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Ukulele Geekdom – Week 3 – A Potted History of the Ukulele

Hello There,

You know – I could write pages and pages on the history of the ukulele but, like the instrument itself, I am going to keep it short and sweet. Here is some key information about it’s origins, along with some notable genres, great players and some further listening and reading suggestions if it takes your interest.

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Although it is a common misconception that the ukulele started its life as a Hawaiian instrument, it actually originated in Portugal and was bought to Hawaii in the late 1870’s. A descendant from the ‘Machet’ (or ‘Machetes’) instrument as it was known back in Madeira, the ukulele went through a number of transformations and name changes, including being called a ‘Taropatch Fiddle’,  and a ‘Rajao’ before it finally found itself as the ‘Ukulele’.

Ukulele is a Hawaiian word meaning ‘Jumping Flea’ or another translation is ‘the gift that came here’. The ukulele was truly taken to heart by the Hawaiian people and in 1897 Hawaii’s (then ex) Queen Liliuokalani helped introduce the instrument to world, by staging a concert in Washington D.C. The New York Times wrote about the upcoming event, noting she would be playing “songs of her nation” and accompanying herself on the ukulele “a native instrument that looks and sounds like a diminutive guitar”.  And so began the popularity of traditional Hawaiian ukulele music.

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The first real uke craze, which swept over America and the rest of the world, came when it was show cased at the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exhibition in San Fransisco. Through the 1920’s and 30’s the Ukulele was embraced in music halls, theatres, circuses and travelling bands and found itself centre stage and onscreen in a number of different shows and films.

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After a bit of a lull, the 1950/60’s brought about a resurgence of ‘Ukulele Cool’ when it was played by a number of rock and pop stars, along with a Tin Pan Alley revival that still hasn’t ceased. Ever since then it has continued to find its place in all sorts of genres…. In folk, country, jazz, blues, rock and classical, as an ensemble instrument and as a virtuosic solo instrument. Check out my list below of recommended artists and composers, spanning the different eras and genres. This list is by no means complete!

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These days popularity of the ukulele continues to grow with it overtaking the recorder in schools as the perfect beginner instrument. As well this, 1000’s of adults are coming together – forming groups and creating Ukulele communities all based around the joy of playing this little instrument. I feel super lucky to be a part of spreading the ukulele love through my teaching and performances with TTWU.

Notable traditional Hawaiian performers old and new:

Ernest Kaai (1881-1962)

Queen Liliuokalani (1838-1917)

King Kalakaua (1836-1891)

Israel Kamakawiwo’ole “Bruddah Iz” (1959-1997)

Mixed Bag of Music Hall, Blues Country and Ragtime performers: 

Roy Smeck (1900-1994)

George Formby (1904-1961)

May Singhi Breen (1891-1970)

Cliff ‘Ukulele Ike’ Edwards

Del Rey (1959-present)

Tessie O Shea (1913-1995)

50’s/60’s resurgence:

Arthur Godfrey (1903-1983)

Elvis (1935-1977)

George Harrison (1943-2001)

Groups: 

Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain (1985-present)

The Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra (2005-present)

Current virtuosic players:

Jake Shimabukuro (1976-present)

Daniel Ho (1968-present)

James Hill (1980-present)

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Ukulele Geekdom – Week 2 – Sounds and Subtleties

Hello Folks,

So in my last post I explained a few of the different shapes and sizes of the ukulele. This week I would like to show you some (but not all!) of my collection. I have written a bit of technical info on each of them here and I have made a video with a little demo of each instrument, you can find the link to this at the bottom of the page.

