As usual, I began our 7 o’clock ukulele jam session with an easy song, one that everyone knows with few easy chords. This being the Beatles Carpool Karaoke, I chose “Let It Be,” using San Jose Ukulele Club’s version in the original key of C major, with just four chords, rather than the G-major transposition with nine chords in the version in Richard G’s Songbook.
What can you do with “Let It Be” if you already know it very well?
Every song has its unique, defining (memorable) features. Paul McCarney’s “Let It Be” has its descending IV – I cadence, which occurs at the end of every other line, preceding the instrumental intermezzo and within the ending.
Because most of us were using ukuleles with high G tuning, we needed to adjust the riff to fit our re-entrant tuning (the high G). Our coach showed us an alternative riff to replace what follows the first four beats of F and C (shown in the excerpt above). The entire passage falls within the two measures of F . C . |G\ F\ C: 2010, x43x, x21x, 000x, play 0075, 0053, 0032, F (2010), C (0003)
Intuitively, we are accustomed to playing such 4/4 songs with strumming patterns such as the following (d = down stroke; u = upstroke; – = air stroke; capitals = accents)
beginners: d D d D or d on the 1st and 4th beats
non-beginners: d Du -u Du or d du – u du or d – u – u Du
Our coach suggested that half of us play a single downstroke for each chord in the second verse while the other half stays with the usual strum pattern. In the third and last verse, everyone plays a single downstroke. This gives the effect of space (less clutter), softer volume, and an illusion of slower pace (though the tempo does not change).
At the end of each chorus, we let the downstroke on the last C chord ring to give it a tacet effect. As the chorus is sung and played more loudly than the verse, this gives a breather (space).
In the final chorus, we do a crescendo to the end before the instrumental riff takes over, slowing down to its end.
We’re lucky in that several members of our ukulele group are excellent natural harmonisers. What is “Let It Be” without vocal harmony? We didn’t work on that though I wish I could hit the really high notes at the end (at 00:57 in the video below). Alternatively, we could have different soloists among us sing the verses and we all join in the chorus.
For this session, two bass players joined us. While one played the Ubass, the other played the ukulele, waiting for his turn. Both were experienced band players and commented on changes. I’m not sure if the ukulele players realise what a treat it is to have three multi-instrumentalists, one of whom (our coach) is a professional conductor, help us through this song. Two asked about paying the coach, who did this as a trial to show the possibilities we could achieve.
Altogether it took us over an hour to work on this song. Where normally we’d go through at least ten songs with chit chat in an hour, it was a different experience to devote so much time to one piece. To remember all the details, I recorded it on my Facebook live video with private setting to “only me” to review.
One ukulele player remarked that this coaching session took her to a new level, her learning curve steepening greatly.
For me, it was deeply gratifying to mould a familiar song into shape, repeating the different bits until we all got it right. It made my previous jam sessions seem like wine tasting, never truly pairing the wine with the cuisine to allow myself to enjoy the full meal and indulge in its variety of tastes and textures. It also reminds me the long hours I spent practising a piece until I got it right. What happened to those days? Why am I sailing through vast quantities of music without really getting to know them?
I suppose music is like relationships. You meet people. You strike up a conversation. You develop a connection. The vast number are acquaintances. Some become close, lifelong friends. How many do you truly know deeply and thoroughly? Or intimately?
Do other ukulele players feel the same? Are they content with sight reading quantities of music as in most ukulele jam sessions or do they prefer to spend more time improving a limited number of songs until we get an hour’s worth of music that we can deliver competently and confidently?
It’s going to take coaching and practice. Most of all, it will take determination.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way. This is the path from the jam to the gig.