Collingwood Ukulele Players

Kanile’a Islander GL6

GL6What a difference two strings make. Late last week, I traded my Jupiter Creek steel-stringed baritone, solid-body uke for one of these Kanile’a nylon-stringed GL6 “guitar-leles” which the company calls a “guilele.”

It’s really a short-scale guitar tuned like a ukulele: a fourth higher. More like a requinto than a uke.

Kanile’a says of the GL6 line:

Our GL6 is a hybrid instrument that we developed bringing the convenience of the ‘ukuleles’ size with the playability that guitar players love. This instrument has our unique Super Tenor body in combination with our 20 inch scale, joined at the body on the 16th fret with 22 frets total.

Now I’m trying to remember all the chords, the fingering, the techniques I used when I played guitar. Boy, what a difference those extra strings make! And BTW, the Islander model isn’t one of the  company’s high-end models: it’s a modestly-priced instrument.

I played guitar from around 1965 until 2008, when I took up ukulele. And that’s all I’ve played since. You get used to the size and scale pretty quickly.
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CPLUG Songbook Updated

ukuleleEven though our local uke group, CPLUG, is not currently meeting, the songbook has not died. I have updated it with new arrangements and made a few editorial changes to the older content this past fall and winter. I, of course, continue to play the ukulele every day.

If you don’t know this songbook, it’s a mix of more than 100 tunes ranging from traditional folk music to the 1980s, most of them arranged by me, with some that include my modifications of other people’s arrangements.

There are some songs with more than one version – either the song in two keys or an easy and a jazzy version. That makes for more than 120 arrangements, all with chords indicated by a letter and a graphic chord chart showing finger placements.

I will continue to add songs, but the songbook is already quite large (252 pages). Possibly it will require starting a second book. Most of what I add in future will be from the same eras – music I know and love. There isn’t anything post-90 simply because it’s not music I play nor am familiar with.

I am also learning new tunes and remembering old ones from my guitar days, as I do so, I will add them to the collection.

Of late, I’ve been listening to a lot of Leonard Cohen, and reading his biography, which inspires me to play more of his music, so expect a few more arrangements of his tunes to appear. Plus I’ve found a source of song sheets from the 20s and 30s that offers music I don’t know but think would be fun to learn.

You can download a PDF of the latest version of the songbook here. And if you’re interested in rekindling our ukulele group, please contact me.

Click the ‘continue’ button to read a list of the songs to date.

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CPLUG offline, music still here

The Collingwood Public Library Ukulele Group is having a hiatus for now. After two years, interest waned, down from a high of 34 people to about six regulars. I felt it appropriate to put the group on hold until more interest can be developed with a larger regular attendance. If you would like to help restart it, and can make a commitment to attend regularly, please contact me.

Until then, I will continue to work on the songbook. I have added several tunes to it this past summer and fall. You can download the PDF form of the songbook by clicking this link.

Watch this blog for updates on future editions.

The current list of more than 100 song arrangements (as of Nov. 2015) follows (in order of title):
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Server Upgrade Coming

Sometime in the next two weeks, I will be amalgamating servers for the several sites I manage and conflating them onto one, new and (I hope) faster and more efficient server. There may be some downtime while the files and databases migrate, like virtual birds, to their new home.

I hope that the digital gods of server migration allow my moves to go smoothly. I would sacrifice a virtual dove to propitiate them, if I could only find their virtual altar… would that I were the digital Odysseus…

For most users, it will, I expect, be but a momentary blip in the service, a temporary lapse of rant soon reconstructed. No more than a couple of hours of downtime while the ether is busy with transient bytes flitting hither and yon. My biggest concern is the Blue Agave forum which operates on an Invision system… the transition to the current servers wasn’t all that smooth when I moved a few years back. But we’ll see how it evolves… I might need the aid of Invision’s tech team, too…. but that should not concern you.

If things don’t go smoothly, and it takes longer than expected, it may be the result my clumsy handling of the tools (while still technically inclined, my edge has, I admit, lost some of its crispness as I age). Or it may be some deeper, larger problem that requires tech support to save me from myself and the quicksand of SQL content.