Kala Mahogany Concert Ukulele – This is my most used ukulele and it is a brilliant all rounder. It has the standard tuning of GCEA and is tuned with the traditional ‘reentrant’ high G string. It has a gorgeous warm tone, bright but not ‘too’ bright, which is due mainly to it’s solid (not laminate) mahogany body. It is an electro-acoustic instrument, which means it has a pick up installed inside which leads to a simple jack output socket. It feels great to play, it is lightweight but solid and is smooth to the touch – with a gloss finish, apart from where I’ve played it so much it has turned matte! You’ll notice the cutaway shape, this is is designed to allow you to reach up to the higher frets with ease. It is well used by me now so has a few indents and markings but that makes it all the more suited to my playing. Lovely for general use – and suitable for all styles of playing (strumming/finger picking etc.) It is super reliable, I’ve yet to break a string on it and stays in tune beautifully.

Recording King Concert Resonator Ukulele – This was my first ukulele, I bought it because I saw someone playing one at a festival and I liked the look and the sound of it. It has the same tuning as the Kala. As resonators go it is a fairly cheap model but that really doesn’t seem to matter, as it has the perfect sound I was looking for. It is loud and has a harsh/trashy/twangy sound due to the metal body and the resonator cone at the bottom which gives it some natural amplification. It is hard to mic up, I have tried a range of clip/stick on mics, the best option was using an external SM57 instrumental mic set up by the cone – but I found it hard not to hit it with my strum arm! It’s got a great look, with some nice etchings and it really suits a more retro, bluesy sound.

Banjolele – This instrument is a true antique, I have had it looked at and it is thought to be well over 100 years old. It has it’s original case and looks to have it’s original calf skin head too. Like most Banjoleles, it has the body of a banjo but the neck, strings and tuning of a ukulele. This instrument has got a resonator plate on the back which is beautifully etched, not all banjoleles have a resonator – some are left open at the back and this varies the volume and the sound quality quite a bit. The intonation is pretty bad, the lower frets are so worn down that the strings move in to places they shouldn’t! It has an amazing sound but is not hugely gig-able due to the tuning issues and it is difficult to mic up, I also wouldn’t want to work it too hard – he’s an old boy and deserves a quiet life. But it gets 10/10 for it’s vintage look, feel and quality of sound, I think it sounds like it’s being played through an old gramophone!

Risa LP Electric Tenor Ukulele, Cherry Sunburst – This is the latest addition to my collection and ‘oh my’ the possibilities are ENDLESS! I am just getting to grips with it really and have only experimented with a few of the sounds but so far I have found that it can range from a beautiful jazzy mellow sound, to a harsher country twang, to full on distortion in just a few adjustments. It is modelled on a classic Les Paul guitar and has the same duel pick up capabilities, with the same three way switch to go between them. It is tuned with a low G string at the top, which gives the overall sound more depth but also opens up melodic and soloing options a bit more. The biggest difference with this instrument I have noticed so far is the sustain. Typically, being such a small bodied instrument, the ukulele has a notoriously poor sound sustain. But with this ukulele I can use higher chord inversions up the neck, hold on to them and the sound won’t disappear! I plan on running it through an amp rather than through the PA like I usually do with my other ukuleles – so that I can control the tone and volume better. It is gong to take some getting used to and it won’t be appropriate to use in all situations but it is an amazing addition to our TTWU arsenal!

Handmade Concert ‘Pineapple’ Ukulele – Finally I couldn’t finish showing you my collection without showcasing this beautiful hand made ukulele, made for me by my husband as a wedding gift. I will be doing a post later on about how it was made, with step by step photos, but had to include it here too. ’Pineapple’ refers to the shape of the instrument and it is made out of Sapele. It has a super smooth, yet surprisingly loud, tone and I just love it. It is not an instrument I gig with, but it is my most precious uke and my most used at home.

Here is the video demo, I’m aware the sound quality isn’t spot on, once I get this sorted I hope to post some videos of each uke played alone so you can really hear them properly:

 

Thank you for indulging me and reading/viewing this post. I have so enjoyed playing though my ukes and remembering what it is I love about each of them. I really don’t claim to be a ‘gear expert’  but if you have any questions or would like to chat about anything ukulele, do post a comment below or contact me at our email address: tiltherewasuke@aol.co.uk

If I can’t help you, I’m sure I will be able to put you in touch with someone who can.

