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View Full Version : A strength and weakness of ukulele culture



Piecomics
01-17-2016, 01:21 PM
I will start with the strength. One of the strengths of the culture around the ukulele is the wide availability of tabs in nearly every musical genre. I have found classical, Bluegrass, Celtic, lots of pop as well as Hawaiian. You can contrast this to looking for music for the mandolin or dulcimer, where it is more difficult to find a wide variety of music ( though it is certainly available if you search enough. ) it almost seems like the ukulele is a tabula rasa, which I really appreciate.

However, a weakness from my perspective is the lack of a standard repertoire. I have been lucky to have a teacher who is very good at developing my skill from beginner to intermediate, and I hope eventually to a better version of intermediate :-) . she draws heavily from the classical guitar repertoire, and it struck me that I don't know what would make up a sort of standard repertoire for the ukulele.

I think I just use the word repertoire more than I ever have in my entire life.

Any thoughts on what the standards are? Either the more well-known Hawaiian pieces, or pieces that have become well-known for other reasons? I guess I'm thinking of finger style pieces, rather than pieces which are meant to be accompaniment for vocals.

Thanks for any thoughts on this, I may be totally off base. Probably am!

Piecomics
01-17-2016, 01:24 PM
Also please excuse any weird typos, I had to do voice to text for this from my phone.

tbeltrans
01-17-2016, 01:56 PM
It seems to me that, since the ukulele seems to be oddly considered a sort of "underdog" among instruments for some reason, that NOT having a standard repertoire allows us to constantly surprise people with what can be done on a ukulele. The surprise factor tends to generate more interest than playing the same stuff over and over, until it becomes cliche like "Tiptoe Through the Tulips", which many people tend to associate with the ukulele as Tiny Tim performed it. I would think this would be especially true for fingerstyle instrumental music, since most people seem to expect a person to sing when playing the ukulele, just as with the guitar (classical guitar being the exception).

Tony

janeray1940
01-17-2016, 02:23 PM
I sort of take an opposite approach - I'm a fingerstyle-only player and the *last* thing I want to learn are the "standard" songs. I like to surprise people and get the "I didn't know you could do that on the ukulele!" reaction from them :)

That being said - some of the songs that people seem to strongly associate with ukulele, in addition to the aforementioned Tiptoe, might include: Somewhere Over the Rainbow (Iz version), White Sandy Beach, Tonight You Belong to Me, I'm Yours, Hey Soul Sister, Riptide, some Ingrid Michaelson and Bruno Mars stuff... and a few more covered in detail here (http://ukulelehunt.com/ukulele-songs/). I haven't bothered to learn any of them. In almost 7 years of playing, the only "ukulele song" I've ever bothered to learn is one that doesn't often make the lists but is definitely a "ukulele song" - The Who's Blue, Red and Grey (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue,_Red_and_Grey).

Kimosabe
01-17-2016, 02:57 PM
I don't see a need for a standard repertoire. So much is possible from so many genres. There is Hawaiian music, where the ukulele is usually part of a group that includes guitar and bass and voice. There is the British music hall tradition. There is the classical tradition derived from the ukulele's affinity with the lute, the Tony Mizen Rob Mackillop influenced school, there are those who follow John King's classical transcriptions, there are the claw hammer bluegrass people, the Mark Nelson finger pickers, the slack key people, Aldrine and his modern pop song crowd, and my personal favorites, the Lyle Ritz Benny Chong Ohta-San gang, and my apologies to whomever and whatever I left out.

Take your pick, mix 'em up. He who binds himself a joy doth its winged life destroy, but he who watches a joy as it flies shall live in eternity's sunrise.

So, I second Mountain Goat's thoughts.

