Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Art of Tuning The Ukulele Part #1

This is an article about Tuning The Ukulele To D6, C6 and Bb Major 6th

As the ukulele revival moves forward, I have long felt that a basic review of some of the standard ukulele tunings would benefit many of my readers.

While history notes that the Portuguese often tuned their instruments in C tuning. by the mid-1920's D tuning had become the standard and my own sheet music collection, supports this claim with published pieces dating back as early as 1917.

Most scores of the day, in D tuning would include the tuning notes and chord diagrams, placed above their respective lyrics, for the general public's self-accompaniment.

Advertising for the sheet music industry, makes it clear that ukuleles were not only big business but also a primary vehicle for the masses to strum along with the hit parade.

My pal Dan Scanlan has a nice posting about the Ukulele's Evolution and its related tunings circa 2004, which might be a nice supplement to this blog post.

http://www.coolhanduke.com/history.html 

Dan cites May Singhi Breen as one of the main proponents to popularize D Tuning and this is the first i have heard of this claim. I want to know more! I am not sure i would credit
her entirely. But none-the-less, she was in fact a very important link in the first wave
ukulele revival.

Thus, in the early days of the ukulele's rise towards popularity, it was primarily tuned: A-D-F#-B, otherwise known as The D Major 6th tuning.  In other words, when you strum the strings open, it rings out as a D Major 6th Chord.

For those of you used to using C Tuning (G-C-E-A), what this means, is that every chord shape you know, goes up one whole step from C to D. 

Thus your C chord shape becomes a D, F becomes a G, G becomes an A and so on, and so on.

This tuning really sparkles on the soprano and concert size ukuleles and was the primary catalyst for strumming in the heyday of the Hawaiian, Vaudeville and Broadway Era.

Today, many players like James Hill, Aaron Keim, Bob Brozman (the late), Del Rey and many others regularly use the D tuning and prefer its "brighter sound" to that of C tuning. Things really seem to pop when you play them in D tuning, especially if you are used to C tuning.

A good way to ease into D Tuning, if you aren't already used to it, is  to keep one of your ukuleles in C and one in D. That way you can mess around with both and not feel bound by the act of having to re-tune all the time. (Is there anyone who doesn't own more than one ukulele? Duh!)

On a personal note, players like myself, John Nicholson, The Canotes, Aaron Keim,
Ken Middleton and many other traditional players prefer the D Tuning when
playing fiddle tunes on the ukulele. Since most fiddlers prefer to play in D, G and A,
you'll want to maximize use of the open strings and positions which D tuning can offer.

For Fiddle Tunes in the key of G, i might use C Tuning so i can access the high G string and play claw-hammer off the G chord shapes. So you see, there is a method to this
madness and every good player, learns to utilize many different tunings, so they have
them at their disposal when arranging a new piece of music.  Trial and error is the
best teacher for this sort of thing and exploration breeds innovation, as you come
to see what works and what doesn't with this regard.

The Ukulele Hall of Fame offers this free public domain chart of the D Tuning chord
forms and you'll also find the C tuned chord link as well, both available for download.

As a reference, you might find it helpful to follow this link to see a nice D Tuning Chord Chart: 
 http://www.ukulele.org/?Downloads  

Other links for D Tuned Chord Charts include:
Ukulele Boogaloo's: http://www.alligatorboogaloo.com/uke/chords/chords-ADFB.html
Ukulele-Arts: http://www.ukulele-arts.com/die-ukulele/chord-tables/?lang=en
UkuChords.com:  http://ukuchords.com/ukulele-chord-charts/

Chord Creation Software: http://www.chordwizard.com/gold.aspx

Lastly, i highly recommend that all of you smart phone users, download a Ukulele Chord
Finder App for your smart phone. It makes things really handy and convenient when you
are on the go and need to look up a chord shape on the fly.

Here are a few you can check out:

Chord Apps: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/uchord-ukulele-chord-finder/id564189732?mt=8
Ukulele Companion: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/ukulele-companion/id447292169?mt=8
Uke Master: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ojYMoCI1KmM


The Canadians tune their ukuleles to D Tuning and it is a part of their national grade
school curriculum for music education. This has its roots in Chalmer's Doane, whose
own legacy is rooted in the influence of Roy Smeck and the romantic influence of
vaudeville ukulele style and tunings, most of which gravitated towards D tuning.