Bye for now xx

Ukulele Geekdom – Week 1 – Versatility and Variety

Hello TTWU Friends and Ukulele Lovers,

If you are reading our blog I am assuming you have an element of affection for the mini instrument that makes up the main harmonic and rhythmic structure of our duo. I (Lucy) personally really do love the ukulele. For many it is seen as an un-serious instrument, as a fad, as an mini/easy guitar or even as a bit of a joke. It is easy enough to see where this reputation stems from but if you would be so kind as to indulge me, over the next few months I would like to demonstrate why I believe the ukulele to be a beautiful sounding, versatile and totally valuable instrument in it’s own right.

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Since we begun our TTWU exploits (over 5 years ago now!!) I have been lucky enough to try out all sorts of makes, types, brands, sizes of ukulele. The options out there are seemingly endless and I am often asked by new players, ‘What should I buy?’ My first answer is always to try a few out and go for the one you like the sound of best. My second answer is to consider your budget and go to the top end of what you can afford – quality of build and materials used always makes a big difference. But having said that, there are many very affordable ukuleles that make a beautiful sound. Here is a quick bit of info about some of the different sizes of ukulele you can get….

Soprano – this is the smaller, ‘classic’ type of ukulele – the one you would see in played by Elvis or the beautiful hula girls in the movies. It is usually about 12 frets in length and often has a high bright tone. Most have the standard ukulele tuning of GCEA, with the G tuned up higher (nearly an octave above the A).

Concert – this is slightly bigger than the soprano, with a longer neck and slightly more spaced out frets. This is my size of choice because it enables me to do more but keeps that same high ukulele sound and classic look.

Tenor – again this is slightly bigger, the body depth is usually deeper which can give a warmer and louder tone. Fretboard length varies, as does the soundboard size but it looks considerably larger than the soprano and feels quite different to play. Often you will find the Tenor has a low G string, which again changes the sound quite a bit.

Baritone – bigger yet again and quite different in tone, much more guitar like. Also its tuning is different to the other three, it is usually tuned like the top four strings of a guitar (DGBE).

Although these four are the most typical sizes, there are other options including the super mini Sopranino and the often quibbled about Bass ukulele. This is really a different instrument altogether – the strings are super thick and rubbery, carrying the fantastic name of ‘Thunder Gut Strings!’ They are tuned like a bass guitar (EADG) and its purpose is to be played like a bass guitar too, so individual notes are picked out to create a bass line. Chords are not often strummed on this instrument and it is usually used in an ensemble.

All of these instruments are available in a number of different materials – tons of varieties of wood, metals and random objects can be made in to ukuleles, with varying degrees of success and sound quality! Some are totally acoustic, some have electronic pick ups. Some use nylon stings, some use steel strings. It is each to her/his own as to what sound they like and in my next post I will be posting a video giving you a run down on my own collection and my favourite ones to use for what purpose.

Until then, if you love the ukulele – get exploring, I guarantee the perfect uke is out there waiting for you and it just might not sound or look how you expect…!

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Projects in the pipeline are a’poppin’…

It is September – say whaaaaat?! I genuinely cannot believe what I am writing… Wedding season is well & truly over for us for another year & I can assure you it has been a beaut… TTWUKE Wedding.jpg

See what I mean…?!

Looking ahead we have lots of exciting plans in the pipeline & are hoping to ‘relaunch’ around Christmas time so keep your ears & eyes ready for that…! In the meantime you can expect a little update from us every Monday just to keep you guys in the loop & also to hopefully inject a little sunshine into your Monday  they’re generally not everyone’s favourite!

