View Full Version : Del Rey's Blue Uke

04-23-2008, 07:03 AM
A Review of Blue Uke, by Del Rey
Homespun Tapes, 2007

I purchased Del Rey's Blue Uke about a month ago and have watched it many times now. Del Rey has made an international name for herself over the past decade as a highly skilled acoustic blues guitarist and ukuleleist. According to the back-jacket of the DVD, Del takes a "guitar player's approach" to the ukulele, "using her three fingers to get syncopated melody and harmony lines against a steady thumb beat." In addition to being a highly sought after musician, Del is also a well-respected teacher. Blue Uke is jam packed with useful stuff for ukulele players interested in fingerpicking, blues, jazz, and ragtime. The DVD is rated by Homespun as "Level 3," or "early intermediate" in terms of difficulty and intended audience. As such, I wouldn't recommend it for straight up beginners. That said, for early intermediate players looking to push their playing to the next level, I highly recommend this DVD.

Produced and filmed by Happy Traum of Homespun Tapes, the filming, image, and sound quality of Blue Uke are excellent. The DVD is divided into two halves. The first half covers a set of blues and ragtime songs and the techniques that Del uses to play them. The second half of the DVD consists of a set of performances, where Del is accompanied by critically acclaimed blues guitarist Steve James.

As a teacher, Del explains blues concepts, chord progressions, fingerings, and fingerpicking techniques clearly. The camera angles are superb, providing a very clear view of both hands. Del moves through the lesson at a good pace. The tabs included are also quite good. The blues and ragtime tunes she teaches involve self-accompaniment with melodies and harmonies. The song choices are diverse and cover a range of techniques. I especially like Del's arrangements for "Goin' Up to the Country," "Keep it Clean," and "Brown's Blues."

On the DVD, Del plays her Ron Phillips tenor reso uke for the first half in re-entrant C tuning (G, C, E, A). For the second half, where she is accompanied by blues guitarist Steve James, Del plays her concert Phillips reso uke tuned to D 6 (A, D, F#, B). D 6 tuning is just like re-entrant C, just a whole step higher. IMHO, the solo and duo performances alone make this DVD a worthwhile purchase.

I do have two criticisms of this DVD. First, Del's Ron Phillips tenor has this weird mother-of-toilet seat fretboard, which doesn't have dots like a regular uke fingerboard. To compensate, she sticks these big orange sticky dots onto the fingerboard at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, and 9th frets. It's not a big deal, but it is a bit annoying. I buy instructional DVDs in part because I like to see what's going on, and Del's unique looking fingerboard takes some getting used to.

My second criticism is that Del doesn't spend as much time as I'd like on how to get up to speed with her particular style of fingerpicking. In the intro, she briefly addresses which fingers she tends to use for which strings, but the remainder of the DVD offers little discussion of how to achieve fluency with fingerpicking that involves syncopation and sometimes very complicated rhythmic patterns. In short, Del's technique of using "three fingers to get syncopated melody and harmony lines against a steady thumb beat" is an innovative but very challenging technique. Of course, one can always rewind the DVD to get a second (and a third, and fourth) look when necessary, but still, I wish Del had taken more time to explain how she herself came to develop this technique.

All in all, I think Del Rey's Blue Uke a very well-done intermediate-level instructional DVD. For the blues ukulele enthusiasts among us, I'd even call it a "must-have." On the Drubin rating scale, I give it 4 out of 5 stars!

07-10-2008, 04:29 PM
Thanks for the review! I'm anxious for the DVD to arrive!

07-10-2008, 04:41 PM
I think you'll enjoy the DVD, Craig! It really opened up some new possibilities for me. :)

I'd be interested to hear your thoughts after you've had a chance to spend some time with it.

Best regards,


07-10-2008, 05:16 PM
Nice detailed review. It's good to see people put some work into describign details both good and bad, that is a real asset for future searches on these forums.
It might be a good idea to put [Review] in front of the title when you post a review, so you can do a "titles only" search and find all the reviews posted. Would you do the honors and set this revolution into action?

07-10-2008, 07:15 PM
Thanks for the compliments UkeNinja. Good idea on the "review" title. However, when I hit "edit" the system actually won't let me change the title. Perhaps this is because I posted this review some time ago? :confused: