Spice up “You Are My Sunshine”

One of the most popular songs for beginning ukulele and guitar players is “You Are My Sunshine” which was first recorded in 1939 and has become the official state song of Louisiana.  At the minimum, you need three chords to accompany yourself singing. To spice up the harmony accompaniment, you can add minor, sevenths, major sevenths  and even a diminished chord.  To spice up the rhythm, apply accent (emphasis) and syncopation in your strumming. Watch different versions of videos of this popular song to get ideas for what you can do.

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Live music underground in London

If you  travel through the London Underground and hear harp music being played, consider yourself lucky, for you will want to stop and chat with the harpist and buy his CD. Why? He is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. His story will inspire you.

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Mash-up, Medley, Marathon

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?

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Natural voice network

Reclaim your voice. Anyone can sing. You don’t need to read music notation. Listen. You can make beautiful music with your voice.

These are the messages of the “natural voice network,” something I read in Caroline Bithell’s well-cited 2014 book “A Different Voice, A Different Song: Reclaiming Community through the Natural Voice and World Song.”

I had to experience it for myself. I googled “natural voice network” and found a website with details of upcoming events. There was a free rehearsal at St Margaret’s House in Bethnal Green. It’s a part of East London I knew well, for I had lived and worked near Victoria Park some thirty years ago.

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Review: The Ukestration Manual

subtitle: Orchestrating Music Making in Ukulele Groups

After playing in various ukulele groups and starting my own, I had a burning question. “What can we do differently to get more out of our ukulele jam sessions?”

The answer lies in “The Ukestration Manual: Creating Music Making Communities with the Ukulele and Ukestra Method” by Mark Jackson and Jane Jelbart. Continue reading “Review: The Ukestration Manual”

Leading a ukulele group performance

Leading a group of ukulele players to play and sing together in front of an audience is quite different from 1) leading a group with whom you’ve been rehearsing for awhile, 2) leading a group without a separate audience listening, and 3) playing in the group as a member and not as a leader of the group. This morning I had the first time experience of leading my West London ukulele group in an outdoor performance at a charity event in Southall. It was a last minute invitation to lead, confirmed only this morning. I didn’t have time to think but made plenty of assumptions.

What did I learn?

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Guitar meets piano; guitar orchestra & ukulele club

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.

Nearly two decades later, the guitarist is conductor of a guitar orchestra while I have founded my own ukulele group. How do we combine the two? Is it possible?

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