Archive | July, 2017

Getting out from under the covers – Gerald Griggs

The Naughty Corner Ukulele Band of which I am one third, play a mixture of original material and covers. To put this balance in perspective for my main point that follows, of the two CDs we have now recorded, 13 tracks are original songs and 10 are covers. As the one who normally puts the draft set list together, the dilemma continues to be how many original songs should we put in our set list when we play live?

Received wisdom from many musicians seems to be that we would do well to do only covers for street busking, weddings and high profile gigs. The logic appears to follow the line that you give the public what they want to make them happy…and that’s not your own material. So when is the right time for it exactly? Tucked away on a CD for a special audience that might somehow appreciate you more?

While I understand the bigger picture point I don’t think I’ve swallowed the argument. If we believe in the songs we write and record then we have to believe they are good enough else why bring them out in to the light? Do people really believe that passers by will suddenly stop putting money in the case because they don’t recognise the song? Our experiences with The Naughty Corner Ukulele Band do not suggest this is true.

The same has been true of recent gigs though wisdom perhaps shows you shouldn’t give them too many original songs in one go in some contexts. In a busy pub who were clearly up for a sing song, personal reflective pieces on childhood nostalgia did raise a knowing smile but they seem to perk up somewhat when they could sing Sweet Caroline back to us at the top of their voices! I guess as with all performances it’s about judging the moment but not I would say at the complete sacrifice of original material. On other other occasions we had people singing and dancing to our own stuff so I know it’s possible even for a uke band.

To finish this brief piece I had an interesting experience recently when we played a wedding and I was asked if I’d discuss the set list with the happy couple to be. They had been listening to our YouTube videos over breakfast that week and wanted to share their thoughts on our efforts. They had gone through every video and noted down which ones they would like us to play if we could (no pressure or expectation) and to my delight, many of these were our original songs! There was something of a raised eyebrow when I took this information back to my other band members, Kevin and David, especially when they highlighted that some of the topics covered were perhaps less than appropriate for a wedding – misery and break ups being cases in point. But encouraged by the comments of the bride and groom we sang songs of break up and loss to them and their wedding party and they loved it!.

As far as we are aware, the happy couple are still together and listening to our first CD that we gave them as a wedding present.

Gerald Griggs
The Naughty Corner Ukulele Band

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Practice Makes… by Harry Parker

You probably completed that title with PERFECT and if you did, along with me and thousands of others, you’d be completely wrong and here’s why. It’s well documented that the way most people practice, whether it’s dancing, acting or playing an instrument, is to practice doing what they already find easy or know how to do and keep repeating that in the belief that they will somehow become quicker, more proficient and the whole thing will become second nature. The bad news is, that’s almost never the outcome. That way of practicing doesn’t make what you’re doing perfect, it makes what you’re doing permanent – it hard wires your bad habits and you practice and learn to keep ‘getting it wrong’.

For over 11 years, with my partner, I’ve been teaching an American Vernacular Swing dance called Balboa in the north of England. As dancers and teachers ourselves we soon learned that the way students become better at what they do is to identify the things they can’t do or don’t do well and work in a very focused and structured way on those things until they get them right. Then – other than occasionally reviewing those new skills and incorporating them in their everyday dancing – they move on to something else they can’t do and learn and practice that. My good friend and International Dance Instructor Bobby White, calls this ‘purposeful practice’ – really concentrating and working at acquiring skills one at a time until you own them. Remarkably, in spite of this knowledge gained from dance, when I took up the ukulele a couple of years ago I learned some chords, adding new ones as I went along, played covers (over and over) in the belief that I would ‘somehow become quicker, more proficient and the whole thing would become second nature.’ Guess what? Yeah, you’re right. That wasn’t the outcome. Moreover, it’s become increasingly clear to me that when you post original music, as we do in this group, it’s really important to perform it well.

