Taimane: Greensleeves and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

The holiday period is nearly upon us.  How did it come so soon.  To get everyone in the spirit here is a medley from the wonderful Taimane Gardner and her guitarist friend, Jazzy.  It seems appropriate to have ukulele music played in such a lovely tropical setting, especially as it is summertime in Australia.  Enjoy.

Singing in Ukulele Groups

Singing with a group is different from singing on your own. You must try to harmonise with the other voices, as not everyone can easily sing in the particular key of a song.  It helps if you have had some singing lessons.  Before taking up the Ukulele I learnt to sing a cappella, that is, unaccompanied by an instrument, in a small group class. We learnt how to find our vocal range and to sing different parts in three or four-part harmonies.  It was great experience for singing in a Ukulele group, but anyone can learn to sing in harmony.

It takes practice to hold your part with other singers, but it helps if you sit or stand next to someone with the same vocal range.  Over time and by listening to the other members of the group, you should be able to do this with ease and without damaging your voice by singing out of your range.  It is well worth the effort to persevere with harmony singing and it will give your ukulele group a more integrated sound.

A good way to develop the harmonies for a song is to sing them unaccompanied before bringing in the ukuleles.  You can then tell if they are working and that everyone is in sync before adding the instruments.  This makes for tighter vocals and allows everyone to learn their parts.

I have also noticed that in some larger ukulele groups not everyone plays their instrument when they are singing.  This tones down the volume of multiple ukuleles and makes it easier for the singers to hear their harmonies.  When you are doing tight harmony singing it takes a lot of concentration and it is probably better if you do not have to think about what you are playing at the same time.  Also soloist singers in a group often do not play their ukuleles because they are putting all their effort into the vocals.

A good example of the above technique can be seen in the performances of the Langley Ukulele Ensemble from British Columbia.  They perform beautiful vocal harmonies and vary the numbers of those playing their ukuleles. Below is a video of a performance that they did this year in Hawaii.

So don’t worry if you find it difficult to play the ukulele and sing harmonies simultaneously.  If there are enough ukulele players in the group, it is not detrimental that you do not play your instrument while you are singing  and this can improve the overall sound.


Peter Moss Ukulele Workshop

At the recent Melbourne Ukulele Festival a couple of us did UK player Peter Moss’s “Ukulele Fun Shop” workshop and really enjoyed the experience.  He is a great teacher and everyone was soon doing his medley of Rock n’ Roll songs like old hands.  If you get a chance, make sure you attend one of his workshops as they are most helpful and great fun.  Below is a video of the same workshop that he did in the US in 2015.

Getting the most out of Ukulele Festivals

Going to ukulele festivals is great.  You get to see many different performers and improve your playing technique by doing workshops over several days and in convenient close proximity to one another.  It can be a very inspiring experience but also overwhelming when you have so much choice and new information to absorb.  So how can you get the most out of a ukulele festival?

These days many towns and cities all over the world have their own Ukulele festivals that reflect the culture of that particular region and are great to include on an interstate or overseas trip.  If you cannot for whatever reason travel far to attend a festival, make the most of those in your hometown or nearby locations.  Those easily accessible by car or train can be visited on a day trip if you are unable to stay for the whole festival.

Many festivals offer a discount if you buy advance tickets to several performances.  This is good value if you are able to attend most events over the whole of the festival, but not so good if you can only visit on one day.  In the latter case you would be better to buy individual tickets for the events that you are able to attend.  Many festivals also have plenty of free performances or inexpensive ones that you can go to straight off the street and these are great value.

When faced with a smorgasbord of ukulele workshops it can be difficult to decide which ones would be most beneficial.  I use a process of elimination in deciding which workshops to pick.  If I have done a workshop before then that is automatically rejected.  Secondly I give priority to workshops by overseas performers, as they might not be back to Australia for several years.  Thirdly, I choose a workshop with a subject that I have not done before, that will improve my skill and sounds like fun.  If you are a beginner it would probably be best to start with the types of workshops that cover new chords and various strumming techniques before moving on to more complex subjects, otherwise you may feel lost and frustrated.  You want the experience to be enjoyable.

I find that it is better not to do one workshop straight after another, as it is difficult to assimilate a great amount of new material over a short period of time.  Better to learn a few new things well than to struggle with a large amount of new techniques and possibly get things wrong or forget them altogether.  So choose workshops that are not held consecutively.  A break makes a lot of difference in the prevention of mental fatigue that can hinder your ability to concentrate and retain information.

Take a note pad and write quick notes when you are able during the workshop.  This may sound basic but if there is a lot to learn you may not remember everything correctly.  When given the chance, ask questions to clarify anything that you find confusing.  As soon as possible after you have completed a workshop, sit down and go over what you have learnt to commit the new techniques to your long-term memory.  I found after a blues workshop, the sketchy notes that I had taken allowed me to work out the blues chords, progressions and turnarounds.  It also helps if you attend a workshop with a friend so that you can compare notes and fill in any gaps that you each may have.

Having the opportunity to meet ukulele players from interstate and overseas is another great benefit of festivals.  Often these performers sell their CDs directly to their audience or in the festival market hall.  If you can, have a chat with some of them and buy a CD or a teaching DVD, as these are less expensive at festivals, often hard to find locally and are a great way of hearing more of the performers music and learning something new.  In 2014 a friend and I had the pleasure of having a chat with Jim D’Ville in the market hall of the Melbourne Ukulele festival.  We had been unable to attend his workshop and he generously gave us, and those nearby, a mini talk about his technique of playing by ear.  We wanted to find out more and bought his DVD lessons.  So talk and listen to other players.  It will make your experience that much more interesting and entertaining.

Even if you can attend only one day of a festival you should be able to enjoy many performances, add to your ukulele playing techniques and have a great time.  They are a fantastic community resource.


Bayside Ukes member