Saturday, January 28, 2017

Friday, January 27, 2017


I was reading this post:  The Most Common Questions Every Beginner Ukulele Player Ask.  I don't entirely agree with everything said, so I thought I'd throw in my own 2 cents worth, which, adjusted for inflation, is probably worth a lot less than that.

1.  What is the best ukulele for beginners?

Get the best ukulele you can afford.  And by "afford," I don't mean use up your savings or take out a loan or do anything to financially stress yourself.  By "afford," I mean spend as much money as you are willing to spend, but let's face it, you're going to have to spend a certain amount to get a decent instrument.  Do not buy any nameless yet colorful uke from eBay because it only costs $20.  There is a very high probability that if you do, you won't like it.  As a rough guide, expect to spend between $50 to $100 for a budget soprano uke.  Also:  Do not buy your first ukulele from Amazon.  Make sure you buy it from a reputable ukulele dealer who does setups on the instruments they sell.  A "setup" means the instrument is examined for flaws and the action is checked and possibly adjusted so that it is almost always improved over factory condition before they ship it to you.  A few dealers that I know do setups are:  Hawaiian Music Supply, Uke Republic, and Mim's Ukes.  Related to this, make sure the dealer can tell you what kind of strings are on the instrument.  If it comes with some kind of generic, no-name strings, they will probably need to be changed to better strings.  You should always try it first, of course, and if you like the sound, don't worry about it.  Just be aware that better strings usually improve the sound, and changing strings is something that you will need to learn to do anyway, because strings don't last forever.

2.  What is the best size ukulele for a beginner?

The only way for you to know this for sure is to go to a store that stocks all sizes of ukuleles and test play them all.  The idea that sopranos are easier for people with small hands or that people with large hands have trouble with sopranos is pretty much nonsense.  Even the largest uke is smaller than a guitar and someone would have to have abnormally tiny hands for that to be an issue.  On the other hand (har har) I have seen videos of people with fingers like sausages deftly playing a sopranino uke.

3.  What is the best wood for a ukulele?

This is an unanswerable question, because there are as many different answers as there are types of wood and the players who prefer them.  Mahogany is so common because it is less expensive.  If you are a first-timer who is looking for a budget uke, you will likely end up with a mahogany uke by default because it will be less expensive.

4.  What are the best strings I should get?

Another pretty much unanswerable question for the same reason as above.  But as I said before, some ukes come with some unnamed strings that the factory put on there because they were cheap.  Many new ukes come with Aquila Nylgut strings and they are perfectly fine strings.  If you get a uke with these, keep them and play them for a while before exploring other possibilities.  Different strings have different characteristics that will give them all different sounds and different feels.  The nice thing about almost all uke strings is that they are not expensive and you should be able to afford buying many different kinds and trying them all until you find what you like.

5.  What is the best place to buy a ukulele?

Already covered above.  However, I would also add that if you have a local store that sells ukuleles, that would be the best place to buy it because you can try it out before you buy it.  If you know a local store that will do a setup for you, that's even better.

6. I'm a beginner / have small hands -would a larger ukulele be better for me?

Sigh...I think I already covered this, but no, the best size is not the soprano unless it is the best size for YOU.  There is no such thing as a universal best size.  I guess if someone really pressed me on this regarding their first ever uke, I would say try a concert first.

7. I have been playing for a couple of weeks and my fingers hurt / I can't form this chord - what am I doing wrong?

Nothing.  You are trying to train your finger muscles and your brain to do things they have never done before.  There is going to be a learning curve, no matter what you've heard about the ukulele being "easy" to play.  Just keep practicing.  Some people can pick it up faster than others. That's just how it is.

8. Can you recommend some good tuition videos?

YouTube is full of great videos, and many of the best videos you can learn from weren't meant for that purpose--you can still learn from them.  Go to YouTube and look up The Ukulele Teacher, Ten Thumbs, and Ukulele Mike just for starters.  Also search more specifically for things you want to learn like "finger picking the ukulele," "different ways to play the E chord," "how to do that strum that Brudda Iz used on Over the Rainbow," etc.

9. I am finding it hard to hold my ukulele. Is it ok to use a strap?

Yes,  I use straps on almost all my ukes, including the sopranos.  I like the Uke Leash, but you can find or devise on your own numerous kinds of straps.

10. What is the best place to play ukulele?

Okay, so I moved this question to the last on the list because this one will be the most fun to answer.   The best place to play is wherever you can.  There are many opportunities on the internet to play.  Just create a YouTube account (or Vimeo, if you prefer), or any other video platform that allows you to share your videos.  If you use Facebook, you can also upload them straight to Facebook.  However, if you do upload direct to Facebook, you won't be able to share your videos to anyone outside of Facebook.  Of course, you will also need a webcam or some kind of digital video camera--or even just your smart phone--to create your own videos.  Some Facebook groups you should check out are Ukulele Covers International, Soprano Ukulele Lover's Group, Original Ukulele Songs...there are many more.  My own personal favorite forum for doing this is the Seasons of the Ukulele sub-forum at Ukulele Underground.  The main forum there will also be a great place for you to find answers and opinions to many of your questions.

As to playing "live," this is something that you should do as soon as you are comfortable doing so.  In fact, I think it may be a good idea to do it before you are sure you are comfortable with it.  As a beginner, it would probably be better to be part of a group.  This will relieve you of some of the stress that comes with playing before a live audience, and allows you to experiment with different things "on the fly" without having to worry too much about messing up so badly you have to stop the song.

Some people busk with their uke--I have never done this and don't really want to.  If this is your goal, you'll have to figure it out on your own, or find information elsewhere.  Many cities have laws regarding public busking, some restricting it to certain areas and others requiring a permit or license.

The first time I ever played in "public" was at a family reunion, so that of course meant that I was playing for a bunch of people who knew me.  I'm not sure that made it any easier.  Later, I was invited to play with a group who plays on Saturday afternoons at our local nursing home.  I have done this fairly regularly for a couple of years now.  Most nursing homes (or rest homes, or retirement homes, or whatever you call them) are always looking for new things to help entertain the residents.  Just go in and ask the manager.  If you do this, you may find that you need to tailor your repertoire to songs that the residents are more familiar with.  But I can tell you from experience that residents of nursing homes are very grateful for anything you do, even if you make mistakes.

Many large cities have ukulele clubs that you can join.  Some music stores and restaurants have open mic nights that you could try.  Some ukulele players play it in their churches.

In closing, I want to emphasize that you need to eventually play for other people, somehow, for someone, even if it's just for your family or friends.  If you thought playing your uke in the quiet of your own room was fun, you will be amazed at the new possibilities and just plain joyfulness that you will find in playing for others.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Quotes #1: Goethe

A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Welcome to my new old blog

I am not new to blogging.  I was a blogger during what I consider the golden age of blogging:  roughly the first decade of this century.  To see other blogs that I have done before, which still mostly exist except I'm sure for some broken links to other blogs which have disappeared, see: Blogonomicon, Hymnomicon, The Briar Files, The Last Ancient House, and The Hunter Chronicles.

I also tried out Tumblr for a while but I didn't like how it seemed to be focused only on itself and not on anything that comes from other platforms.  It was a music blog called Eat the Music, but I deleted it, and there wasn't much there anyway.

I eventually stopped updating my previous blogs mostly because I just got tired of keeping up with it, constantly reading the news for things to talk about, and just sheer blogger exhaustion.  And I wasn't even one of the famous ones.

Anyway, with this blog I hope to continue on with blogging about my love for music.  I am a ukulele strummer and singer and although I'm not good enough to be noticed, I do enjoy myself enormously.  There will probably be a lot of ukulele-related content on this blog because that is my instrument, but there could be anything here about music that interests, amazes, or amuses me.  I also play around with the melodica, the recorder, and the Seagull Merlin.  Barry Maz has said more than once that there should be more ukulele blogs, so here's one.

I know everyone is looking for reviews.  I recommend going to Got a Ukulele for reviews, because Mr. Maz is very good at that.  I have attempted reviews myself, and I can honestly say that I am not good at that.  But I will offer my comments on the limited number of ukes that I own.

I am quite active at a Ukulele Underground sub-forum called Seasons of the Ukulele.  I encourage anyone who plays the uke to come and check it out and see if it looks like fun.  Every week there is a new volunteer host who posts a theme for that week, and we all record songs according to that theme.  I have been having a lot of fun there, having joined in December of 2014.  Related to this, most of the recordings I will likely post will be YouTube videos.  I also plan to talk about various podcasts that I listen to.

I will put up a blogroll soon.  If you have a ukulele blog, let me know and I'll add you.  I'll probably also add a link list to sites that are not blogs.

I did move some of my old Tumblr posts over to this blog and have saved them as drafts.  I will probably post them, as well as some stuff from the Hymnomicon to this blog.

My musical listening interests vary widely, however as for my own performances, I usually stick to what I know best and can get away with faking, which will be heavily tilted toward country (older country, not the modern cowpop stuff), cowboy songs and gospel songs.

Thanks for visiting and y'all come back now!