Piecomics
01-17-2016, 03:03 PM
so to be more clear, my concepts of standards would be pieces that demonstrate the skills we can develop with the instrument, like maintaining two distinct voices throughout a piece, or dynamic control... Some examples of pieces that would fit the bill for me include Simple Gifts, or Y La Mi Cinta Dorada, st. Anne's reel, or even greensleaves. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=fxDPFgl_uhU not really talking about poppy strumming music or even songs which are played solely for the sake of being familiar as uke tunes.

I do like that the ukulele can surprise people, similar to how a Bela Fleck surprised people on the banjo. I think I'm just looking for that next level... After they are surprised, can they be enraptured. I love the instrument and think it'd be awesome if we had, for instance, Herb Ohta, John King, and James Hill recordings of kind of blue. Or something...

tbeltrans
01-17-2016, 03:04 PM
I sort of take an opposite approach - I'm a fingerstyle-only player and the *last* thing I want to learn are the "standard" songs. I like to surprise people and get the "I didn't know you could do that on the ukulele!" reaction from them :)

That being said - some of the songs that people seem to strongly associate with ukulele, in addition to the aforementioned Tiptoe, might include: Somewhere Over the Rainbow (Iz version), White Sandy Beach, Tonight You Belong to Me, I'm Yours, Hey Soul Sister, Riptide, some Ingrid Michaelson and Bruno Mars stuff... and a few more covered in detail here (http://ukulelehunt.com/ukulele-songs/). I haven't bothered to learn any of them. In almost 7 years of playing, the only "ukulele song" I've ever bothered to learn is one that doesn't often make the lists but is definitely a "ukulele song" - The Who's Blue, Red and Grey (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue,_Red_and_Grey).

Once again, we seem to think alike. :)

Tony

Piecomics
01-17-2016, 03:09 PM
So more posts showed up after mine. Seems like the overriding thought is agreement with what I indicated as the ukes strengths (versatility, lack of defined niche) with not much concern for what I'm calling a weakness. it's probably just because I've been listening to a lot of mandolin bluegrass, and I appreciate the well defined corpus of work...

mikelz777
01-17-2016, 04:07 PM
I think people should worry less about what they think they ought to play and more about what they want to play.

spookelele
01-17-2016, 04:37 PM
I think people should worry less about what they think they ought to play and more about what they want to play.

To a point.. I think standards are useful. There's playing.. and there's building.

"Standards" give you a kind of vocabulary, and building blocks not just to repeat what other people did, but also to build things of your own. It's a framework to build on so you don't have to start from scratch.

mds725
01-17-2016, 05:30 PM
There was a time, after the ukulele was introduced to the mainland at the Pan Pacific International Expo in San Francisco in 1915, that songs were actually written for the ukulele and then became "standards" of other instrumentations. I actually like the cross-pollenation. There are songs that people ask me if I can play once they learn that I play the ukulele, and I've learned a few of them just to play along with the stereotyping, but if I were preparing a set list to demonstrate the ukulele, I'd include a bunch of my favorite Hawaiian songs (which might not be what others might consider Hawaiian "standards") and other songs I like that sound to me amenable to being played on the ukulele (which is similarly subjective and may also not be what others might consider ukulele "standards"). Learning to play the ukulele was my gateway back to playing music, so I play what makes me happy, whether they're part of what could be a "standard" ukulele set list or not.

Luke El U
01-17-2016, 06:18 PM
Huge strengths for uke culture is the plethora of published music written and arranged for the ukulele in the past 10 years and the social media like Youtube and UU which have offered players far more resources than those in the whole 20th century.

coolkayaker1
01-17-2016, 06:26 PM
I think every musician, regardless of their main instrument, should at least once don a pork-pie hat, a red rubber nose, and strum open chords on a ukulele.

How better to appreciate the tiny instruments' comedic strengths over such sourpussed comparables as concertinas, ocarinas, and xylophones?

SteveZ
01-18-2016, 03:03 AM
Having a "standard repertoire" for progressive learning and skills measurement reminds me of my grade-school days when I got mandatory weekly accordion lessons. Once the family fad for that fizzled out, I gave the accordian to another kid and never touched one again. If the goal is not to "play" an instrument but to utlize an instrument solely to expand one's dexterity and muscle memory, then "standard repertoire" works and has for eons.

