I Took my Uke to a Party…

After several years of singing and playing the guitar I decided to buy a ukulele so that I would have a smaller, more portable instrument to carry around.  As seems to be the case for anyone who takes up this instrument, I became obsessed with the uke and had some lessons.  Then the fun really started.

Unlike in that old Gracie Fields song I Took My Harp to a Party but Nobody Asked Me to Play, you don’t need to hide your uke under your coat.  The little ukulele actually attracts an audience, as I discovered when I took my ukulele to play a few songs at a picnic with some friends.  After this great day, where we all had a lot of fun together, these friends began to ask me to bring the uke along to parties and other social events.  The happy nature of the ukulele sound seems to break down barriers and encourages people to participate and we would have sing-alongs with lots of laughter and conversation.  This also gave me the opportunity to perform some of my own songs, which I have been writing for years, in front of a non-threatening audience.

Playing the ukulele has opened up my life to new people and experiences, especially after becoming one of the founding members of Bayside Ukes, where I have met a great bunch of friendly ukulele obsessives like myself.  In belonging to this group, I have learnt so much from playing with others and have become more confident when performing before complete strangers.  Helping to organize a ukulele group has also allowed me to make a small contribution to my local community.

Now I have joined with a fellow ukulele devotee.  We sing harmonies and play pop songs together.  Recently we were asked to entertain around 60 people at a birthday party. After overcoming some pre-performance nerves we really enjoyed ourselves.  Afterwards another ukulele player, who we did not know, came up and said how much he liked our singing and playing and we had a wonderful chat about the joys and techniques of learning to play the uke.  We also inspired one guest to get their ukulele out of the cupboard.  The ukulele is a fantastic icebreaker, as so many people are just taking it up themselves or know someone who plays the uke.

Who would have thought that this small instrument could have such a big impact on one’s life?  So don’t sit at home with your ukulele.  Get out there and share your enjoyment of playing with others.  You never know where this will lead.


Bayside Ukes member


Beware Uke Sizings

Being a self-taught uke player (ukist?), I found there hasn’t been any shortage of help on the web for learning techniques of playing.  Ukists around the world are generous beings, sharing their skills and knowledge to help their fellow humans join the fraternity of world ukists.

There is, however, a shortage of information on one matter: uke sizes.  I’m not talking about the difference in size between soprano, concert and tenor ukes.  That info is widely available.  I’m talking about the variation in size between ukes of different brands and how this can impact on the player.

The first uke I ever bought was a tenor Lanikai.  I bought it online (from a local store) and was very happy with it.  In fact, this is the uke I use mostly today.  After having this instrument sit in a green Woolworths shopping bag for months, I decided to buy it a proper home.  So I ordered a tenor uke gig bag from the same shop.  When it arrived in the post, I was quite cross when I discovered it was the wrong size for my uke – it was way too small.  When I rang the shop, they told me that it was definitely a bag for a tenor uke, however, I was told that it was common knowledge (!) that Lanikai ukes are larger than the standard uke.  Luckily enough, the music store was kind enough to swap it over with a case (a better quality one, at that) which fitted my slightly over-sized uke.  Moral of the story, always take your uke along when buying it a new case.

There is yet another sizing matter people need to know about.  After fitting my Lanikai with a low G string (my preference for playing strummed chords), I bought a different brand uke so that I could keep the high G on it to play tabs that need a high G.  I tested out ukes during a local uke festival.  Price right, tone good, so I bought the uke (it also came with a bag!).  I’ve been taking this uke out from time to time when I have the urge to play something more complex.  Trouble is, I wasn’t really getting much better at the harder tabs.  Then I realised that part of the issue wasn’t me – my newer uke actually has a much wider neck and fingerboard than my Lanikai.  I measured the fingerboard of the new uke at the nut and it was 3.8cm, compare to 3.4cm on my trusted Lanikai.  For someone with short fingers like me, this makes a real difference.

So why, you may ask, does a short-fingered person like me play tenor ukes?  I was totally inspired by the sound made by Jake Shimabukuro on his tenor uke.  Here’s one of my favourite performances of him playing his uke:

It’s not very likely that I’d ever play anything that complex – especially with the minimal amount of practice that I do – but hey, one can dream about it.


