Collingwood Ukulele Players

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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Revised Chord Wheel

Revised chord wheelI have revised my transposing chord wheel/circle of fifths tool this week. It is now a three-ring version. You can click on the image on the right to download the PDF.

The outer ring shows the Roman numerals for the key. This lets you see the chords by number – uppercase is major; lowercase is minor. Turn this wheel to the I key is above the key on the middle ring. The names in dark blue are some of the chord forms you can use in that position (i.e. I: major, major seventh).

W means whole step (two frets) and H means half step (one fret) – the distance between notes for the scale.

The two inner wheels show the circle of fifths, with notes for the major triads for each key in green, with the relative minors named in blue. The middle ring also shows the number of flats (b) and sharps (#) in a key signature. Fifths move clockwise; fourths counterclockwise.

The inner ring is used for the key a song is in. Turn the key so that letter points to the letter of the key you want to transpose into. The chords shown on the middle ring relate to the new key.

For example, if your song is C-Am-F-G and you want to play it in F, turn the inner ring so C aligns with F on the middle ring. A on the inner ring will align with D (which means Dm since the original was Am), F with Bb and G with C. So the new chords will be F-Dm-Bb-C. And in G it would be G-Em-C-D.

Print the pages, laminate those with the wheels, then cut them out, punch holes in the centres, and push a brass paper fastener through all three. Instructions are more fully described on page four. Page five is a larger version if you want something with bigger type. Print three copies of that page.

Look for my chord builder wheel, too, also available free on this site.

You’re welcome to use and share this tool, just please respect my copyright: don’t sell it or offer it in an package with content for sale. And don’t remove my copyright notice on the file.

(NB. If you find it a bit large, you might try printing it at a smaller percentage, say 85% or even 75%. Or don’t use the outer wheel…)

Online tools for ukulele players

Ukulele Chord BibleHere are a few of the many online tools ukulele players may find useful for learning, songwriting, arranging, tuning and just fun. I’ll add more as I find and review them:

Ukefarm has several useful tools on its site. Type in the chords of a song or a phrase and with a click of a button transpose them into another key:

Ukulele chord finder is good for showing chords. it also lets you hear them:

It requires Flash to work, but if you’ve disabled it in your browser, the Ukebuddy chord finder doesn’t need Flash:

However, it is missing a few of the jazzy chords I like to use. The site also has a chord namer, so you can draw a chord on the string diagram and it will give you the name. That’s a real help when composing or arranging music.

A similar chord tool is found at Ukehelper, but it also includes a variety of scales shown on the fretboard.

There are many ukulele chord books available, but the best I’ve found is the Chord Bible with 2,160 chords shown, plus basic information on chord structure, building and fingering. It doesn’t seem to be on Amazon or Chapters these days, so order it direct from Fretted Friends. They also have a baritone version and a version for D6 tunings for sale. Picture is at the top. You can also get many free chord booklets and single-page charts online.

Chord Wheel bookHere’s an interactive circle of fifths that lets you change both keys and modes to see the relationships. It doesn’t identify relative minors, however, but they are always the vi chord. And if you want a printed chord wheel to work when when you’re offline, look for Jim Fleser’s little book. Very useful for anyone trying to do songwriting.

You should have a printed circle of fifths chart for when we discuss some music theory and how chords relate to each other. You can also download and print my own transposition wheel here.

Ukegeeks offers the songmatic song and chord writer if you want to incorporate the code into your own site (I’ll look further to see if I can mesh it with WordPress so it can work here).

Uketuner has an acoustic tuner with both C and D tunings, plus baritone (G). You can use it if your digital tuner’s battery dies. Another can be found at Ukulele Tabs and a more comprehensive one at Get Tuned.

There are also several ukulele apps in the iTunes and Android stores for tablets and smart phones, which I will review in another post.

Canada Ukes Festival May 22-24

Ralph Shaw
It’s official: the Canada Ukes ukulele festival will be held right around the corner from Collingwood: in Midland at the Midland Cultural Centre, May 22-24.

Three days of ukuleleness, featuring Ralph Shaw, Stevie McNie (leader of Toronto’s Corktown Ukulele), The Skinnydippers and others. Performances, jams and workshops galore! Vendors, too.

Early bird tickets for the entire weekend of activities are $148 adults and $128 student under 21; after March 31 they go up to $188 adults and $148 student.

Check the official website for more and the full schedule of events. Most of the events have limits for participation, so be sure to pick those you really want to attend!

Circle of Fifths and Transposition Wheel

Circle of FifthsA reminder to CPLUG members to download and print the Circle of Fifths/Chord transposition wheel as shown on the right. It’s a useful tool for learning how chords work together, as well as for changing the key of a song.

There are two versions: large and small. They are identical, except for size. keep the small one in your ukulele case with you.

Once you have the file, follow these instructions:

Print these pages single-sided on card stock or thick (28 lb) paper. Laminate all pages (you can do this at any office supply/service store like Staples or The UPS Store).

You may want to print and laminate page one twice so you have the full colour wheel.