After the accordion bit the dust, a few years later I found the guitar. A half century of "pickin' and grinnin'" combined with an occasional lesson from a friend and reading a couple "easy guitar instruction" got me to what some would call a mediocre skill level. I never cared about someone else's measure of my guitar skills, since I was in it for the fun of "playing" versus attainment of some hierarchical standing.

If one wants to be measured to some predetermined ukulele standard and rated as a "____" level ukulelean, I'm sure some enterprising person will create such a grading system, establish a testing scheme and issue rating certificates (all for a reasonable price!). In addition, separate endorsements could be issued for soprana, concert, tenor, baritone, five-string, six-string, eight-string, banjolele and bass.

Don't get me wrong. If folk want such a system, that's their choice and I respect it. For me, I'm in it for the pure joy of it all. It's "playing" an instrument, not "studying" or "working" an instrument. So, I think it's about time I took out the six-string tenor and R&R'd for a while just for the enjoyment that playing music can bring.

Nickie
01-18-2016, 04:21 PM
You guys never cease to amaze me. Just when I start thinking I'm smart, or I know stuff, you guys outshine me with your brilliance!
Such an interesting thread. Stuff I never considered.
I never really thought of myself having a repertoire. S--t, I can't even spell it.
I play a lot of songs I don't really care about, not for myself, but for others. A lot of my audience is very elderly, and they don't know Bowie from The Beatles from Jagger. They are the Lawrence Welk generation. They do love it when I show off with an instrumental version of a familiar tune, though.
Also, in the jam session I lead, they are NOT going to appreciate me throwing hard songs at them. We have to pretty much stick to easy peasy, which by myself are boring, but in a group, can be quite fun. Last month I began to introduce finger picking to them, and they seemed to love it.
I've been putting off having them do Tiptoe Through the Tulips, but I can see we need to try it. It's quite lovely, actually.
Thanks for the enlightenment!

Tootler
01-19-2016, 02:45 AM
Standard repertoire has more to do with musical genre than the instrument you play, imo.

If you are interested in folk music (as I am), for example, you would not be particularly interested in learning music by Beethoven or Mozart or in learning Jazz standards, nor do you need to learn them. You need and want to learn folk songs and/or tunes. This is regardless of the instrument. Where the instrument comes in is how you exploit the characteristics of your instrument - and overcome its limitations - to play the repertoire of your chosen genre.

kkimura
01-19-2016, 03:05 AM
Yes, the difficulty is that ukulele playing crosses so many genre. To be universally applied a ukulele standard repertoire would need to be genre agnostic. Luckily Uncle Rod has already provided one.

http://ukulelebootcamp.weebly.com/

spookelele
01-19-2016, 04:21 AM
As Nickie has posted, many ukulele players are just not interested in doing anything technical or too difficult.

Hmm.. that's not how I read it, but perhaps I misunderstood.
If you're in a herd, and need to stay together, you have to walk as slow as the slowest member.

There's a quote that I think is appropriate.
People say they know what they like, when what they mean is they like what they know.

Playing standards exposes you to a broad range of sounds, progressions, techniques, alternate voicings, etc. Until you've tried them, and used them... how do you know if you like them, or find them useful?

There's something to getting it done. But.. if you play a song today, that you started with.. you'll probably do it different and better than you did, when you just got it done then.

Rllink
01-19-2016, 05:52 AM
Hmm.. that's not how I read it, but perhaps I misunderstood.
If you're in a herd, and need to stay together, you have to walk as slow as the slowest member.

There's a quote that I think is appropriate.
People say they know what they like, when what they mean is they like what they know.

Playing standards exposes you to a broad range of sounds, progressions, techniques, alternate voicings, etc. Until you've tried them, and used them... how do you know if you like them, or find them useful?