I can migrate the static files easily enough, but depend somewhat on online tools to make the transition for the blog and WordPress databases. And then there’s all that PHP stuff…

Anyway, things may appear and disappear, and off error pages emerge, but take heart that I am not vanished from the network, merely taking the high road to the deep north, as Basho did, but of course virtually, and expecting to return momentarily. Should my site appear gone, take heart that it has not shuffled off this mortal coil, but merely retired momentarily to a far, far better place…. and will reappear when the digital stars align.

Refresh, refresh, refresh and return and it will all be made clear. I hope. If not…. well, I can always start afresh.


Politics and Song

I grew up in the era of political songs: folk music, protest songs, the satire of Tom Leher and others from the late 1950s through the 1960s. It makes me appreciative of political songs and humour in music,and of the power of music to spread the word and help bring about change.

The Harperman song is one of those songs. It has become a hit song during Canada’s election campaign. It became a national media story when its author and singer, Tony Turner,  was suspended from work for performing the song on YouTube by a government intolerant of dissent and challenge. Which made the song even more popular! It has had hundreds of thousands of hits already, and the momentum is gaining.

Turner’s group of singers was called “Canada’s Pussyriot,” referring to the Russian protest band that its intolerant leader, Vladimir Putin had jailed for singing songs about him and his autocrats.

As noted in the Ottawa Citizen, the issue is really about Turner’s Charter of Rights guarantee of freedom of speech:

The federal scientist whose impartiality is under scrutiny for writing and performing the protest song Harperman to get rid of the Conservative government has the same Charter rights to free speech as all Canadians, says the union representing him.

“The Charter rights of Canadians shouldn’t be different between the private and public sectors,” said Debi Daviau, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service. “The right to participate in the federal election is the same and so is the right to free speech.”

It’s an easy song with four chords (A, A7, D and E7). It’s arranged in A, but it could easily be played in F (F, F7, Bb, C), G (G, G7, C, D) or C (C, C7, F and G).

You can download a PDF of the song, with chords, here.

I’d like our group to consider joining in the video challenge and doing our own version of the song. Or for members to participate in the Cross-Canada singalong:

The Cross-Canada Harperman Sing-Along – A cross-Canada event taking place on Thursday, September 17th will include a “Harperman” sing-along on Parliament Hill at 2:00 pm Eastern. There will be public “Harperman” sing-alongs in every province on that day, and there will be opportunities for people to participate online from anywhere in Canada.


Five songs for August

Velvet UndergroundNext week the group gets back together after our short summer vacation. The group, by which I mean: CPLUG, our local ukulele club. For that happy occasion, I have arranged five songs to work on. Below I have included a link to videos and the PDF for each song. I have also incorporated each song into the group’s songbook (link below).

Happy Together by The Turtles. This 1960s’ folk-rock group became famous by first covering the Bob Dylan tune, It Ain’t Me Babe in 1965 (in our group’s songbook). Happy Together was their only number one hit, and stayed at that spot for three weeks in 1967. Here’s a YouTube recording of the song. Hint: most of the same basic chords as you played in Sixteen Tons…

PDF: Happy Together.

For a small band with limited output (only four albums plus one bootleg live performance), The Velvet Underground was hugely influential during the years (less than a decade) it stayed together. But it was a rocky time for them and Lou Reed, one of its original founders, left in 1970 to start a solo career (he died in 2013).

Their albums are a hodgepodge of styles and effects and rife with strange and thought-provoking lyrics. But even listening to them today, you can hear how they broke away from the constraints of pop standards and set new horizons for musicians. None of their songs even got airplay until the final album, Loaded – and then Sweet Jane and Rock and Roll finally got played (and sometimes do today on internet radio).

The VU remains one of my favourite all-time bands and I have been listening to them since their first album was released. I still enjoy listening to them, 40-odd years later.

