Saturday, 20 September 2014

GNUF and my most inspirational ukulele player 'award'

This time last week I was in Huddersfield at the Grand Northern Ukulele Festival (GNUF) - and what a festival! There were ample opportunities to play the ukulele, there were workshops galore and there were the top ukulele players from around the world. The photo on the right shows one of the groups, the Mother Ukers.

GNUF is the type of festival where everyone seems to know everyone else. This may be because a large proportion of the audience attended last year or it may be because of social media throughout the year. It may be because ukulele players are free to go and play with other ukulele groups - and there are plenty around, or it may be something to do with the tours organised by GNUF. It may also be something to do with the mini-festivals that are arranged by many clubs. I have written about Lancaster's Malarkey but I also got chance to play at Chester back in July and there are plenty of others including the Ukulele Festival of Great Britain. However mostly the ukulele ambience is mostly due to the friendly nature of ukulele players and performers.

There were many performers in a great variety of styles and the Mother Ukers were among my favourites. They played on the Saturday and the following day I spoke to the three of them. I told them that I had enjoyed their music and my 'award' for most inspirational ukulele player goes to their bass player, Barnaby Wild (his photo is on the left and the right just in case you don't recognise a ukulele bass). I was asked if that's because he sweats a lot - and if you look closely you can see that his shirt is wet through. The answer is partly yes because of the energy that he puts into his performance. I don't use flash which means that the performers have to be fairly still when I take the photo otherwise the image is blurred. You can see the effect of movement on the left with the movement of Barnaby's right arm. I did manage, after a few more attempts, to get two or three photos of him without blurring. There's one of them on the right.

The other two told me I shouldn't have mentioned my award to Barnaby because they won't hear the last of it. Fortunately they told me, he doesn't understand the word inspirational and they will tell him it means something different.  I did see a few more performers after this conversation including the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain who were excellent,  but my inspirational 'award' still goes to Barnaby.


Monday, 8 September 2014

Perfect Fourths and Fifths and Intel

Some notes, and for that matter chords, go together better than others. Take the note C and then play an F and then play C to G. The F is the fourth note of the C scale and C to F is called a perfect fourth because these notes go so well together. You don't get a perfect second because these notes don't fit together as nicely. However C goes well with G and this is called the perfect fifth.

It doesn't matter if we are talking about individual notes or with full chords, C, F and G go really well together. There are many songs that just use those three chords because they fit together so well. It doesn't have to start with a C chord. If you start with a D then the fourth is a G and the fifth an A, and there are many songs in those three chords too.

If you take the notes and go from C to F then back to C then G this is exactly the melody of the Intel theme commonly heard on adverts. You can't get much simpler than a perfect fourth and a perfect fifth. OK the Intel advert has the notes C, C, F, C and G (or whichever key they are in) but someone has made a lot of money out of that. Maybe that's why they are called perfect intervals.


My Dog Has Fleas

If you have never picked up any musical instrument and have no background knowledge of music then how do you start to play a ukulele? I know how I started. As a teenager I played guitar and I was taught how to hold it and how to play it but I didn't have a ukulele. A friend did have a banjolele and he showed me how to hold it and the George Formby strumming patterns as well as how to play basic chords. So I suppose the best way to learn is to have a friend to show us. Failing that, I suppose the first step is to buy a ukulele.

When I bought my first guitar I took another friend with me for support and advice. I had a paperback book full of information as to what made the best guitar but it couldn't tell me which guitar would be best for me. Whichever guitar (for guitar read ukulele here) I chose, it had to have good intonation - it had to play the right notes! It had to be easy to play. If the action, the distance from the strings to the fretboard is too high then it isn't easy to play, but too low may lead to their own problems. I don't want to sound shallow but how a ukulele looks is very important. If you like the look then you are more likely to play it.

You are even more likely to play it if what you are playing sounds good, and that starts with the ukulele being in tune. The common tuning is GCEA from the string nearest the ceiling to the string nearest the floor, and the biggest difference between a ukulele and a guitar is that the G has a higher pitch than the following C and the E strings. My banjolele owning friend had pitch pipes as well as a piano to help him get it in tune. Nowadays electronic tuners are a wonderful aide to tuning even if it stops everyone thinking and makes us just follow a flashing light. However I have no hesitation in recommending their use.

I would also recommend knowing about 'my dog has fleas'. If you haven't heard this before then it is nonsense but you can't play the ukulele for long without hearing the phrase and someone singing the words to the notes - you've guessed it - GCE and A or 'My(G) Dog(C) Has(E) Fleas(A). It is nothing to do with dogs, nothing to do with fleas and nothing to do with any song that I know but it certainly helps you recognise the pattern of open notes on a ukulele.


Thursday, 4 September 2014


I am a member of a few ukulele groups on Facebook. I find them useful as an aide to communication within those groups. You can't beat going to clubs and speaking with other ukulele players but social media is not a bad addition to communication. One of those groups is called Ukulel-itis and there is a question of the day, you've guessed it, on a daily basis.

Occasionally I will make a comment  and this is my comment from yesterday when a question was asked about fingernails...

I have played classical guitar for years and now I generally use a pick with the ukulele if I am bashing out tunes to save my nails. I was initially taught that the nails should be regularly filed to keep them smooth (and they should be, and the best and cheapest way is to use the finest sandpaper which really gets into both sides of the nail) and have a flat end because I should be playing parallel to the strings. Then I was taught that the nails should have a round end like the living part of the nail because finger position changes in relation to the string - and this is how I have kept them for years. If they are too long then the sound becomes tinny and, as Paul Green says, the nail is more likely to break, so I keep index, middle and anular to 2 or 3mms and the thumb maybe a ml or two more. I save my nails for when I need to use them on the ukulele so I avoid a thrash, and this also means no housework and no manual labour of any kind 

It is a public group so you can take a look at all the comments - and you can join the group too!


Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Levy Uke Up

Two days ago I visited the ukulele club in Levenshulme, otherwise known as Levy Uke Up (I should ask how they got their name) and of course there was a warm welcome. It is also an excuse to see my brother who is occasionally in Manchester so this was my third visit of the year.

I had printed out the music for the evening, and this was a dress rehearsal for a performance on Saturday. When I say dress rehearsal I don't know if they have clothes for the stage but we were standing up as if performing. So this evening was about getting the starts right - and the ends - and the bit in the middle. It was also about timing for the whole programme and one or two songs had to be cut. However they may make it back into the schedule when the crowd goes wild and encores are added.

Thanks to Mike for letting me know which music was being played - great bass playing by the way. I printed out this music and I now have a Levy folder which is almost full. Thanks also to Ed for his welcome and for asking if my brother wanted to borrow a ukulele. It looks like he has the same idea as George Harrison and always has a couple of ukuleles with him in case he can play with others.

I'll be seeing Ed in less than two weeks as he is the official photographer at the Grand Northern Ukulele Festival, and I dare say there will be a few more Levy players there too.