Today, my mainland compatriots are locked into C tuning, my books and most of the
ukulele histeria is printed in C tuning and since about the 1950's it has come to
proliferate amongst American and U.K players.

C Tuning offers a sweet, lilting sound, not quite as bright or brash as D
Tuning, and this too has its pluses and minuses.

C Tuning, allows the strings to relax a bit and as a result of the minimal string tension,
strumming is mellow and easy on the fingers. C Tuning supports the voice well and makes
for a good home key to support the voice.

C tuning is: G-C-E-A

Another Tuning that i like to use is called: Bb or Bb Major 6th tuning, which is: F-Bb-D-G

I love this tuning, as a performer i might want to utilize various chords positions and their
related keys to better suit my voice in an arrangement. By having a C, D and Bb tuned
ukulele handy, i can make those kind of choices as to which chord shapes compliment my arrangement and voice the best.

If you are happy strumming in C, no need to change, but you might have fun messing
around with some of these. Instrumentalists would do well to explore the possibilities
that these tunings offer when arranging highly melodic pieces.

Bonus Tuning:  For those of you wanting to explore either fiddle tunes or slide on
the ukulele, you might consider simply trying G-C-E-G. Its great for playing glass or
ceramic slide with the ukulele's nylon strings or for coaxing a banjo friendly tuning out
of the ukulele when playing claw-hammer ukulele.

I hope your dog has fleas!

Lil Rev
www.lilrev.com 

PS: If you are totally new to tuning the ukulele, here are a couple of helpful sites & videos:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-uWfTmAQf4
http://ukutuner.com/
http://www.wikihow.com/Tune-a-Ukulele


                               Why Tune 6 strings, when you can tune just 4?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Skype Lessons

Lil Rev is now taking students over the winter for private home (in Milwaukee, WI) 
Or Skype lessons.

My fee is $50 for a one hour lesson.

I can also be reached at: lilrev@lilrev.com


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Jam Etiquette

Recently, I had the great pleasure of attending a big ukulele festival in Canada.

While at this festival I witnessed a few things which encouraged me to write this
Post. 

For many beginning and Intermediate 
Jammers, lessons can be hard won, as no one has ever told them how to jam
Or that there is an etiquette which lends itself to playing well with others.

As with most music festivals, be they folk, blues, bluegrass or dance camps, the opportunity to jam with others is a huge draw for most attendees.

 All jam sessions are not created equal.

The ones when everything goes right, can often live on in the memory books for years to come.

For every great jam that I have taken part in, I have witnessed 2 or 3 mediocre jams or failed jams.

Before I tell you what makes a jam successful let me first mention a couple of common pitfalls that can really sidetrack the best way-laid intentions.

1) one strong leader who doesn't know how to share the load. While many people appreciate his willingness to lead the group, he should be empowering others to step up and lead a song or two 
In order to keep things moving along.

Think about what a healthy Democracy looks like to you and that's what a good jam should feel like.

2) Sometimes a small circle of talented musicians will hijack the direction of the jam and often they'll start playing tunes that are too complicated for the majority of the participants. 

These are folks who aren't thinking about whats good for the group as a whole.

I see this happen alot with Uke players who like to play standards. 

Sure everyone knows Five Foot Two and All of Me, but you'll loose em right quick with Stardust and Dream A Little Dream.

This often happens at old time and bluegrass jams when the big boys start playing obscure fiddle tunes that no one else knows. It leaves others feeling left out since most can't figure out melodies right on the spot.

The goal should be to find tunes or songs that everyone knows well or songs that are fun and easy to pick up which are 2, 3, 4, and occasionally 5 chord tunes, with the vast majority being 3 chord songs.

Many jammers need to learn how to play by ear and transpose among other things that might otherwise make it hard for them to jump right in on a song without sheet music in front of them. 

Most are comfortable with the keys of: F, C, G, D and A.