Having come to the realisation that the way I was practicing wasn’t turning me into the next James Hill or Jake Shimabukuro, I’ve now, quite recently, begun applying the principle of purposeful practice that I already knew, to the ukulele. Whatever your current level of playing proficiency, you can make real advances in your playing by taking this approach. It’s also important to understand, however, that if you are trying to become the next Jake or Victoria Vox – unless you’re already pretty close to what they do, you’re heading for a lot of frustration and disappointment. You have to identify clearly where you are now so you can measure if you’re getting better. To take a really profound and important example from dance, Mikhail Baryshnikov said: “I do not try to dance better than anyone else. I only try to dance better than myself.” That’s a great thing to aim for in your practice, always striving to be better – tonight, tomorrow, next week, next year – than you are today. In the books ‘Outliers’ (2008) by Malcolm Gladwell and ‘Bounce’ (2010) by Matthew Syed, it’s been argued that to be considered excellent or outstanding at any skill requires around 10,000 hours of very efficient practice. Think about that for a moment: even if you could learn to practice that way, really working at improving your chord repertoire, chord changes, picking, strumming, riffs – at two hours every day without missing – it would take over 13 years! For most of us (especially me age 67), that’s unrealistic so it’s not surprising that relatively few players reach the level of excellent/outstanding. But you can – very definitely – become better than yourself and this is why even though many of you who read this are already more proficient and talented than I am,

I know that if you apply what I’m telling you to your own practice, you’re going to make some outstanding improvements. In my case – having identified where I am now – I’m currently working on my strumming and trying to master some really interesting patterns and rhythms used by Paul Cameron and Matt Hicks, two guys in this group who’ve generously published videos explaining how they do what they do. I’m also working my way (slowly) through Phil Doleman’s excellent book ‘How Music Works on the Ukulele’ I know those things are achievable and at the end of each practice, I can already see and hear my progress. My writing and playing is improving and I’m really getting a lot out of it. Believe me, there is no better feeling than when you forget about feeling inferior to the really outstanding performers because you’re too damn busy feeling great about yourself because you’re better today than you were yesterday.

References: ‘Practice Swing’ (2016) Robert White ‘Outliers The Story Of Success’ (2008) Malcolm Gladwell ‘Bounce The myth of talent and the power of practice’ (2010) Matthew Syed ‘How Music Works On The Ukulele’ (2016) Phil Doleman

 
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OUS – The BIGGER picture and the story so far

When I launched the OUS platform November 2016, the intention was always to make this a global project. One of the reasons for creating the platform was that I noticed that often the ukulele scene, especially in the UK was very territorial, which is often the case for niche music. This can be seen online, in magazine articles and at events, usually (but not always) with a focus on playing cover versions of songs. Uke Magazine to its credit did publish a series of articles and interviews I wrote to show a wider picture than just the same small group of artists, often only from the UK. I am especially pleased with the articles I wrote on the Japanese uke scene and the interviews with the late Bill Collins and master musician Martin Simpson. Both individuals pushed the boundaries of what is possible and I’m my view make the world a far more interesting place. Of course understandably event hosts and magazine editors need to be mindful of commercial considerations to get readers and crucially bums on seats, but such commercial considerations can all too often limit opportunities for artists interested in creating original material.

I always thought that there’s an opportunity for original artists to have a bigger voice. Many artists commented that it was hard to get heard  especially in getting live opportunities. Original artists regardless of talent can often be sidelined and public choice is inevitably limited. Some performers may at their own expense travel hundreds of miles to play a set that can be as little as ten minutes. I’ve received a fair bit of flack for mentioning “the elephant in the room” in terms of some of these issues of course, but I continue to consider such discussions are both healthy and essential. Ultimately of course great music is great music, but I suspect in years to come those performers creating an original body of work will be better remembered than those providing cover versions no matter how entertaining.

