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Joyful Uke
05-28-2016, 02:36 PM
What tips do you all have for improving tone?

Obviously, fretting cleanly is important, but what else? (I'm a fingerpicker, but would think that the same techniques would help strummers too?)

There are those who can make any ukulele sound great. What do you think they've practiced over the years to get good/great tone?

Recstar24
05-28-2016, 02:53 PM
The idea behind this thread I ABSOLUTELY LOVE. Not enough discussion imo takes place here in technique and pedagogy in making great sound. I'll have some comments to post later but wanted to encourage everyone out there to chime in!

johnson430
05-28-2016, 05:04 PM
I heard a story that goes like this:
Yo Yo Ma's teacher told him that when he was learning to play a new song that he was to play it so slowly that if someone was walking by they wouldn't be able to tell what song he was playing.

That is how I approach getting proper tone.

Take time to slow down to speed up.

JJFN
05-28-2016, 05:19 PM
I read something similar the other day, but this dealt with mistakes. When playing a new piece of music, it was suggested to read it through thoroughly and then play it very slowly and try not to make any mistakes. The theory being, that the initial mistakes we make, we tend to repeat. From my own experience this plays out exactly. I know I've tried some rather simple compositions and would continue to make the same mistake. So I am trying to slow down my first attempts to improve both accuracy and tone. Hopefully this will work.

pointpergame
05-28-2016, 06:33 PM
I believe that attack and damping are the keys to sounding good...to sounding great. This might sound simple minded, but sometimes first principles are at least stimulating to think about.

Regard the harpsichord or the pipe organ: How do you "improve" their tone? There are no dynamics. To get any kind of voicing there is only the length of the note followed by the damping of the note. What else is there?

I find this greatly illuminating. If you extrapolate to the ukulele and you assume "perfect" fretting, what else is there except the addition of dynamics?

spookelele
05-29-2016, 02:23 AM
Regard the harpsichord or the pipe organ: How do you "improve" their tone? There are no dynamics. To get any kind of voicing there is only the length of the note followed by the damping of the note. What else is there?


With regard to organ at least.. that's not true. Organ stacks ranks for voicing. There's also mechanicals to control swell, tremolo, etc. A good organist understands the ranks of their instruments, the effects, and how to use them together.

As for how to improve tone... I think paying attention, and trying different things.
Brushing with the flesh vs nail even lightly sounds different.
Up strum vs down strum. Where you fret... ie closer to the wire, or in the middle. How much pressure you use on the left hand. Partial muting. How you hold the instrument, is it away from your body, or pressed against. Where you pick and strum. Hammer on, pull off vs pluck. Moving the body. Bend, vibrato, Etc.

There's sooo many ways to make sounds, and they all sound different. Pay attention, experiment, watch videos instead of just listening, or live.

SteveZ
05-29-2016, 02:55 AM
So much can impact tone beyond the actual construction of the instrument. The strings themselves do a lot, as some are softer/harder, more mellow/bright. Changing strings can really make a difference.

Strumming/picking technique determines how the string will respond. I used to finger pick/strum years ago on the guitar, so tried that on ukulele. I eventually went to a flat pick on ukulele (as I do on my other stringed instruments), as I find I can manipulate the pick to get both a more uniform response and greater variation when wanted as well.

A decent set-up will also make a difference. Fretting a stringed instrument which has the strings too high over the frets often leads to unintentional dampening/muting which affects tone. Strings set too low results in buzzing.

One often-overlooked tonal impact is how one holds the instrument. If one holds a ukulele in a manner where the back is pressed against one's chest or stomach, that action effectively dampens the instrument's back. This nullifies the instrument's back from its role in sound production. I first experienced this phenomenon with mandolin, as I held it against me. I put a Tone-Gard on the mandolin and was blown away be the sound difference. That has kept me from holding ukuleles too close and too tight.

sukie
05-29-2016, 03:34 AM
Tone? How your fingers hit the strings plays a big part. Where you fret makes a difference. I have resisted using my thumb for fingerpicking. But truly, truly you get a much better tone with your thumbnail. I am having a horrible time mastering tremolo. I think I can do it better using my index finger. But I am trying so hard to learn to tremolo with my thumb. Know why? It sounds better.

Tone is not the same as loud or soft or emphasis on notes. It's how those notes sound.

stevejfc
05-29-2016, 03:45 AM
Finger vibrato, the amount of and the length seriously impact tones. Also, obviously where a note is played and on what string on the fret board. A C note on the open C string is audibly tonally different when played on the upper fret board A string. Add variations of finger vibrato, and you have virtually endless tones.

