Posts Tagged ‘learning’

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

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

It’s Only Rock’n’Roll – Yet It Moves People

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

By Cliff Adams.

It’s only rock and roll… yet it moves people since… well, name your year between 1942 and 1954. One of the classic rock backgrounds is what can be called the Chuck Berry rhythm. My example will be in the key of C. But bear in mind it can be transposed to any key (and was originally played in another key).

Chuck Berry CD Cover

“Johnny B. Goode” gives us a fine example of an easy Chuck Berry rhythm for the ukulele. It is a simplified 12-bar blues progression: four bars of C, two bars of F, two bars of C, two bars of G, two bars of C. His rhythm has an eight beat swing feel. If you strum each measure with a syncopated down then a quick up motion each quarter note, you get eight beats to every bar.

C C6In this song, Berry emphasizes the third beat of every four. So with eight beats to each measure the strum is: one and TWO and three and FOUR and…, a true back-beat. He not only strums those two beats more loudly, but on them he raises the fifth (of each chord) to the sixth. In a C chord, that fifth is the G note, so he raises the lowest G to an A. If you strum a first position C chord, you play the fourth, third, and second strings open, and fret the first string on the third fret: G, C, E, C. If you fret that third fret with your ring finger, it is easy to place your middle finger on the second fret of the G string to raise it to an A.

F F6Moving the progression to the F chord, in the open position, place your middle finger on the second fret of the fourth string, play the third string open, fret the second string with your index finger on the first fret, and play the first string open: A, C, F, A. The fifth of an F chord is the C, so on that back beat, it needs to raise to a D. If on that strum you place your ring finger on the second fret of the third string, the C raises to a D, the sixth in an F chord. Strum those two measures the same way you strummed the opening four bars of C.

G G6The two bars of G chord offers two easy solutions for this strum. In a G chord, the fifth is a D, so it will need to raise to an E, the sixth of a G chord. If you play the first position G chord with an open fourth string, your index finger fretting the third string on the second fret, the second string fretted on the third fret with your ring finger, and the first string fretted on the second fret by your middle finger, you get G, D, G, B. To raise the D to an E, you can either lift your ring finger off the second string which allows it to play as an open E string, or place your little finger on the fourth fret of the third string raising the D to an E. The first way is easier, but unlike the way you have been strumming the C and F chords, you keep the fifth note of the chord in addition to the sixth, rather than just raising it and eliminating it. Either will work, but the little finger on the fourth fret of the third string is my favorite rock way of playing rock and roll on an ukulele.

Go Johnny go!

ABOUT Cliff Adams

Are you doing what you love more than anything?

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

By Matt Hicks. One of my favourite songs of all time and a lovely ukulele song. God Bless Ukulele Ike!

ABOUT Matt Hicks

The World’s Easiest Ukulele Song

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

By Steven O. Sellers. If you are new to the fascinating instrument known as the ukulele, here is a song that will get you jamming with your friends in no time. All you need is one ukulele, one finger and one chord, plus access to You Tube. Go to You Tube and look for the song “Lime and the Coconut” by Harry Nilsson. That’s the one chord song you are about to learn.

You Put the Lime in the Coconut

Listen to the song and get the feel for it, then prepare to have fun. Grab your uke and put the index finger of your left hand on on the first fret of the first string, that’s the A string. Give it a strum and you are making the C7th chord, the only one you need to play “Lime and the Coconut”. Practice getting the rhythm down with just a straight ahead up and down stroke and you are on your way to learning a classic song from the 1970’s.

You and your buddies can jam for hours on “Lime and the Coconut” and have a great time, and it will be even more fun if you find ways to change up that C7 chord for a bit of musical variety. You might try rocking back and forth between the C Major Chord (first string,third finger, third fret) and the C7th chord in rhythm to the tune. 