Cut out the larger wheel out from page one. Cut the second largest (inner) wheel from the second copy of page one or from page two (cut along the darker line between the keys).

Punch a hole in the centre of both, insert a round head paper fastener and use!

I’ll be referring to this wheel in upcoming get-togethers and it will be required for any discussions we have on music theory.

To transpose a key, pick the song’s original key on the inner wheel and then rotate that wheel so that key lines up with the key you want on the outer wheel. Then play the chords shown on the outer wheel instead of those shown on the inner wheel.

For example, say the song is in C and has the chords C-Am-F and G. You want to play it in F. Turn the inner C to the outer F. A lines up with D, F with Bb and G with C. So the new chords are F-Dm-Bb-C. Easy!

Besame Mucho

Consuelo Velazquez

Consuelo Velazquez

“Bésame Mucho” is Spanish for Kiss Me a Lot. This romantic ballad was written in 1940 by the Mexican songwriter, Consuelo Velázquez and quickly became a popular tune in both Latin and North America. It is also translated as Kiss Me Much, and Kiss Me Again and Again.

Wikipedia says Consuelo had never yet been kissed when she wrote the song! I wonder how long that lasted.

She would also write many of the standards of Mexican popular music during her career as a songwriter. But Besame Mucho is certainly her most famous, and it remains a standard today:

It is one of the most famous boleros, and was recognized in 1999 as the most sung and recorded Mexican and Latin American song in the world. The song was inducted into the Latin Grammy Hall of Fame in 2001.

A bolero is a “.. genre of slow-tempo Latin music and its associated dance.”

The song was included in The Beatles’ audition for Decca Records in 1962 and can be heard on the first of the Anthology CD sets:

By the way, they failed the audition and Decca never signed them. Maybe it’s because they did it at such a fast tempo, it loses its romantic feel.

The Beatles’ Bible website tells us:

The words were translated by American composer and singer Sunny Skylar. It reached audiences worldwide from 1944, and became an international hit following its appearance in the film Follow The Boys.

The song didn’t stay in the band’s repertoire for very long, however. It was reprised in 1969 during the Get Back sessions and a version is heard in the Let It Be film.

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Ukulele Workshop Today

Manitoba HalI just returned from Orangeville where Broadway Music hosted a two-and-a-half hour musical workshop this Saturday by Manitoba Hal today (which will be followed by his concert tonight from 8-11 p.m. – try to attend, if you can: he’s very talented).

Very informative and well worth attending. Interestingly, at least half the participants were my age, and I didn’t see anyone in the classroom under 40. Perhaps you have to be mature in order to really appreciate music this way, not simply as the soundtrack in the background.

Hal spoke to the group about a basic approach to understanding music theory – chords, chord construction, scales and the all-important Circle of Fifths. He also spoke about how to put it all together to both make music and to figure out song arrangements for yourself (something dear to my own heart as I struggle to arrange songs for our local group).

He built it up from the basics in a way almost anyone, regardless of musical education, could understand. Most of it I knew from my reading, but Hal make it so much easier and clearer than the textbooks I’ve been reading.

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St. Louis Blues

MarionHarris with a banjo ukeSt. Louis Blues was first published in 1914, written by William Christopher (W.C.) Handy, known today as the ‘Father of the Blues.’ As Wikipedia tells us, Handy began his musical career on the road, listening to other musicians play:

In 1902 Handy traveled throughout Mississippi, where he listened to the various black popular musical styles. The state was mostly rural, and music was part of the culture, especially of the Mississippi Delta cotton plantation areas. Musicians usually played the guitar, banjo and to a much lesser extent, the piano. Handy’s remarkable memory enabled him to recall and transcribe the music heard in his travels.

It was the first commercially successful blues song, although blues had long been a style of music before then. Handy dressed it up somewhat with the musical influences he had picked up, including some ragtime and Dixieland overtones.

The first performer to record it was Marion Harris, a white woman who started her career in 1916, and recorded many other blues and jazz tunes until she retired in the 1930s. Her passion for singing blues on record earned her the nickname, ‘Queen of the Blues.’

Perhaps the best known performance of the song was recorded by the great Bessie Smith in 1925, backed by a young Louis Armstrong. Smith appeared in a 1929 talkie called St. Louis Blues – apparently her only appearance in film – in which she sang the title song as well, with an orchestra and chorus that gives the song a strong gospel overtone. You can watch it here: Youtube.

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Sporting Life Blues

I first heard this song back in the 1960s, and it was a staple among folk and acoustic blues singers back then. I recall seeing Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee (the actual songwriter) do it together at Convocation Hall, in Toronto, in the 70s.

I can’t remember if it was in the set list when I saw Dave Van Ronk in Ottawa, in the late 60s, but I believe so.

This Sporting Life, as it is also known, was a popular song for jam sessions, too, when I was playing a lot of guitar, in the 60s through the 80s. Over the years it seems to have accumulated a lot of different verses as well as variations on those verses, but the ones I have written out are those I remember.

It’s a pretty straight-forward blues song and uses pretty much the same chord pattern used in the song, Cocaine Blues, which I will cover in a later post.

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