There’s of course an understandable enthusiasm for new performers wanting to be seen and heard, This often this means playing for “exposure” also known as playing for free. Professional performers (those who earn a living from music) often lament the fact that hobbyists tend to sometimes limit playing opportunities as they are the cheaper option. Commercial considerations often trump creative considerations and OUS is and always will be a platform to address some of this bias. OUS can be a fair investment in time and income, but its for the love of the music and to give voice original artists on a global scale. I just got back from Japan where I had some great discussions and in 6 weeks I’ll be in the USA for a period, also talking to artists interested in original music. These travels and discussions show a very different picture to the UK, and some of the contrasts are quite striking. In Japan there are in my view many builders who make exceptional instruments of a higher quality than I would generally find in the UK, Europe or USA. The Japanese also retain a love of physical music formats and Tower Records remains one of the last major record stores.

OUS brings together artists from all over the globe and I’m increasingly meeting such artists in real life after initial online connections. Alan Thornton and Bernd Holzhausen are good examples of this and discussions have been very useful. The OUS platform has the advantage of being available 24/7 and the numbers are growing online. My main focus is on the main site and the increasing addition and diversity of global artists who can now all be found in one place. As I predicted in 2014 OUS also polarizes opinion and not everyone loves the idea of more focus on original music. I think the discussion about musical creation is quite healthy and of course the original music of today makes for the cover versions of tomorrow.

I’m currently looking at better live playing opportunities for original artists with particular consideration to those who have supported the platform to date. OUS was always part of a much bigger project and that will continue to unfold in 2018 and 2019, but like all major projects, the devil is in the detail and the success of the platform means taking time to do everything properly and remaining true to the central theme of creative expression.  Special thanks to all those who focus on creating original music and who continue to focus on sharing such material. We now have 85 artists with their own pages on the main site and the FB platform approaches 3000 members. This is of course just the start of something much bigger, but so far, so good…

Warm Regards

Nick Cody

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How to find the right instrument – bernd holzhausen

I want to share my own experience of finding the right instrument. It is a very personal point of view but I want to give an insight in what I found is essential to understand.

 Buying a uke is a very tough journey. You can find hundreds of instruments that somehow do what you want or what you like. But there will be one combination that triggers you all-time. As a beginner in something we tend to buy a cheap instrument which is a bad step. Cheap instruments have always something the player needs to correct while playing. It’s better to go to the lower end of the high prized instruments. So in Ukulele dimensions. Better buy one for 350 than for 30 or 60. When you made your first successful steps you can take a cheap one because your hands and fingers will correct the little errors of the instrument intuitively.

 But what is more important to the instrument is the wood. The tonal abilities that different types of wood offer. To share some personal experiences.  Spruce is very commonly used for singer songwriters cause of it’s easy attack. Soft striking the strings results in immediate resonance of the wood. Clear tone, ringing, high notes as low notes are presented easily. Loud resonance. Mahogany which is often said to be a good wood is different. You have to strike the strings harder, the tone will be very equal whatever you do, but it always will be round in the middle frequencies and low in the high frequencies. So for a solo instrument for playing jazz it could be interesting playing the lower range of the uke up to the seventh fret but everything above that will be hard to hear played live. walnut is similar warm like mahogany but the higher notes are clearer to hear and the overall aspect is very harmonic. ebony for me is not a good material for the Ukulele cause it is not taking the light strikes of the strings. You have to play with a harder approach to get nice results and the tone is very thin somehow.

At the end I myself think Koa or European Amaze is a wood that is the right one for a Ukulele because it is giving a very round overall nice covering of your work on the strings. But that is my personal impression after owning and playing some Ukes.

 In general I would go for a spruce top instrument. Whatever the body is built of. As long as the top is spruce it will represent what you do on the strings in a nice way.

Another aspect is the kinetic effect the wood has if you touch it. The haptic aspect is important. Do your hands love to be in contact with the instrument. Aside that you shoud watch if a high gloss finish is the right thing for you or a natural finsh or even an oiled instrument. 

Does the neck supports your left hand or is there something different or even disturbing. Is your right hand on the right spot. Means is the shape of the Uke supporting your positioning of the arm of the right hand. If you are used to put your pinky finger on the body of an instrument it could be difficult on a cutaway body to do so.

And last but not least. A pickup for amplifying or no. I would say no and yes. Plug the Ukulele in an amp and see what happens to the result of you playing a tune you know very well. You will be astonished. Most Ukulele artists are microphoning the Uke because of the percussive work they do with their right hand.

