In the run up to St Patrick’s Day, I was looking for songs suitable for our “Fun with Ukulele” jam session at the local library in Dorchester, Massachusetts (part of Boston). St Patrick’s Day is celebrated like any other big holiday such as Christmas and Fourth of July in Boston. Coincidentally, Austin-based Kevin Carroll had just published “Ukulele Ceilidh: 18 Traditional Celtic Tunes arranged for Ukulele Session Playing.” The 67-page spiral-bound book is an amazing resource for the ukulele player.
Most newcomers to the ukulele jam scene that’s popping up all over the world use their instruments to accompany themselves singing songs they already know. These strummers may eventually cross to the other side where the instrument becomes the focus of attention. Welcome to the the world of pluckers, also known as fingerstyle playing. As a first step, they may start by reading tablature, where each number indicates the fret to press on the corresponding string.
Classical guitarist and ukulele expert Paul Mansell’s “Classical Uke” contains twenty short pieces transcribed for the beginning ukulele plucker. Easy to sight read and follow, these pieces whet the appetite of any ukulele enthusiast.
How do you make money in music? To understand how musicians make money, I turn to successful business models. My paternal grandfather made a living teaching English. Teaching music is one of several ways to earn a living in music.
A thought occurred to me while playing for the recent half-marathon. We ukulele players shouldn’t be having song breaks when marathon runners don’t. When we are the foreground music, such as a concert or gig, it’s natural to have beginnings and endings. It not only gives us time to flip to the next song sheet but also let the audience react with applause.
For background music or as support for marathons and other races, however, we need to keep going. How does one keep going when the average song length is 3 minutes?
When musicians meet, they want to play together. They exchange recordings of themselves. Playing together is a way to establish whether they are compatible, whether they want to collaborate, whether there is a future together.
Such was the case when I met a classical guitarist more than seventeen years ago. He copied a recording of his guitar quartet on CD as a takeaway gift.
The next time we met, I brought the only piano guitar piece I owned — an arrangement of Vivaldi’s guitar concerto for guitar and piano. Eager to find more pieces to play, I visited music bookshops in my travel as magazine editor. He arranged music for us to play. Before long, we had collected and arranged enough sheet music to give a concert. Soon composers started writing for our piano guitar duo.
The subtitle of our first concert at the Makawao Union Church in Maui, in December 2007, was “four centuries of music for piano and guitar” —- which comprised of arrangements, original compositions, and commissions. We released the live recording of the concert as a CD in January 2011.
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?