For a bit more variety, practice some finger picking instead of just straight strums. You will see that the song lends itself to some simple finger picking very nicely. One other tip to spice up your playing on this one chord song: Grab your chord book and find ways to play C7th up the fingerboard. My favorite is playing the C7th on the 7th fret of the uke. To do that, just play the standard G7th open chord, and move it up to the 7th fret and there you have a nice substitute for the standard open C7th chord.

One thing I hope you will take away from this tutorial is that it’s fun to start with a simple song and find ways to make it sound better by putting your own mark on it with varied strums and chord substitutions…a pretty nifty way to learn!
ABOUT Steven O. Sellers.

Just 12 Years Old – Rio Saito from Japan

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013


Rio Saito at the New York Ukulele Festival 2013

Rio Saito at the New York Ukulele Festival 2013

I have the privilege and honor to become the mentor for a promising young gentleman that eventually will become an outstanding ukulele artist. If you close your eyes as he picks and strums the various melodies and rhythms of the beautiful ukulele, you would be sure it is an adult playing…but it is actually a young gentleman of only 12 years of age.

That young gentleman is Rio Saito from Japan. He was only 8 years old when he discovered an interest in playing the ukulele. For 2 years he lived in Hawaii to learn and he picked up some styles from other famous ukulele artists. He tells me that he learned a lot by listening to and watching videos. He has a gift of natural talent in listening and memorizing all music presented to him.

As Rio’s mentor, I can report that in all my years of teaching the ukulele, I have never met a young person who picks up tunes and learns them so quickly. He seems to enjoy and understand the picking, strumming and rhythm of the ukulele as much as I do. Keep and eye out for this exciting upcoming ukulele artist from Japan as I am sure he will achieve great things.

You are welcome to watch Rio Saito on YouTube here with an incredible rendition of ‘Misty’ at the New York Ukulele Festival 2013.

ABOUT Alfredo Canopin. Sr.

What Happens When You Learn Something?

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

By Cliff Adams. What happens to you when you learn something? Does it make you feel good? Is it satisfying? Are you an optimist? Do you find the positive attitude in whatever misfortune befalls someone? Are you the lemonade maker? Or are you the pessimist? Are you happy because nothing is ever as terrible as you imagined it? Guess what… if you play ukulele, none of this matters. No matter how good you get, two evil thoughts are real: there is someone better, and you can be better, too. Every person who hears you play can find fault; only the insensitive ones will make you feel bad about it. The worst are the purists. The reason I call them the worst is because none of them are pure enough. If they criticize your strumming, they might have lax standards about fretboard techniques, and vice versa. If they believe that ukulele is best used for a certain style of music, they probably sort their music collection by style rather than alphabetically or by year created. 


Photo of Cliff in an Aloha shirt chatting with George and Will of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.

Photo of Cliff in an Aloha shirt chatting with George and Will of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.

I was criticized for my uke playing because I strummed with my thumb rather than my index finger. Yet the person who criticized me often wrapped his thumb around the neck to fret the G string. To him, what he did with his left hand was far less important than what he did with his right hand. I was motivated to improve my index finger strumming. And I kept my better left hand technique.

I read a Down Beat article written by Cecil Taylor, who had studied classical piano but loved jazz. He saw Count Basie playing with flattened fingers as well as with curved fingers. When Taylor spoke to Basie about this non-classical technique, Basie responded by claiming the notes sounded different. How could this be? On a piano, the notes are created by strings vibrating after being struck by a wood and felt hammer driven by levers connected to the keys the fingers played. The tone was many steps removed from the curve (or lack thereof) of the player’s fingers. Taylor went to his piano, played a piece with beautifully curved fingers, then played the same passage using flat fingers much like Basie had used. Taylor heard two different sounds. Neither was right; neither was wrong. Taylor had discovered a craft his perfect artistic technique had overlooked.

Learn all. Learn what the rules are and practice them so they are easy. When you play, and the piece works better when you deliberately break rules, you have created a work of art. Ukulele music is beautiful, cheesy, flowing, bouncy, masterful, sleazy, sad, and fun. Might even be all these at once.

ABOUT Cliff Adams.