Instrument quality, woods, strings and set up can greatly improve or diminish tone and results. But in the end, practice makes the greatest impact.

pointpergame
05-29-2016, 07:46 AM
With regard to organ at least.. that's not true. Organ stacks ranks for voicing. There's also mechanicals to control swell, tremolo, etc.


I think my point might have been lost. Of course you can add registers both to a pipe organ and to some harpsichords. But it doesn't work during the production of the note. And I agree that there are mechanical devices that change dynamics. A buff stop on a harpsichord and countless variable baffles on organs. One could also grab a resonator ukulele or a mandolin with a Verzi to change tone, or drop a snake rattle inside. But I was using the example of constrained dynamics to offer a thought experiment about the variables available for changing tone. My simple-minded suggestion is that two important variables are the timing of attack and damping.

Brad Bordessa
05-29-2016, 08:48 AM
It's 95% about how your finger interacts with the string (providing you're not messing anything else up grandly). I've spent LOTS of time just sitting and watching/experimenting with how my finger touches and leaves the string. I think this is really important and, for me, was time well spent (still is every once in a while). Examine the way you shape your fingernail, the angles of attack, the striking force, etc...

After all the work I've spent trying to make my other fingers sound strong and fat like the thumbnail, I've found that the rest stroke is the easiest solution. It's the best-sounding way to pick I've found. Unfortunately, it doesn't fit with my style all the time. I'm still trying to figure out how to "flatpick" with my nail and make it come out sounding as good. Daniel Ho plays like this a lot. He might have some instructional stuff on the rest stroke.

Eric Johnson's "Fine Art Of Guitar" DVD is fascinating in this aspect. He's Mr. Tone, IMO. And he details all of his picking techniques on the video. Lots related to pick work, but I found it highly informative anyways.

Try everything.

JJFN
05-29-2016, 08:52 AM
Seems like the more you practice properly, the more your tone (and everything else) will improve.

sukie
05-29-2016, 10:27 AM
Seems like the more you practice properly, the more your tone (and everything else) will improve.

Yep. You gotta put in the time.

Ukulelerick9255
05-29-2016, 10:31 AM
Buy a better Uke it's that easy lol

JJFN
05-29-2016, 10:50 AM
Buy a better Uke it's that easy lol If only! LOL

Nickie
05-29-2016, 11:00 AM
I was shown to raise my right hand higher, so that my fingers have more leverage when plucking the strings, like my thumb, (which is stronger) does. This position makes my fingers point at the strings, so I'm pulling them toward each other, instead of pulling them away from the uke, which can cause more buzzing. So far, it seems to work.
Maybe after I retire from nursing, growing long fingernails on my right hand will be an option.

Joyful Uke
05-29-2016, 05:28 PM
Lots of interesting ideas. I think I'll go try Nickie's idea of raising the right hand higher right now.

mm stan
05-29-2016, 06:02 PM
Technique on attack and fretting
High tension quality strings if you have strong fingers

spookelele
05-30-2016, 02:46 AM
Also nails.... and nail shape.... which is a debate in itself.
But I do seem to have better tone control with some bit if nail.

1931jim
05-30-2016, 03:54 AM
The pinch is something that will help if you explore it. There are endless techniques but wood-shedding is the key as with all instruments. I am a big fan of Kimo Hussey and his many,seemingly effortless, abilities.

TheCraftedCow
05-30-2016, 11:06 AM
A very simple modification to the instrument helps. Do not tie the strings to the bridge...There are drill bits much smaller than 1/8th of an inch > toolmy strings to the hardware store and laid the string on both sided of the different bits. you can see when something laid across the two sections of strings if it is smaller or the same size. I then check out one number larger as the bit for drilling the hole so I can string through the body. Do that for all four strings. I do not use beads or other things on the ends....just push the strings until the come out the hole...tie e knot and pull the knot back and do the same with all of the other three or everhowmany are left strings.

Joyful Uke
05-30-2016, 02:15 PM
Don't think I should be trusted with drill bits, but that's an interesting idea, too.

Off to go practice, and see what comes of that. Last night, I isolated my pinkie as a weak point, so need to work on that, for sure.

bonesigh
05-30-2016, 03:54 PM
Pinky work is good and try some of the finger exercises like this one http://ukulele-wikiwiki.com/uw/Handouts/FingerExerciseMay.pdf Oh, there is this fantastic exercise I learned from Craig Chee and Sarah Maisel, no playing the stings just movement of fingers on the fret board but it would take a demo to show it. If you ever get the chance to take a workshop from them, or if you can afford their online stuff I highly recommend them. Just my opinion of course (:

Ukejenny
05-30-2016, 03:57 PM
For me, the finer points of musicianship, getting the emotion out of the music, telling the story, is key. Find music you love and love it as you play it. And practice all the mechanics like a demon.

