophical songs and ended up writing about Turkeys and online gambling. The trick is to conserve energy and go with the flow. Don’t wear yourself out putting conditions on a song which will write itself if you let it. Don’t burn yourself or take yourself too seriously or you’ll get writers block before you’ve started.

The last tip is don’t write for yourself. The ukulele is a community instrument. It is made for playing to other people. In pubs and gatherings there is nothing worse than a self indulgent songwriter pouring out complex lyrics about their love life that only he or she understands. It’s a real turn off. If you can show the audience that you wrote the song for their enjoyment then you have won them over already. Singing and playing a song is a bit like giving a sales pitch. If you look convinced the audience will be convinced. That takes some balls to do if you can pull it off but it works a treat.
Below is a little song I wrote a while back which you may like. Go get writing and all the best.

About Matt Hicks