Daniel Ward’s 30-page “Arpeggio Meditations for Ukulele” for ukulele players reminds me of the Hanon exercises I played every day as a budding piano player. That’s how I built my technique, after playing the scales and arpeggios in the key I was assigned, I’d play one piece from Hanon for the entire week. This sort of repetitive finger exercise gets you into a trance. However, I daresay, Ward’s music is a lot more interesting and pleasing to the ear than Hanon’s.
How do ukulele groups approach the task of song selection to serve the dual purpose
of attracting and retaining members and audiences? This question addresses both repertoire development and concert programming.
- Members are those who attend the meet-ups to play ukuleles and/or sing along
- Audiences are those who attend the performances, and may sing along from where they sit or stand but don’t play with the group
Does the responsibility for choosing songs, finding, creating, or altering existing song sheets, making them available online or in print, as links, individual song sheets, compiled songbook, etc rest on one individual such as the leader? Does an official “gig book” or “song book” exist for the group, from which participants call out their choice of song? Or does a new songbook or song list get compiled for each gathering? Alternatively, do participants bring copies of the song sheet of their own choosing to distribute to others?
Songs about location and history evoke nostalgia to those who have travelled or lived in these places. Long-time Boston residents know the song “Charlie on the MTA” but newcomers are curious:
- Who was Charlie?
- What does MTA stand for?
- Why couldn’t Charlie get off the train?
- Why didn’t his wife give him the money to get off the train rather than throw him a sandwich?
- Is that why the subway card is known as a Charlie Card? Unlike the Oyster Card in London and the OV Chip Card in the Netherlands, you only need to swipe the Charlie Card when you enter the bus, trolley (tram), metro, or commuter rail (i.e. not needed when you exit).
- Is Charlie related to the River Charles that divides Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts?
After spending over an hour working on “Let It Be” and half an hour on “When I’m Sixty-Four” we spent comparatively less time on the remaining three from the 15 songs on the Beatles Carpool Karaoke. While we were familiar with most songs, playing them on the ukulele was another matter.
Our coach showed us how to make an illusively simple three-chord song like “Love Me Do” interesting. It’s sometimes the case that three-chord songs are not necessarily easy to sing or rhythmically easy to play. So far, I’ve compiled more than 60 songs that require only the three chords of C, F, and G. It will be another exercise to play them well.
What next, after “Let It Be”?
Can we squeeze in another song from the Beatles Carpool Karaoke before our usual break at half-time?
Jim, the bassist from Jamaica Plain, scrolled through the song list on my iPad with me and spotted something that’s a bit more upbeat.
I said, “How about ‘When I’m Thirty-Four” ?”
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?