Today’s little insight is a new video… here is snippet of a new song we are working on – it is by Katy Perry & we love the country harmonies in the final chorus 😍 Have a listen to Lucy’s new toy/instrument which is also all part of our pipeline project… Yay! Have a GGRRRRREAT week! Stacey (singer) xx

TTWU Re-Play

Hello!

As promised we now have our AIR FM show available in MP3 format to share with you all. So if you missed it you can catch it here, or if you just ‘can’t wait’ for our next show you can grab another listen too! Just click on the link below to access the two halves of the show.

TTWU AIR FM Show

As the summer is now winding down and we are preparing to go back to our day jobs -piano teacher and choir leader- we are reflecting (again!) on a lovely summer of gigs and weddings played. Thank you to all who invited us along.

We now turn our sights to Autumn and Winter and we are looking to up our gig intake over these seasons, so if you know of any venues that you think would enjoy a bit of a TTWU take over please do let us know and we will follow them up. We are also going to be updating our set list and learning some more songs with the Guitalele which we are super excited about, so watch this space for some new videos.

In the meantime, we hope you enjoy the last of the September sun and to see you again soon.

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With love xx

 

 

A lovely day out in Dorchester…

Bank Holiday SUNSHINE actually happened!! Shock Horror! And even more excitingly we were able to enjoy it as both a band & punters – lovely stuff!

YesterdIMG_0394ay (Bank Holiday Monday) saw us take to the stage in an utterly beautiful setting right on our doorstep! The Dorchester Town Council held a free, family event which saw hoards of local residents set up camp (some quiet literally!) to be entertained with live music from 1pm – 10pm at the stunning Maumbury Rings.

We were first up & kicked off proceedings at ‘The Music Day’ with a lively, toe-tapping set which saw us ukuladies in our total element,  British countryside, a bevy of beautiful family & friends and sunshine! My highlight was all the little children dancing in front of the stage – we seem to appeal to the wee ones wherever we go – I think it is the magic of the Uke (& perhaps a similar mental age!)

It was an utter stonker, the English countryside at it’s best and a field full of smiley, happy people – you can’t beat it! Hope to see you all again next year!!

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Hijacking the AIRwaves

Just over a week ago we had the pleasure of hijacking the AIRwaves of our local community radio station AIR 107.2 FM.

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It was lovely to be let loose for 2 whole hours playing the tunes we love, introducing people to new bands & chatting away in-between. Something we both took to fairly naturally (so we’ve been told!)

We thoroughly enjoyed the experience & if you missed it we thought we would post the evening’s playlist in case there are any bands you fancy discovering further. We played an eclectic mix of soul, country, funk, motown, blaring brass arrangements, alternative cover versions & all in-between so there should be something here to entertain the ears of most of you TTWUKE fans.

Enjoy!

Love from These Two Ukuladies xx

TRACK LISTING IN ORDER

  1. Love Never Felt So Good – Michael Jackson & Justin Timberlake
  2. Here Comes The Sun – The Beatles
  3. Got To Get You Into My Life – Earth, Wind & Fire
  4. For Once In My Life – Stevie Wonder
  5. You’re All I Need To Get By – Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
  6. Sexual Healing – Hot 8 Brass Band
  7. The Clap Hands Song – T Bird & The Breaks
  8. Seven Nation Army – Alice Russell
  9. You Bring Out The Best In Me – Marlena Shaw
  10. Don’t Play That Song – Aretha Franklin
  11. Fly Away – Yola Carter
  12. Destination – Nickel Creek
  13. Creepin’ In – Norah Jones & Dolly Parton
  14. Little Friend – Steve Wilson & ‘Til There Was Uke
  15. Iron Sky – Paolo Nutini
  16. Someone Like You – Paolo Nutini
  17. How To Explain – The Cat Empire
  18. Down To The Nightclub (Bump City) – Tower Of Power
  19. Never Too Much – Luther Vandross
  20. I Need Never Grow Old – Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats

We are hoping to get hold of the show recording so you lovely people have the chance to ‘Listen Again’ if you so wish!