Camsuke
05-30-2016, 04:02 PM
For me, the finer points of musicianship, getting the emotion out of the music, telling the story, is key. Find music you love and love it as you play it. And practice all the mechanics like a demon.

An excellent point Jenny. A simple song played well is much nicer to the ear than a difficult song played poorly.

b00geyman
05-30-2016, 06:31 PM
I recently discovered that dynamics make a whole lot of difference. Try playing a section really quietly, and slowly increase picking strength toward the next phrase. Play that as loud as you can, and then cut back suddenly to silent mode. I've been practicing this lately and if executed well, it changes the entire atmosphere.

Another thing which may be obvious but is often neglected - the sweet spot. The strings don't sound the same depending on where you pick them. Closer to the bridge gives you a sharper, twangier sound, whereas moving closer toward the middle of the strings, perhaps just between the sound hole and the last few frets, gives you more mellow, jazzier sound.

Obviously, both of these work better when finger-picking, but can also change your strumming output greatly.

Someone mentioned that nails are a separate discussion. I couldn't agree more. I know that when I trim my nails, the sound is very muffled and I never get the same clarity such as when playing with slightly longer nails. If nails are too long, you'll get a small scratching sound every time you pluck the string [if you listen carefully to Jimmy Page, he's handling his pick in such way that he's using about 80% of it's length to pick.] This obviously produces a scratching sound just before the string is plucked and thus sounds 'dirtier'.

Hope this helps

70sSanO
05-31-2016, 09:22 AM
Tone is such a tough word to define. Is it brightness? Or sustain? Volume... ???

I agree that technique will improve how clean the notes are played and that should improve tone, but there is just so much technique can do with some ukes and there is no guarantee that you will get more of whatever it is you are looking for.

So you can always cheat...

91596

You still need to be able to play somewhat clean, but not dampening the soundboard may help. I originally added the armrest so perspiration from my arm wouldn't ruin the finish, but the fallout was more sustain, volume, etc. At times there is too much help with sustain.

John

Picker Jon
05-31-2016, 11:11 AM
For me, listening is important. I find recording myself playing a tune and listening back is a very different experience to when I'm playing and can be very illuminating as to how my playing sounds and any changes I would like to make.

johnson430
05-31-2016, 11:47 AM
For me, listening is important. I find recording myself playing a tune and listening back is a very different experience to when I'm playing and can be very illuminating as to how my playing sounds and any changes I would like to make.

+1. I do this and it helps out so much. I will video sometimes if I am at my desktop, so I can see my hands too. Recording while I work on a song is now part of the process.

Joyful Uke
06-01-2016, 04:44 AM
Pinky work is good and try some of the finger exercises like this one http://ukulele-wikiwiki.com/uw/Handouts/FingerExerciseMay.pdf Oh, there is this fantastic exercise I learned from Craig Chee and Sarah Maisel

Started working on these finger exercises, and it should be helpful. Thanks.

Has anyone taken the ArtistWorks class w/ Craig and Sarah? I'm thinking of trying a month, even though the free sample lessons weren't that exciting to me. Are the free lessons representative of the whole class?

bonesigh
06-02-2016, 03:09 PM
Your welcome Joyful Uke. I really like their workshops but don't know about the online lessons. They are super nice people! A friend of mine does the one where he submits a video of a song and they critique it and make suggestions to improve the song. I really like this idea (: He seems to get a lot out of it.

Snargle
06-02-2016, 03:38 PM
Started working on these finger exercises, and it should be helpful. Thanks.

Has anyone taken the ArtistWorks class w/ Craig and Sarah? I'm thinking of trying a month, even though the free sample lessons weren't that exciting to me. Are the free lessons representative of the whole class?

I've been a subscriber to their lessons since they started. I like them a lot and really appreciate the ability to record videos and have them respond with video critiques/suggestions. They are really nice to work with...very patient and encouraging. I've learned a lot that I probably would have never picked up just hacking around on my own with sheet music and youtube videos.



One often-overlooked tonal impact is how one holds the instrument. If one holds a ukulele in a manner where the back is pressed against one's chest or stomach, that action effectively dampens the instrument's back. This nullifies the instrument's back from its role in sound production. I first experienced this phenomenon with mandolin, as I held it against me. I put a Tone-Gard on the mandolin and was blown away be the sound difference. That has kept me from holding ukuleles too close and too tight.This is another reason why I have straps on all my ukes. Having to squeeze the ukulele to my body with my arm really seems to muffle the sound, in addition to limiting my ability to easily move up and down the fretboard.