And the last important thing I had to learn buying and playing a Ukulele is the following. Do I want to hear my ideas played on a Ukulele. It is not unimportant that the instrument you play something on could maybe not be the right instrument for what you want to do. I myself have a harp for these situations and a piano for other situations and a bass for even other situations and I use a tenor guitar for other situations, a tenor ukulele for other situations and a soprano Ukulele to test if something I try to do on my concert Ukulele is a mind bug or really an issue.

After all buying the right instrument is a journey that at least has one aspect you’ll find out after you play your instrument for while. The strings. Nick wrote some interesting articles about that on his blog and even published some youtube videos which are good to view.

So as a fazit I can say: You’ll not buy the first Ukulele, you’ll buy some of them to find the one that suits most of your needs. I doubt that it will be possible to have one that suits all situations you’ll find yourself playing music.

http://nickcody.co.uk/diary/2016/01/kitchen-ukulele-string-test/

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Original Music – Why the Ukulele? by Mike Turner

I’ve been writing, producing and performing original songs for over five years. Virtually all my songs are original composed on, and frequently performed on, the ukulele (tenor and baritone) in both traditional and alternate/open tunings.

I’m frequently asked, “Why the ukulele?” The more I’ve reflected on the answer, the more I realize that my reasons for composing on the uke, are much the same as my reasons for writing original songs. Let me share a few:

* Originality – Obviously, original songs are, well, “original.” But that doesn’t simply mean that they’re “new,” or something that no one ever produced before. In my songs, I seek to tell a story, impart a message, evoke emotion. And I seek to do those things in ways that are extraordinarily personal – to say things from my own, unique point of view and experience, in ways no one else has ever said them before. I believe that’s the goal of all songwriting. By extension, I want the sonic component of my songs to be just as original. Using non-traditional musical instruments is one way to achieve this; and the sound of the ukulele is certainly non-traditional. In performing and recording, I use the uke as my primary instrument, and its higher chordal voicing helps the music to stand apart from music performed in more “traditional” formats like keyboards or guitar/drum combos. The ukulele’s tonal voice adds a unique tonal quality to my songs overall – which helps to highlight their originality.

* Authenticity – I believe that any song or performance, be it of original material or a cover, benefits when invested with something of the true self of the writer and/or performer. If I can put some of my experience or emotion into my songs, listeners will hear that authenticity, and respond to it. I want to show them a part of myself, so they can relate to that and see a part of themselves in the song. The ukulele becomes an extension of that authenticity, injected into the song. I don’t play the ukulele because I have to; I certainly don’t play the ukulele because it’s what people expect when they come to hear my blues, or folk, or gospel songs. I play the ukulele because, for whatever reason, it’s the instrument that has opened up music to me. I tried guitar, I tried banjo, I tried harmonica, and I had a limited degree of proficiency with all of them. But I took to the ukulele like no other instrument, and while I won’t claim to be a great player, I’ve not only developed a degree of technical proficiency, but also some strum and picking techniques that are particularly my own. I think that flows into the songs as I write and perform them, and listeners can sense that authenticity. They can tell it’s a part of me that I’ve really put into my music, and they respond to it – and that responsiveness is key to my hopes of relating the story, message and emotion I set out to convey.

* Uniqueness – I’ve already alluded to this, but the ukulele has a very unique chordal voice, different from the typical guitar/drum or keyboard that listeners are conditioned to hear in the blues, folk and gospel songs I write and perform. It’s a particularly good contrast from my other main instrument: my voice, which runs from a low- to mid-baritone (and I can hit a few deep bass notes on occasion, which doesn’t hurt when I’m doing my Johnny Cash impersonation!). I’ve found that the combination of 6-string guitar and my voice is a LOT of bass, both performing live and recording. The uke’s higher voice provides a nice contrast and a more rounded sonic experience for the listener, particularly when I’m performing solo. I also tend to write/sing a number of songs in the keys of A and Bb, which are great keys for the ukulele (thank goodness for capos!).

