Posts tagged with "ukulele"

Aguado Dionisio — Study in A Minor (arranged for ukulele)

Got my new tenor ukulele and it’s an absolutely gorgeous instrument, although I’m sure that’s related to the cost1. After a few weeks of trying out the Aquila’s they came with, I put on some Worth brown strings with the low-G.

Study in A Minor is a great piece to learn because it’s relatively simple (so I don’t get discouraged too easily), but there are three tricky parts to focus on improving. They’re also each difficult in their own way, gradually working the dexterity or flexibility in a certain finger or two.

I wanted to film this as a record of the way the ukulele sounds now; it’s a solid lacewood spruce body, so the tone will develop over time as the wood matures. Also, so I can have a quick reference of what it sounds like with longer nails on the picking hand (which were promptly cut after, because they were driving me nuts). It’s relatively clear sound, whereas without nails it’s sort of “wet”.

I first learned this on a soprano ukulele, and I had to retrain my fingers to stretch on the tenor. It was a BIG difference, and I didn’t think my fingers would stretch far enough at first.

It feels amazing to practice something for weeks, and to finally have it click one day. Then you never want to stop playing cause you’re afraid you may lose it the next day.

  1. Jesse says I paid “real instrument” price for it. []

Famous Blue Raincoat (ukulele cover)

Almost three months ago, I walked into a music store and bought a ukulele. I didn’t even know the frets on the ukulele (or guitar, for that matter) were raised; I thought they were just lines painted on the neck used as guidelines for finger positions. Ever since, it’s filled a void in me. A void I didn’t even know existed until I found myself feeling empty when I didn’t get a chance to play.

Famous Blue Raincoat is one of my favourite Leonard Cohen songs. I wish I could write letters like this.

I haven’t quite figured out what kind of style or genre I want to apply to the ukulele, but I think my singing ability (or lack thereof) will limit me to the soft Sam Beam folk sound unless I started taking singing lessons. Borrowed in my interpretation is a variation of the picking pattern Cohen uses in a lot of his earlier songs, such as Hey That’s No Way To Say Goodbye, adapted for the soprano ukulele.

While my brain picks out the mistakes and details I need to work on when I see myself play, I try to keep in mind the words of my Tai Chi teacher, “We’re never as bad as we fear nor as good as we would like”. I don’t think I’ll ever be satisfied with my musical ability unless I could commit a lot more time to it. Unfortunately, that would mean less time for another hobby, so I have to accept that this will probably be close to the limit of my ability. Hopefully, I’ll be able to clean things up in another few years. Patience will come from learning to be satisfied from the act of playing itself, and not the mastery of it. For now, this’ll serve as record of my progress.

Make Hymn Cry + Cover

In the winter I made a short video teaser for Jesse’s upcoming album by getting him to perform a song off it called Make Hymn Cry. As the only ukulele piece on a rap album, it definitely stands out.

Then it dawned on me this morning to see if I could cover it. As I was trying to figure out the chord progression, I realized it’s a fairly simple song that only alternates between the G and C chords. The strumming in Jesse’s video is slightly simpler than on the album, the latter of which is the pattern I use in my version, and includes the picking arpeggio for the second verse.

Still, it took me half the day just to get comfortable with the strumming pattern because it’s syncopated in a way I’m not used to yet, the rhythm at the end of each bar divided beyond eighth notes into sixteenth notes. This is what long weekends are for.

The main thing I’m concentrating on is counting the beats so I can strum off them and keep track of where the extra strum is at the end of each bar. The next is trying not to speed up, which is a very bad habit of mine, regardless of instrument. I also need to pay attention to softly resting my hand on the strings when transitioning to the second verse; firstly, to prevent the last chord from ringing too long, and secondly, to physically feel where the strings are so I can get my thumb on the C string. I’m definitely not good enough to know where it is at all times. Most of the rest came by itself (i.e. I’m not consciously focusing on it), probably from already listening a few times to a pre-release copy of the album Jesse gave me.

The phrases of the lyrics are also syncopated against the strumming; it always feels like your strumming is late because the first word of every line falls on the beat before each down-strum), which adds another layer of complexity. The fact that I made it through without any major mistakes but fucked it up right at the very end1 is why I can’t stop laughing.

My singing is strained cause I’m trying to project above the strumming to stay in balance, but it’s clearly out of my comfort zone. I’m not good enough to strum softly with control yet, so I cheated and just raised my voice. The thing is, I never practice singing when I’m practicing my playing, usually because I need to concentrate on one thing at a time. Singing practice is also boring by itself, so I never do it, even though I should.

Anyway, I had a good day after learning this little piece, and being able to figure out the chords and the strumming was probably just as fun as being able to play it.

  1. I lost track of the extra strum in the second last bar! []

I can hear the june bugs approaching

(Thanks to Kasi for this one.)

I recently discovered that guitar chords are the same as ukulele chords, which opens up the repertoire of available songs considerably. It’s a shame that most online sheet music is in the form of guitar tabs, which don’t translate to the ukulele. Still, I have enough songs to practice that I can switch to another when I get bored with one. I find it interesting that since the ukulele requires two hands doing different things, I run into a bottleneck in hand dexterity; I can pluck or strum well enough with my right hand, but I can’t get the chords with my left hand fast enough, or vice versa depending on the song. I have to practice each hand individually, which is so unlike any other instrument I’ve played before.

I have a telescope now. My instructor was able to get a great package deal for students in his astrophotography course for a 114mm reflector, along with a tracking motor1 and illuminated reticule2. I put it together today, and it was really exciting to be assembling all these precision parts to make my first telescope, a moment I dreamed about since I was a kid. Astronomy is much more complicated than I expected. Much of it is similar to photography in terms of the equipment used (although the terms and controls are different), but now you also have to know your subject, your orientation, and your weather conditions, not to mention being at the right place.

I’m feeling better about things. Maybe it’s the promise of warmer weather. I’m waiting for the day I can drive my car with the windows down and sandals on. Those are the days of house parties, camping, drinks on patios, and first kisses. Soon, it will be the time of stargazing, barbecues, and who knows.

A few people have suggested my depression may have been due to a chemical imbalance, which I never ruled out. Even though it was one e-mail on that Thursday morning that triggered all those bad thoughts, I normally would have been able to handle it better. There wasn’t an immediate impact. Just a gradual sagging that got worse and worse throughout the day until I was completely dejected at night. After that, I got a blister on my neck from standing in the shower for too long with water that was too hot. Now that I think about it, I completely understand why I felt that way, but it seems kind of silly.

Joe Lencioni also recommended to me a free program called Flux — appropriately headlined as “Software to make your life better” — that gradually changes the colour temperature and brightness of your monitors to mimic the setting sun. It’s also localized, so it knows when the sun sets for your area and changes automatically. I’m pretty sure it’s made it easier for me to fall asleep at night.

I’m in such a strange phase right now. I don’t know where I am. When I look back on this time in my life, I wonder whether I’ll look back with nostalgia, pity, or regret.

  1. To move the telescope at the same rotation of the earth to prevent blur in astrophotography. []
  2. To keep track of a guide star in calibrating the tracking motor. []