3) Cutting others off or publicly criticizing others delivery. Yep! I have seen this more times then I care to mention. Hard to believe I know; but egos know no bounds when it comes to jams and many beginners walk on egg-shells, they are fragile, and already insecure about the notion of whether they are good enough, it doesn't take much to discourage them.

So it's our job to see to it that a positive jam stays uplifting and doesn't regress into anarchy.

Often, what will happen is someone will start a tune then another will jump in and cut the other person off or Segway into a different tune without a courteous transition.

Here's how you'll know you are at a good jam:

1) People take turns leading songs.

(No one likes a song-circle bogart!)

2) Those leading songs will call out the titles, keys and chords before starting a tune.

3) The group will sit in a circle where everyone can see each other and eye contact is obvious amongst players.

4) Jam speed is compatible with the skill level of the given group.

5) Those who have instrumental skills are encouraged to take solos but no one is put on the spot too often or asked to play something outside their skill level.

No one is told to take it, when they are obviously not soloists.

Even good pickers don't always want to be called on to solo constantly.

6) jammers network and share resources with one another.

7) When a song is started the leader will count it off so everyone can come in at the same time. Likewise, when a song is coming to an end the leader puts his or her foot up in the air or indicates in some verbal or non-verbal manner that the song is coming to an end.

 The Bottom line is, If you are watching the song leader, generally, you'll know when the song is going to end.

8) When someone takes a solo, the group as a whole shall quiet down so that the solo can be heard. 

9) Talking amongst non-jammers shall be a whisper or unheard. A jam is a place where we come forth to sing, listen, play along with others and generally practice learning how to be a good musician. 

If non-jammers are talking loudly during a song kindly ask them to quiet down or move along.

10) While jams are often the place that beg for time tested favorites, new songs are welcome if they are presented in the right way...

A) Give the key, style, title, chords.
B) Tell folks something about the tune that might interest them. 
C) If the song has a singable chorus or bridge, start by teaching that first so everyone has a vested interest.
D) keep it simple.
E) humorous songs are always welcome.

11) If there are kids, try to include them, encourage them, and keep the choice of material clean. 

12) In a good Jam, members are encouraging of one another and often
Complimentary of one another's delivery.

We all like to be told that we did a good job. Why not help instill in others a sense 
Of confidence and a willingness to continue on their path as we all seek to play well with others.

Alright! Go forth and jam!

Lil Rev
www.lilrev.com

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Touring PA & NC

Dear friends 

In mid November I will be touring PA & NC.

 My tour will take me from Altoona and Pittsburgh to Durham and Wilmington in NC. 

To that end, I will be presenting a Jewish program, my scraps of quilting music show and a number of ukulele workshops and concerts to boot.

For more info please visit: www.lilrev.com 

Hope to see you soon,

Lil Rev 
www.lilrev.com

Friday, August 2, 2013

Tour of Nebraska & Kansas

Hello Friends,

The month of August finds me back out on the Great Plains.

After a long absence to this part of the country I have been hired to do an artist in
residency for the City of Papillon's Recreation Department (Omaha, NE).

Over the course of a week i will present a number of concerts and workshops for kids,
seniors and local ukulele players. Following my stay in Papillon, i will swing over to
Kansas City on Sunday August 4th for a concert and workshop in conjunction with the
Kansas City Ukulele Community.

For more details on this tour, please visit my calendar at: www.lilrev.com

This trip is a welcome return, since I have spent many-a-year touring the KC, Lawrence,
Shawnee, Omaha area. I simply love the areas expansive plains and wide open vistas.  To
this humble Midwestern soul, it's where the West and all of its rich lore,
truly begins.

Something stirs in me when i am out here, and a poetic murmur beats gently in
my heart as a strong sense of American freedom always feels more defined in these
places where i can see the horizon without having to look at a 100 bill-boards or a
metropolis of concrete.

Go west young man might have meant something else long ago when gold
fever first struck, but it lives on in the hearts and minds of troubadours
like me who relish the chance to traverse a landscape that holds so much collective
folk-lore; and from this poems, songs, stories and quiet contemplation is born.

So here i am for but a moment, a troubadour rambling out on the high plains!

