Thursday, 22 September 2016


I teach ukulele and guitar in primary schools, I teach on a one-to-one basis and I also lead two adult groups. I've also taught adults in four-week courses, sometimes for beginners and sometimes they are more advanced. Yesterday I began a four-week course for a mixed-ability group. I didn't ask for any feedback, I've never asked for feedback, but I have received some today and had to share them as my head isn't big enough already :-)

The class was amazing and he is an amazing teacher!!  I learned a lot and now have to change the way I have been doing everything as I can see I have a lot of bad habits that will be difficult to break!  Although he is very open and accepting of whatever and says there is nothing he would consider the wrong way!  It's just if you do it 'right' I think you might play better in the long run!

He also has incredible energy and he taught a lot in an hour.  Maybe  abit too much as I couldn't take it all on board but mostly I got it. Certainly more than I thought it would be and much much better. I will move heaven and earth to do the next 4 weeks!

 It was great and I think that was the general sentiment. I take back the earlier concern it might be too basic. Also I was thinking it would be good to continue to the next level after the 4 weeks.

Last night's lesson was very good. We covered quite a lot of the basics and came away with some exercises to do. 

Although I can do a basic strum ok I already feel I learned a bit more about the different ways to play and how they affect the end result on the sound of the tune. 

The lesson was quite fast moving but I think both of the absolute beginners managed ok, I hope so. I certainly came away feeling I had learned several new to get practicing those exercises. 

I know I am going to benefit from them and will probably be interested in continuing them later.


Monday, 27 June 2016

Weird and Wonderful Memory Techniques

I teach a couple of adult ukulele groups as well as going into schools and teaching on a one-to-one basis. A couple of weeks ago I set one person the task of learning the chord sequence for Pachelbel's Canon. One week later they had learned it. Unfortunately he couldn't remember the first chord.

You can see the chord sequence and the tab for a few ukulele variation at!pachelbels-canon/tt3oq
It isn't too difficult to learn eight chords but it takes some effort and even when you know it you might forget  the first chord. So it was then that I set about using memory techniques for chord sequences. We spent five minutes talking about a weird and wonderful story, so bear with me.

You are lying in the sea, the sun is blazing down and the there is a calmness to the waters, but you are in the sea. Your first chord is C. A giraffe is walking on the water towards you and a giraffe begins with g so the next chord is G. There is a jockey on the giraffe but it is a actually a miner, and you can tell because they are dressed like a miner complete with miner's lamp. The next chord is Am. The miner doesn't need to hold on to reins but can eat a full English breakfast, in particular he is eating one egg which is a minor part of the breakfast. Egg minor means the next chord is Em. He is thinking about his favourite football club (FC) and their ground (FG).

The chord sequence is C G Am Em F C F G and in the space of five minutes I have had classes of primary school children playing the chord sequence for Pachelbel's Canon, and you can hear lots of other tunes there including Streets of London. There is a nice riff to Marguerita Time by Status Quo and you can transfer a lot of your new-found memory skills to play this riff. I'll put this music on my website in the near future and you'll see the pattern.

The best moments for me in the last couple of weeks have been when someone has come in and not heard any of the story but they see someone playing the chord sequence that they couldn't play five minutes earlier.


Sunday, 1 May 2016

A Typical Ukulele Week

So much is going on with ukuleles and I have posted so little! Today (and every Sunday) the Garstang Ukulele Group met. Yesterday I played with the Morecambe Ukulele Club in the morning and in the afternoon we played at the Kirkby Lonsdale Music Festival. I wish I'd taken a photo of the programme because we were top or the bill. In fact we were performing first. Morecambe Ukulele Club is the Status Quo (Live Aid) of Kirkby Lonsdale!

Thursday evening, as usual was spent with the Arnside Ukulele Group and there are a smaller number from this group who stay after nine, called, unsurprisingly, the After Nine Group and the music we play here is quite a high standard.

The ukulele took it's place on Monday and Tuesday too, and there were lots of other reasons to play ukulele in the rest of the week but I'll just mention Wednesday. It was on Wednesday that I went with another two-fifths of Ukulele Jukebox to play at Garstang Unplugged at the Kenlis Arms. It was my first time at this event but I'm sure I'll be there again because of their very warm welcome, and we were photographed so I do some evidence that I play the ukulele...


Photo courtesy of Garstang Unplugged

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Croydon Ukulele Festival

I know I don't post regularly on this blog but I do have a weekly Song of the Week on Facebook. However as I have just visited the Croydon Ukulele Festival I thought you might like a summary...

