Three chord songs for ukulele and guitar

“What? I just need to know three chords to play a song?”

“Actually, you can play ‘Frere Jacques’ with just one chord. There are many songs with only two chords. I have identified at least thirty of these.”

I tell my ukulele students that 80% of all songs use only 20% of all chords. I apply the 80-20 rule to many situations, often to help with management of expectations.

So far I have collected over 60 songs that use only C, F, and G or G7 chords. My list of three chord songs that use three other chords, such as Riptide (Am, G, C), is nearly as long. This is wonderful news for beginners.

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Why are ukulele sales booming?

The only instrument that did not suffer a downturn in sales in London during the recent recession was the ukulele. The person who told me this has been researching ukulele clubs in the U.K. for her doctorate thesis. I have a hunch that it’s like chocolates during difficult times. People still want to reward themselves and feel good. The ukulele is that instrument. Am I right?

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99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall and counting

There seems to be an inverse correlation between construction and longevity. The longer lasting the song, the simpler you can expect the harmonic and melodic structures to be.

A song I sang as a teenager on long and winding road trips was a riddle in counting backwards from 99 to one. The idea is that the more you drink, the harder it is to count backwards in a group. [Note: Back then, there was no such thing as drinking age, especially on the island of Okinawa!] Add another dimension of modulating it through the major triads based on the twelve notes in a chromatic scale and you will be sure to stay sober!

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A holiday away from paradise

Where do you go on holiday if you already live in paradise?

Most people, I daresay, imagine going on holiday as going somewhere to escape the daily routine, somewhere very different from their usual existence.

You can conjure up an image of sipping on an exotic cocktail at sunset in some mosquito-free tropical paradise. Or going on a ski holiday in the Swiss alps. Or a yoga holiday in the Himalayas.

A holiday is a place away from the hustle-bustle, far from the madding crowd.

When you work in a place as beautiful, clean, and uncrowded as the island of Maui, which has been voted the top traveller’s choice for 16 consecutive years by Conde Nast readers, it’s hard to imagine going anywhere for a holiday. Anywhere else would be “suboptimal” so to speak.

Where would I go on holiday if everyday is a holiday?

As I write, I am in an non-descript hotel in Taichung, Taiwan, on holiday. For the past 3 hours, I have been sitting on my single bed, reading articles on my iPad and listening to the heavy drops of rain and downpour.

Never mind the noise pollution, air pollution, and visual pollution (i.e. clutter). Urban traffic prevents a straight path on the sidewalk from the hotel to my destination.

But I am as happy as I can be.

Just yesterday, my friend in Taipei introduced me to the best eateries in her neighborhood. I was sad I couldn’t stay longer to sample them all. Before I left, we took photos of piano sheet music she’s collected over the years. [Bookmark this for a future blog post!]

In Taichung, the sunset market carried my favorite Chinese delicacies: pickled boneless chicken feet, pickled fish skin, green seaweed, steamed Shanghainese dumplings, home-made soya milk, and pearl bubble milk tea. Tomorrow we will feast on stir-fried eel. I count the number of meals I have left and hope I have enough time to digest each one before the next and that I won’t waste a meal opportunity on a bad choice.

It’s the contrast that we want between work and holiday. It’s also getting a distance from work to reflect upon life in a different environment, one in which you’re a temporary visitor.

How to book a concert tour (part 3): constraints and objectives

In part 3 of “how to book a concert tour” Anne Ku advises musicians to set constraints and objectives beforehand. This helps focus the way the tour is put together.

In part 2 of this blog series on “how to book a concert tour for yourself” I discussed the four levels of contacts to approach for help. I realise that it’s somewhat unconventional to do so.

Most musicians would contact the concert producers and venue owners directly by blitzing them with generic, templated e-mails. Any replies would then be followed up. While this may be the fast and efficient way, I prefer to know who I’m writing to. That’s why I advised to look into other indirect approaches to getting a concert. It may take more time, but in the end, it’s more rewarding as relationships get formed and built.

Bouquets after a concert in the Netherlands
Bouquets after a concert in the Netherlands

Now that you have your sizzle and contact list, how do you go about getting concerts?

Let’s take a step back and set the constraints and objectives of your tour.

What are the earliest and latest dates of your tour? In other words, give yourself deadlines. For us, we had to arrive in the USA by 21st October 2010 or else our visas would expire worthless. For that reason, we were happy to get a concert on 21st October 2010. This meant we had to arrive by then. We also fixed a date to arrive in Maui, by Thanksgiving.

What are the must visit places on your tour? You can set your priorities by deciding on people you want to see and places you want to visit. In our case, we chose to begin with New England in the Fall — a top tourist attraction. It was that time of the year that was the prettiest to visit Massachusetts. We spent the first two weeks of our tour in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York. As neither of us had been to Phoenix, Denver, Davis, or Sacramento, we looked forward to new experiences. Finally, we plugged in other cities where we had friends and/or concerts booked: Durham, Houston, and San Francisco.

Decide on your objectives of your concert tour.

If you want to cover your expenses, be sure to book enough gigs and sell out your CDs. Try to get as many concerts in one area as possible. We gave 4 concerts in 2 days in Phoenix. There was one day in Houston that we clocked in 2 radio shows, a duo concert, and a guitar solo concert.

We approached our America Tour very differently from tours in the past that were primarily vacation with a concert or concerts that did not cover the expenses (Slagelse 2004, Cape Town 2005, Cortona 2006, Houston 2007, London 2008, Madrid 2009, and Taipei 2010).  We obtained visas for the USA to work not play. We were not on vacation though it felt like we were because of the generous hospitality provided by our hosts. All concerts that we gave were paid for — either by the hosts or the audiences, except those that we volunteered ourselves for, e.g. MD Andersen Cancer Clinic, and radio shows.

Besides covering the expenses, we wanted to broaden our network. We did so by contacting composers, producers, patrons, performers, and just about anyone who loved classical music enough to be involved. We reconnected with old friends, classmates, and colleagues we had not seen in years. They introduced us to people they knew. We made new contacts at concerts. It was very enriching to meet people who so supported the arts — face to face.

Back to the first question I posed in this 3-part series on booking a concert tour for yourself: which comes first — the concert or the tour?

If you get invited to give a concert somewhere, see if you can stay longer and give other concerts.

If you want to go somewhere (for vacation, training, family visit, etc), see if you can book concerts while you’re there. The spin-offs are considerable: leads for concerts in the future, hospitality, reciprocation, and surprises.

Feel free to comment or ask questions about this topic via the LEAVE A REPLY box below.