* Musical Choices – The ukulele has a great voice for a wide range of genres – from blues to folk, gospel, pop, rock, Americana, jazz. Granted, the guitar covers similar ground – but I find the ukulele easier to play, and more advanced chords (particularly in jazz genres) easier to form. That’s a great aid both in writing and performing. And my experience has been, once audiences get over the initial surprise over seeing me holding a ukulele instead of a guitar, they also appreciate the contributions the instrument makes to their sonic experience.

To sum up – I believe that as songwriters we all quest to be original, authentic and unique. The ukulele is a valuable tool in achieving those goals, and lends itself to a wide range of musical genres. In the end, as both a writer and performer, I’m trying to effectively tell a story, give a message and stir emotions in my listeners – and the ukulele is a part of the process and performance of achieving those musical goals

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Bíró Balázs

Hi, i am Balázs Bíró from Hungary, ukulele player, songwriter (with 2 ukulele album). just wanted to invite you to check out my original ukulele music (Facebook and Youtube too) and if find it good, leave me your opinion about it. And of course i would like to ask you to share it as you want. Do you write about ukulele players in online platforms? If you interested in ukulele music from Hungary, have to check me (im the first player who published an ukulele album in Hungary as i know). Thank you!
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Would I like my own music? – Bernd Holzhausen

As I started to think about writing songs, while writing a poem, I sat in a park on a bench. On the other side was a poem in French painted on a bench. My French is really bad, cause after learning it at school I never used it but after some minutes I was able to translate it. It was more or less similar like a poem I wrote years before where I was with a Venezuelan girl. And it was about wind, sky, feelings. I feel like a flower in the wind and you are the wind to me.

But the hell, when I write things like that and I feel like that why am I listening to all that music in the radio or on tv. I stopped listening in those days and started to listen newly.

Again Tom Waits jumped on my mind stage and I listened to his music, then French chanson singers, like Edith Piaf, and folk music from old times, like medieval songs or songs from the 20s and 30s and the translation to these lyrics where important to me. So I read them and started to write my first stumbling lyrics for my own songs. Then I read about Bob Dylan where he said something like: find your own flow. So I started to try. First on the bass guitar which was really hard doing it, cause I wasn’t able to speak or sing playing bass guitar. Something that I never overcame all the years. So the uke came on my stage and I learned to play. Until today sometimes the uke is a bass to me, while playing. But it never stopped me singing or speaking to what I want to do. After writing songs and listen to my songs I asked myself if I would listen to my own music.

Nowadays I would answer YES, but in the beginning I said NO. I think it is important to make recordings of yourself doing the music and singing or speaking to be able to correct your lyrics, your intonation on the instrument and the flow you are in. Listening to my music gave me somehow the understanding of my approach to swing, to stomp with the uke, to sing so that the instrument is grabbing attention cause of its percussive approach aside the notes and my voice is doing what I know it can do. I listened again to the recordings and found that the percussive approach isn’t hearable on the recording. So I performed with a microphone that took the percussion too. And see there I was listening to myself and smiling.

Writing music starts that I became a listener to the lyrics of others songs. And it opened a dimension to listen to music that I didn’t know I would like to listen to. In my case as I bound myself to German lyrics I find myself listening to old German folk songs and really find inspirations in doing that.

I learned to like music newly and every time I listen to something I learn to explore my own songs differently.

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Meghan Cristeen Martin

If Patsy Cline played ukulele this is what it would sound like.

Meghan Cristeen Martin’s voice is an instrument within itself. The ukulele is Meghan’s accompaniment and in recent weeks, Caleb Hawkins. Meghan began her ukulele journey at The Ukulele World Congress in Needmore, Indiana. After performing for the first time in 2014, Meghan has since performed at several venues across the Midwest. Although her songwriting and vocal roots lean towards classic country music, Meghan hopes to dip into different genres as well.

A haunting voice, a ukulele style unique to her own, and a woman who writes what she feels is real, heartfelt, and true.