Croydon Ukulele Festival

I was initially interested in coming to the festival because of the headline acts. I have seen Phil Doleman as he is probably the UK’s top ukulele attraction. However my main reason for booking was because I hadn’t seen Jo Stephenson or Elliot Mason. Both were great. It was worth coming down from Morecambe for the three headline acts and this was helped by the intimate atmosphere of the Oval Tavern.

I had not seen the programme until a couple of weeks prior to the festival. I had guessed there would be opportunities for playing the ukulele and there were plenty. I thought I knew most songs that are sung by ukulele groups but it was good to find quite a few that I didn’t. Again it was the intimate atmosphere (of the Green Dragon) and Carol’s friendly strumalong leadership that brought out the best in ukulele playing – not to mention Neil’s professional sound engineering and computer skills.

The cost was a big factor for me. The hotel was not expensive and neither were food prices. I had a central location and walking between venues was easy. Workshops were mostly free and one was £3.50 which is on the low side even if a club is organising it. At major festivals you would be more likely to pay £15 or £20 for a similar workshop.

I was pleased to see Paul Redfern’s first solo gig. He has a great act and has an extensive knowledge of the ukulele.  I was also really impressed by the performances by the local clubs. The three groups were superb. I have seen the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain and noticed many similarities particularly with the Brockley Group.

The weekend’s schedule was quite full but I did manage to visit Croydon’s museum and got to know the town because of the two main venues and the mass busk in the main shopping centre.
I can only think of one negative and that was the price of parking. I usually park for free wherever I go but parking for two days in Croydon cost me £26. Maybe this isn’t much for many people but it’s £26 more than nothing.

I met some really nice people and I’m sure paths will cross again and I will look forward to it when they do. Thanks must go to the efforts of those who organised the event. Well done. I probably got as much out of the Croydon ukulele festival as any other festival I’ve ever been to, and the the savings I made in the costs of the hotel and festival allowed me to buy a Noah ukulele!

P.S. If you book Merry Hell or Ukulele Jukebox I will definitely be there in 2017.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Ukulele Inspiration

I remember learning the guitar at school and anyone who had learned a new riff would share it with their guitar playing friends. I picked up many tunes like this and it is a great way to learn. Well I meet many ukulele players but I read about many more on the internet and there are so many players willing to give their advice. If you can find a song or even just a short instrumental section of a song then this may inspire you to learn more.

I have a website and each week I write  a 'song of the week'. It may not be a whole song (and it usually isn't) but it may inspire you to play more ukulele. This week's song of the week is the first theme from Chariots of fire. Take a look - you may be inspired.!chariots-of-fire/hfac9

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Ukulele Group Strumming

I was recently asked in an email if I had any advice about strumming patterns for groups of people who are learning to play the ukulele. I thought I'd share those thoughts here...

I would take any tune and if there are two or three people out of twenty who can't get the chord changes then live with it and they could just play one chord whenever it comes up. (we have one or two people in one of my groups who just play one or two chords at times and they are happy just to participate). If there are more than 50% who struggle with the chord changes then you need to simplify the lesson. You can pick a tune with chords that are held for longer or you can amend the chord structure of that particular tune.

Let's say it has two bars of each chord C Am F and G. Get them to play four bars of each and see if they can manage to get to all the new chords before they have to move on to the next chord. Then see if they can manage two bars of each chord but at a slower tempo. Individual confidence will grow when they are able to take part with the whole group either with slower changes of chord or a slower tempo. Try increasing the tempo with four bars of each chord. Then slow the tempo down for two-bar changes. Then work to one-bar and then to two beat-changes.

I feel that group strumming is about taking the majority with you and finding the tunes that they can play but using stuff like changing the number of bars and the tempo as an exercise will let them know they can play to their limit and then they can extend their limit.

I was going through strumming patterns yesterday with one primary school who are doing a war medley. I got them emphasising the first beat in the bar, then the second and fourth beats and a few other variations. With Run Rabbit Run, when we got to 'bang bang bang, goes the farmer's gun' they emphasised beats 1,2 and 3. I've never really found strumming patterns  to be a problem but if there is anything fancy then they may have to be taught.

As for the more advanced players, they can be playing an intro or an outro or an instrumental verse. That will keep them busy and happy. You will always have some players that are better than others but isn't it great that ukulele clubs  are all inclusive :-)