There's something to getting it done. But.. if you play a song today, that you started with.. you'll probably do it different and better than you did, when you just got it done then.I went back and read the OP, and I think that Bill touches on what the OP was asking, or expressing, as it might be. I find your quotes thought provoking, if not a little cliché. I particularly like the one about knowing what you like is liking what you know. That is true. My mother used to use that same reasoning to get me to eat things that looked unappetizing to me when I was a child. But my second observation is the "herd". It seems to me that following the herd is not how one grows, it is how one stays in the herd.

spookelele
01-19-2016, 06:26 AM
I went back and read the OP, and I think that Bill touches on what the OP was asking, or expressing, as it might be. I find your quotes thought provoking, if not a little cliché. I particularly like the one about knowing what you like is liking what you know. That is true. My mother used to use that same reasoning to get me to eat things that looked unappetizing to me when I was a child. But my second observation is the "herd". It seems to me that following the herd is not how one grows, it is how one stays in the herd.

But.. if Nickie is leading a jam session.. that's her job.

Rllink
01-19-2016, 06:58 AM
But.. if Nickie is leading a jam session.. that's her job.What is her job? Anyway, you use the term Jam session, and I don't know what Nickie is doing. I think that Bill touched on this, but there are a lot of people who measure their identity and self worth, by reaching particular levels in whatever it is they are doing, by conforming to some ascending measures of competence established by some governing entity, be it a music teacher, or some sanctioning authority, and receiving some sort of tangible recognition for it. Like when they gave you stars in first grade for reading. Other's do not identify as much with those conformations.

Tootler
01-19-2016, 07:37 AM
Yes, the difficulty is that ukulele playing crosses so many genre. To be universally applied a ukulele standard repertoire would need to be genre agnostic. Luckily Uncle Rod has already provided one.

http://ukulelebootcamp.weebly.com/

The ukulele is by no means unique in that respect. There are a number of instruments that are used in a variety of genres. Violin, guitar, clarinet, flute to name a few.

I know that many people find Uncle Rod's bootcamp useful but it doesn't cut it for me. I prefer to learn my chords in context so I look for songs that enable me to learn new cords and new progressions. That's the way I have built up my repertoire of chords. Just gradually adding more chords as I learn new songs.

kkimura
01-19-2016, 08:01 AM
The ukulele is by no means unique in that respect. There are a number of instruments that are used in a variety of genres. Violin, guitar, clarinet, flute to name a few.

I know that many people find Uncle Rod's bootcamp useful but it doesn't cut it for me. I prefer to learn my chords in context so I look for songs that enable me to learn new cords and new progressions. That's the way I have built up my repertoire of chords. Just gradually adding more chords as I learn new songs.

Funny you should say that because I sort of agree with you in that after useing bootcamp a while I stopped my bootcamp sessions and went with trying to play songs I liked. Months later I tried the bootcamp again and was pleasantly surprised to see some improvement in my transitions from chord to chord.

So I was able to use Uncle Rod's method as a reference to gauge my progress much the same as music students use a "standard repertory".

Snargle
01-19-2016, 08:58 AM
I know that many people find Uncle Rod's bootcamp useful but it doesn't cut it for me. I prefer to learn my chords in context so I look for songs that enable me to learn new cords and new progressions. That's the way I have built up my repertoire of chords. Just gradually adding more chords as I learn new songs.I've been playing about six weeks now and I find Uncle Rod's Bootcamp exercises useful, but I don't think I'd have the patience to do nothing but strumming those chords for weeks unti I had them nailed. They're good warm-up exercises and I've definitely learned from them, but like Geoff mentioned, learning chords by playing actual songs is much more enjoyable and probably more productive.

70sSanO
01-19-2016, 09:57 AM
it's probably just because I've been listening to a lot of mandolin bluegrass, and I appreciate the well defined corpus of work...