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Feedback Thoughts – by Sean Hunt

Sean Hunt is a retired ex psychologist living in The Lakes District in England. He has been embarking on a new ‘Third Age’ vocational direction as a Poet, Lyricist, Songwriter, Ukulele Band Member for a number of years. He describes himself as primarily a musically-challenged lyricist.

His principal influence has been Leonard Cohen and he is often accused of a similar ‘darkness’ as his lyrics tend to investigate impermanence, hedonism, suffering, the nature of the mind, and the deceptive nature of reality.

He has been an active (sometimes too active) member of O.U.S. probably since shortly after it started.

FEEDBACK

I think feedback is a rather large issue in ‘Original Ukulele Songs’ our strange cyber-jam-space. Over the few years I have been involved submitting posts, sharing, baring my musical and poetical soul I have received a lot of feedback which has been very helpful. The feedback process itself, though limited has guided me in identifying areas of improvement. In a way this process is organic, not well-defined, and often appears tentative. Since I have not been savaged by any intentionally hurtful feedback, generally I would have to say this is a safe place to ‘bare your musical soul’ and that it works quite well, in spite of some limitations. I realize very well that my personal musical limitations have made many of my postings potential targets for such responses. Youtube for example occasionally invites self-indulgent nasties to try their best to ruin someone’s day by making hurtful comments.

I don’t know if any of the limitations in O.U.S. feedback can be altered without increasing some of the risks. There seems to be a ‘political correctness’ principle at play which works well. There are unwritten rules and principles for feedback which people seem to adhere to. I must admit that I may be making assumptions here because there is the possibility that hurtful or cruel feedback has been culled by the administrators before doing any damage.

Present Feedback Mechanism:

– ‘Likes’ or ‘Loves’
– ‘Non-Response’ I often impute indifference or dislike, especially if I know the person and have had consistent feedback from them previously (I know this response also because I use it myself)
– The optional creative succinct comment about a particular aspect of the posting, one’s voice, playing, the lyrics, the video/audio quality, the rhythm, etc.
– A potential favorable comparison with a successful player/singer
– Potential sharing or posting of one’s song (a high compliment)
– Potential cover of your original song (always a high compliment)
– Potential invitation to submit an application for the OUS ‘Artists Page’
– Potential invitations to ‘Gig’ perform publicly through this network of performers (This happens a fair bit, I imagine)

Alternative Feedback / Supplementary Feedback

This section presents only questions and suggestions, I do not pretend to posit answers or solutions. My intention is only to encourage some contemplation and dialogue. This may or may not lead to change. My hope is mainly that this little article stimulates some thinking on the general issue of feedback and that it is helpful to us individually. Whether or not it leads to any alterations to the ‘Feedback Mechanism’ is not that relevant to me.

I did wonder what might supplemental or alternative feedback look like if there were any. My initial response was to design an inclusive ‘Form’ that covered all the areas. I did come up with a few and it was a helpful process but I soon realized that it would be a cumbersome process and time-consuming. In our modern fast-paced world we measure our activities in nanoseconds and automatically reject anything that is cumbersome and eats up our valuable time.

My next thought was that what would be ideal would be a more exhaustive Facebook response system, instead of one-click ‘Like’ there could be one- click likes for songwriter categories … lyrics, melody, rhythm, vocals, instrumentals etc. or a one-click response for ‘Could Use Improvement’ in the same range of categories. This kind of feedback system would be optional, quick, elective and succinct.

I realized immediately that Facebook is set up as a generic system and these kinds of modifications are probably impossible today (maybe in the future).

My next thought was that a more extensive Feedback system would probably need to be presented in a private web page, and some kind of link would need to be made between the Facebook postings and that external Website that could extend the Cyber-Jam community and therefore enhance the feedback system.

So, what seemed to be a simple issue ‘Feedback’ is actually much more complex. What we have works. If we wanted anything different we would need to integrate the concept into a new ‘Platform’ or a new ‘Platform’ enhancement.

In summary, as I said previously, I think the Feedback system is safe and helpful. It could be improved. Probably it will be improved. This will take time and careful consideration.

Any thoughts?

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