Then in the wink of an eye, i return to my honey and babe back in the beer city!

Adios Amigo,

Lil Rev

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Ashoken Ukulele Retreat

Dear friends,

This year is shaping up to be stellar year for music camps, retreats and of course ukulele gatherings.

I am particularly excited about one such event: The Ashoken Ukulele Camp to be held July 4th thru the 7th in the beautiful Catskill Mountains of New York State.

This event will feature dance, music instruction, open mic, jamming, workshops, Q & A periods, and a unique opportunity to spend some quality time with some of the best ukulele instructors in the nation including: James Hill, Gerald Ross, Cathy Fink, Marcy Marxer, Lil Rev and Ruthy Ungar.

 Again, here is the link: http://www.ashokan.org/ukefest/

Hope to see you there!

Lil Rev
www.lilrev.com
                                                  Artwork: Steven Einhorn (C) 2011



Thursday, May 23, 2013

Fountain of Uke Interview W/ Dan Scanlan AKA: Cool Hand Uke

                                       Lil Rev in Concert at the home of Dan & Joan Scanlan circa 2013
                                              Dan's sitting in and tearing it up!


When I first met Dan Scanlan some years back out on the festival circuit, I didn't know
much about him. As the hands of time wore on, Dan and I began to find ourselves
picking and grinning at ukulele festivals all over North America.

Eventually my winter tours led me right up to Dan's doorstep, where he was gracious
enough to host a house concert for me and welcome in my wife, daughter and I for a
few days of much needed R & R.

What struck me about Dan first and foremost was Dan's lack of pretense,
and a well grounded sense of humility.

Here was a guy who had been playing the ukulele for over 50 years, had traveled
the world in search of its roots, had a deep and abiding respect (and knowledge)
and love for the ukuleles humble history.

To understand Dan, is to know a man of who has worn many hats.

He is, was or continues to be a mechanic, activist, folk singer, rocker, lover,
dad, community song leader, chicken coop guru, music historian, uke club leader,
husband and father.

While many of us are out on the road paying dues, This is a man who has long
since earned his stamps and i look for fellas like Dan, who continue to hold the lantern
up high, so that the rest of us might see the road ahead on those dimly lit nights.

Don't get me wrong, Dan is no old timer! His spirit is playful and alive, always at
the ready with poem, song, story or simply to lend a hand. If you still didn't get my point,
let me put it this way, Dan has seen a whole hell of alot more than most of us ukulele revival young'ins and in an era when the Bill Tapias, Travis Harrelson's and
Elder-statesmen and women of the uke are passing on, its' the Dan Scanlan's of
this world who will step up to hold the mantel high! You can trust that the ukulele is
in good hands with Dan.

Another words, Dan has alot to share if you are willing to forget about all the things
you have to do and spend a few moments. In doing so, you'll delight in a grab-bag of
ukulele stories, legend, lore and song. One moment Dan is singing one of his own
political songs like"Its a shame! Its a crime, they ought to be doing time." and the next
he's knocking down a killer Beatles tune like Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.

Dan has a vast repertoire that spans all the years of American Popular Music
from Broadway, Folk, Bluegrass and Country to Rock n Roll and his own
original tunes!

His strumming and playing style is strong, sturdy and rock solid, with slides,
glissando's, taps, triplets, tremolo and a two finger solo picking style that is
highly effective.

Should you ever get a chance to study with, hang out, listen to or trade licks with
Dan Scanlan, you'll discover what I found; that Dan is an important link in the chain
of life and today's ukulele revival.

Today Dan leads a group out of Grass Valley, CA called the Strum Bums, writes
instructional books, teaches lessons, tours and soaks up the joy of life along the
Yuba River!

Dan has many fine recordings out and is also a featured performer/interviewee, in the
international hit documentary: Mighty Uke

Dan's Site is: http://www.coolhanduke.com/

Dan's Strum Bum Group: http://www.coolhanduke.com/strumbums.html





The F.0.U. Interview W/ Dan (Feb. 2013 -Rev's Winter Tour):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4QsUal5awSg


(C) 2013 Lil Rev/Fountain of Uke Blog