There’s More than One Way to do a Ukulele Song

In a ukulele group there is always a lot of debate about how to do a particular song.  Some people think that imitating the original version is the only way to go, while others have their favourite cover version that they like better.  Personally, I think that there is no right or wrong way to do a song, but as so many ukulele groups use identical song books and perform the same songs, I believe that a group should do it’s own arrangements.  If everyone did things the same way it would be a very boring world.

Coming from a visual art background, I have learnt that it is more creative to develop your own individual form of self-expression.  If you painted like Picasso or Monet it would hardly be your own take on the world.  The same goes for performing songs.  Unless you are a very good impersonator, nobody sounds the same vocally or has the same playing style as the original artist, so why try to replicate that version.  Here is where a group needs to forget about the original and play around to find a way that enhances their own sound and gives some room for creativity.

A good example of this is The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain’s version of Wuthering Heights by Kate Bush.  As a man, George Hinchcliffe has hardly the singing style of Kate Bush, yet he does a wonderful jazzy version of her song that suits his voice, uses the unique sound of the ukulele to full advantage and injects it with the personalities of the group’s members.  It just shows that a great song allows so many possibilities for interpretation.

A song with a solo vocalist is also going to sound completely different when done by a large number of singers.  If everyone sings the same melody together it could sound very monotonous and possibly messy, which will not add anything to the performance.  This is where it pays to rearrange the vocals for a group.  For instance, when The Langley Ukulele Ensemble did a ukulele take on Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl, the male ukulele players sang the main vocal together then combined in harmony with the female players.  One member did a ukulele solo, while the others strummed and picked the rhythm.  Their performance has great clarity and is very appealing.  The arrangement makes the most of the large number of performers and enhances their particular sound.

So experiment with a song.  Change it to suit the particular voices in the group, whether male of female.  This can include altering the key and tempo, as well as introducing various harmonies.  With the ukuleles you can change the rhythm patterns or do combinations of compatible strums, and create fingerpicking parts.  The ukulele is never going to sound the same as a guitar so work with its particular feel good tone.  Don’t be afraid to leave out solos meant for guitar, or if there is a member who feels confident with these, they can do a ukulele solo.  The possibilities are endless.

Of course as you gain experience it becomes easier to do your own arrangements.  You can start with something simple, like tempo, whether slowing a song down or speeding it up. The main thing is to have an open mind and a willingness to give it a go.  If you have trouble, get together with someone else in the group.  Two heads are better than one.

Don’t be stuck in a rut or a slave to convention.  Try to be as innovative as you can and stamp a song with your group’s unique personality.  It will be that much more enjoyable to play and your audience will thank you.

Kat

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Ukulele Performance: Dealing with the Dreaded Jitters.

Scared Eyes 3

You’re on the stage, your throat and mouth go dry, you have shortness of breath and a sick feeling in the stomach.  You fumble the chords on your ukulele and the audience seems to morph into a scary monster.  You don’t have a virus.  You have Stage Fright.  If you have never experienced this before, don’t panic.  It can happen to anyone, even professional musicians.

After a couple of years occasionally playing with a small group, I experienced a sudden attack of stage fright.   At a small community event I made the mistake of focusing on a grumpy looking member of the audience and started to imagine that there was something terribly wrong with my performance.  This made me really tense and nervous and I found it difficult to concentrate on my playing.  At the time I did not consider that the grouchy faced person may have had a bad day or was unwell and it probably had nothing to do with me.

Once it had manifested I found that this type of anxiety kept happening, so I searched for information about coping with the problem on numerous websites.  Here are a few strategies that I find helpful, as well as some I worked out for myself:

  • Thoroughly practice so that you can play a song under pressure because you know it so well.  This is the most important factor for a good performance.
  • Make sure you are well hydrated so that you can produce some saliva to wet your lips and swallow if your mouth and throat become dry and keep a water bottle handy on stage.
  • Allow time for a good warm-up before a concert and go out there smiling.  After the first song it is usually easier to relax. If you do make a mistake through nervousness, don’t stop but keep playing.  You don’t need to be perfect for others to enjoy your performance.
  • If it is obvious that you have forgotten the chords or the words of a song when performing alone or as a lead player in a group, don’t freeze, but laugh or make a joke.  Many professional performers use this technique.  It diffuses the situation and puts the audience on your side.  If this happens when you are with a large group, stop playing, mime and where possible, move behind other players while you get yourself together.
  • See the audience as benign and friendly.  Concentrate on entertaining everyone and ignore any grumpy faces.  Many more will be smiling and tapping along.  If it helps, you can imagine the audience as happy little furry creatures, like Wombles (Google it) or as anyone else who is non- threatening.  Whatever it takes for you to feel comfortable.

Remember to smile and have fun as this is contagious and the feel good aspect of playing the ukulele will prevail.

Kat

Bayside Ukes member.