I would think that a person would be hard pressed to find any music that is as structured as bluegrass. I have a friend who has tried to get up to speed playing bluegrass guitar and it is pretty daunting to jump into a bluegrass jam and there are definitely unwritten rules as to who belongs and who doesn't belong in the jam.

I am so thankful that there is no such structure with the ukulele. If one was established the UU Marketplace would have to have it's own website.

John

drbekken
01-19-2016, 10:53 AM
I think there used to be a sort of "standard" repertoire for the uke, but those days are long gone.

I think that mentality was also linked closely to the limited view of the uke being a sort of two-genre only instrument:
ie novelty/vaudeville/jazz era standards and Hawaiian songs.

In this third wave the boundaries have been shattered and the genres are crossed so frequently. This time around we have seen the uke emerge and be recognised for it's full potential; it is now rightly seen as a serious instrument capable of playing as wide a range of musical styles as limited only by the imagination and ability of the player.

We now have professional ukulele players around the world combining every genre of music you care to name: old-time; gospel; bluegrass; jazz; pop; blues; country; classical; R&B; folk; instrumental and on it goes.

For myself, I have yet to find a style of music the uke cannot do well.

So, I guess what I'm saying is there is no standard repertoire anymore. I too, agree and think as janeray above. I like the surprise element and a very much turned off when I hear yet another version of Aint She Sweet, White Sandy Beach et al. I'd rather play Couldn't I Just Tell You by Todd Rundgren. :p

Truth spoken here.

Nickie
01-19-2016, 04:20 PM
What is her job? Anyway, you use the term Jam session, and I don't know what Nickie is doing.

I am an Event Organizer for TBUS.
I lead a Saturday Evening Jam Session once a month in Clearwater. We usually do about two dozen songs in about two hours. I lead from the front of the room. We have about 20 players. 90% of them are beginners, and a couple are seasoned players. We are all learning the ukulele together, I feel. No ukulele player is left behind. We just started putting the songs up on a screen, kinda karaoke style. We have a bassist to keep us together.
I hope that explains it!

Rllink
01-20-2016, 04:34 AM
I am an Event Organizer for TBUS.
I lead a Saturday Evening Jam Session once a month in Clearwater. We usually do about two dozen songs in about two hours. I lead from the front of the room. We have about 20 players. 90% of them are beginners, and a couple are seasoned players. We are all learning the ukulele together, I feel. No ukulele player is left behind. We just started putting the songs up on a screen, kinda karaoke style. We have a bassist to keep us together.
I hope that explains it!It does, thanks.

JMort847
01-20-2016, 07:25 AM
I think people should worry less about what they think they ought to play and more about what they want to play.

I agree with mikelz777, the uke is fun. I think people should keep it fun by doing their own thing and enjoy. You can "conform" with group activities, which should also be fun, but just do what you like.

Tootler
01-20-2016, 12:26 PM
Funny you should say that because I sort of agree with you in that after useing bootcamp a while I stopped my bootcamp sessions and went with trying to play songs I liked. Months later I tried the bootcamp again and was pleasantly surprised to see some improvement in my transitions from chord to chord.

So I was able to use Uncle Rod's method as a reference to gauge my progress much the same as music students use a "standard repertory".


I've been playing about six weeks now and I find Uncle Rod's Bootcamp exercises useful, but I don't think I'd have the patience to do nothing but strumming those chords for weeks unti I had them nailed. They're good warm-up exercises and I've definitely learned from them, but like Geoff mentioned, learning chords by playing actual songs is much more enjoyable and probably more productive.

Good points here. Uncle Rod's Bootcamp as a touchstone on your progress or as a warm up to get your fingers going to the right place. Both good uses.

The value of learning through songs is that it keeps you motivated. You are going to choose songs you like and want to sing/play so you will be motivated to overcome any difficulties. It's important to stretch yourself and to play out of your comfort zone but not too much. If you go too far out of your comfort zone you're likely to become disheartened. It's getting the right balance.