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Musical Sources

Old sheet musicTrying learn a song from an old songbook or sheet music can be difficult unless you already know how the song goes. Many of our group are introduced to the music in our songbook only through my version when I play in at our meetings. And, I admit, my version may not always reflect the original accurately.

It’s good to be able to hear the song so you can  appreciate how it is arranged and where the chord changes will be.

Here are a few of the online resources I recommend, you can go to where music from the 1920s and 30s is available to listen to or even download:

Of course, you can also look for a song on YouTube.

Keep in mind when you’re working from old sheet music that most of the songs were not originally intended for ukulele, or  may be written in a key that is difficult to play in,  so the chords shown in the sheet music may not always be the ones we use in our own songbook. I try to arrange the songs in what I believe is both correct and playable.


To Pick or Not…

There is some brouhaha that arises periodically in the ukulele community online about whether it is “proper” for players to use a pick. It sometimes generates wild discussions that degenerate into camps of us-versus-them. Sometimes the same nonsense arises about using straps, how to hold your uke and what fingers to use when strumming.

Here’s the simple answer: whatever works for you. The rest of the argument is just noise.

First let’s get something straight: there are NO ukulele purists whose word is law in the uke community, who set the standards or determine the playing style for the rest of us. There are no styles or techniques that are absolutely the right way for everyone, the only way to play, the only “authentic” style.

No one knows what is best for you when playing the ukulele: that’s up to you to discover.

There are styles and techniques you can copy, and I recommend you try them all to figure our what feels the best, what makes the best music for you. But don’t not do something because you read some snuffy comment that disparages picks or strumming or how to hold your ukulele.

Whatever works for you, whatever produces the music you want to make is what is best for you. And that’s all that matters.

Ukuleles are tools for self-expression. They are musical instruments and however you play or hold them is absolutely fine. If you want to use a pick, do so. Ditto with a strap. Use your uke to make music, to learn music, to express yourself. Don’t fret about doing it “right” because in the world of music, right is entirely a personal choice.



Reading Ukulele Tabs

Smile tabbed by Mike LynchOne of the things I want to discuss in our upcoming CPLUG workshop is how to read tab sheet music. In this post I’ve given you some pointers so you can practice on your own. It’s worth learning to read tabs because it gives you the ability to play melodies and solo pieces without having to read music.

Don’t be confused when you see a piece labelled “tab” but only showing the lyrics and chords. The name is often used for that purpose, although it’s not really a tab in the proper sense.

First you’ll need a properly tabbed song to work with. For this exercise, I’m going to use Charlie Chaplin’s song Smile, tabbed for ukulele by Mike Lynch. you can click on the image of page one at the upper right and download the PDF from his site. Mike offers a number of ebooks for sale on his site, as well as online ukulele lessons. This lovely piece is from his Ukulele Solo Instrumentals book, a collection of 52 songs. He also has two chord melody books. I’ll discuss chord melody techniques in another post, but what you learn here works with them, too.

Mike’s tabs are more comprehensive than some: he includes both the music staff and the tab, below, plus the words. Not all arrangers include the actual music. You can also see the chord names above the staff. Mike links the music notes on the staff with the string/frets on the tab with a vertical line – this can be helpful if you’re trying to learn to read music.

Let’s take a look at some of the parts of this song. First the start:

Smile 01

Smile 01What does this tell us? The music staff tells us this song is in the key of F (one flat – the ‘b’ sign) and is in 4/4 time. The first chord, shown above the staff, is F. Quite often the first chord is also the song’s key, as it is here. The F chord on the ukulele looks like the diagram on the right. This is also written out as 2010 which identifies the strings and frets, reading from the fourth string (leftmost) to the first.

2010 means: put a finger on the second fret of the fourth string, and another on the first fret of the second string, and play the other two strings open (0). These are the notes A-C-F-A, reading left to right (fourth to first strings). For those of us with re-entrant tuning (high G), the A on the fourth string is actually an octave too high for the note shown in the staff.

If a string should be dampened or not played, it is usually marked with an X. Now turn that diagram 90 degrees counterclockwise and you’ll see how tabs work.

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