Bayside Ukes Member

10 Reasons Why Ukuleles and Dogs Mix

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  1. Dogs do not remain puppies forever and leave your ukulele and tuner alone.
  2. Dogs want to share in the fun with you and your ukulele.
  3. Dogs love to sit with you while you are playing your ukulele.
  4. Dogs are music lovers and make a great audience.
  5. Dogs wag their tails in time with the music.
  6. Dogs sing along when you hit those high notes.
  7. Dogs never criticize your performance.
  8. Dogs do not care what genre of music you play.
  9. Dogs never tell you to be quiet and stop playing that uke.
  10. Dogs know that when you have finished your practice you will take them for a walk.

Note:  The above dog was well rewarded for taking part in this post.


Bayside Ukes Member

10 Reasons Why Ukes and Puppies Don’t Always Mix

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  1. It is difficult to play your ukulele with a sleeping puppy on your lap.
  2. You can find one string is missing when you are restringing your ukulele.
  3. When you leave your ukulele clip-on tuner next to you on the sofa it will be stolen by your puppy and found in pieces.
  4. It is not safe to leave your ukulele unattended with a teething puppy.
  5. It is impossible to record yourself playing your ukulele when your puppy howls every time you press the record button.
  6. It is impossible to play the ukulele with a jealous puppy pulling on your trouser leg.
  7. It is impossible to play the ukulele in a comfortable chair while your puppy jumps on you repeatedly and stampedes around the room.
  8. It is difficult to play the ukulele while your puppy gives you the sad-eyed treatment and drops a ball at your feet.
  9. It is difficult to leave the house with your ukulele case because your puppy keeps trying to block your exit.
  10. You know you have a problem when you leave your replacement ukulele tuner on a coffee table and find it has been eaten by your puppy and the remains have been taken into the garden for burial.

Note:  No puppy was harmed from the ingestion of a battery, or performing any of the above actions.

Kat and Zilla

Bayside Ukes Members

Flexible Chords for Inflexible Hands

Arthritis is a problem for many older players of the ukulele and other stringed instruments as it limits flexibility.  This should not be seen as an obstacle to playing the ukulele.  It does not really matter how you position your hand or form chords as long as you can play them.  You do not have to play the ukulele with a perfect technique, although it is good to strive for this even with physical limitations.

I have osteoarthritis in the first and second fingers of my left hand and I am unable to bend these fingers tightly to make a fist.  This lack of flexibility makes it difficult to form certain chords on my concert ukulele.  The arthritis has caused the joints of these fingers to become enlarged and bent, so reducing the stretch between my second and third fingers.  This makes it difficult for two or more fingers to be positioned on the same fret as in the G, D, D7 (Hawaiian) chords.

Instead of positioning my fingers across the fret-board I often hold my hand with the fingers pointing down the fret-board.  Unfortunately this does not look very elegant.  With my hand in this position I am unable to make a chord transition in the usual way but it is easier to make the transition between D, D7 and G.  The disadvantage of this position is when I move my fingers up to the first fret and my hand gets caught up with the headstock.  Some chords are also difficult to play using the correct fingering as I have limited stretch between my finger-tips when my fingers are bent.  When I play the Gm chord my third finger is unable to make the stretch to the third fret and I must substitute it with my little finger.  These are just some of the modifications I make to my technique.

In order to learn a song I must plan all my chord changes to allow for the restricted movement in my left hand.  I practice individual chord formations then the transitions between chords so they become smooth and fast.  It may take longer to learn a song but I know I shall not be placing undue strain on my finger joints.

With arthritis it is important to be flexible with my approach to chord formation and transitions because there are always exceptions to the rule.  What may work for one song, may not work for another.  If the transition between chords is really just too hard I find another chord as a substitute or just leave the difficult chord out.

If you also have arthritis do not get disheartened.  The important thing to remember is that you need to find out what works for you, persevere with practice and don’t give up.  Playing the ukulele will not only strengthen your fingers, improve flexibility and help your arthritis, but more importantly you will have fun while you are doing it.

Ukulele Mike has some exercises that may help improve your flexibility.  Dexterity Exercises


Bayside Ukes Member