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View Full Version : Uke Rant - is the ukulele inherently 'happy'?



bazmaz
02-11-2014, 11:08 AM
My uke rants on Got A Ukulele always get a lot of traffic, so thought I would share here (being brave)

trust you take it in the spirit intended as a discussion piece. Bear in mind it is written in the cold wet UK!

http://www.gotaukulele.com/2014/02/the-ukulele-is-not-happiest-instrument.html

janeray1940
02-11-2014, 11:23 AM
Definitely a worthy rant. There's nothing I enjoy playing more on ukulele than songs in minor keys - which, to the Western ear anyway, are supposed to sound "dark" and pretty much the opposite of happy. So I'm a strong believer that the ukulele is so much more than a "happy little instrument," even as I write from supposedly warm and sunny California (where I sit wrapped in a wool cardigan, the heater turned up to high... but I digress!).


(Also... am I the only one who doesn't think "You Are My Sunshine" is a happy song at all? I mean, the lyrics are about being dumped - but now you've left me and love another /you have shattered all my dreams - come on! It always baffles me when people request this as a wedding song...)

OldePhart
02-11-2014, 11:32 AM
(Also... am I the only one who doesn't think "You Are My Sunshine" is a happy song at all? I mean, the lyrics are about being dumped - but now you've left me and love another /you have shattered all my dreams - come on! It always baffles me when people request this as a wedding song...)

One of our members did this in a minor key, with moody lighting, the way it really should be done. I think it was for one of the Seasons of the Ukulele. Yeah...opened some eyes!

There's a guy at UWC every year who plays some really great, very dark, Tom Waits stuff. He's a member here but almost never posts and I can't think of his screen name.

In reentrant tuning ukuleles do have a sort of "bouncy" sound that lends itself well to "happy bubbly" stuff but at the end of the day it's just an instrument and you can play it however you like. In fact, even in reentrant tuning you can do some finger-roll arpeggios and if you use dynamics right you can get a very angry sound like relentless waves pounding rocks into sand...


John

SailingUke
02-11-2014, 11:34 AM
M., Try playing the verse to "You are my Sunshine" in Cm.
Slow the tempo and bit and it is really dark, like the lyrics.
For the verse I use Cm, Fm & G7.
The chorus I use C,F, & G7 and play up tempo.



Definitely a worthy rant. There's nothing I enjoy playing more on ukulele than songs in minor keys - which, to the Western ear anyway, are supposed to sound "dark" and pretty much the opposite of happy. So I'm a strong believer that the ukulele is so much more than a "happy little instrument," even as I write from supposedly warm and sunny California (where I sit wrapped in a wool cardigan, the heater turned up to high... but I digress!).


(Also... am I the only one who doesn't think "You Are My Sunshine" is a happy song at all? I mean, the lyrics are about being dumped - but now you've left me and love another /you have shattered all my dreams - come on! It always baffles me when people request this as a wedding song...)

OldePhart
02-11-2014, 11:38 AM
For anyone still convinced that the uke is a "happy instrument" may I present...


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=53n92rNXaYM

John

OldePhart
02-11-2014, 11:46 AM
Or this one by a much less talented guy.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aino-5KuYXQ

'Course, this is a linear baritone so maybe that's cheating...

John

Steveperrywriter
02-11-2014, 01:28 PM
For anyone still convinced that the uke is a "happy instrument" may I present...


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=53n92rNXaYM

John

Yeah, well, I know the song is depressing when you hear the words, but if you didn't know it, this instrumental version doesn't sound particularly sad. Minor blues, sure, but this is kind upbeat and, well … I dunno if could say "happy," since music's feel depends a lot on context, but it doesn't sink to the level of a dirge ...

janeray1940
02-11-2014, 02:31 PM
M., Try playing the verse to "You are my Sunshine" in Cm.
Slow the tempo and bit and it is really dark, like the lyrics.
For the verse I use Cm, Fm & G7.
The chorus I use C,F, & G7 and play up tempo.

Thanks, I'll keep that in mind the next time someone asks if I'm interested in playing a wedding :)

Jnobianchi
02-11-2014, 06:59 PM
Every happy tune I play is full of sad and poignant moments and minor chords. Everything I play in minor tends to be upbeat. Go figure.

we tigers
02-11-2014, 08:03 PM
We often tend to play pretty serious songs; even rather depressing ones. I rarely play happy go lucky songs. The ukulele can give a song some sort of bittersweet touch, but isn't inherently happy. But I do find that most of the time ukulele people are relaxed and friendly folk. I also find that in bass players. Hey! I'm both!

Booli
02-12-2014, 08:08 AM
Hi Barry,

That's an excellent article, your 'rant' is spot on. I think maybe the 'happy' part is something that might come as a result from playing or listening to ukulele, as a form of therapy, a catharsis, if you will, and somehow that is incorrectly getting assigned to the instrument's nature, instead of something (happiness) being manifest in the individual who is experiencing the ukulele, as a result of the feelings that this person might have.

While most people that I've encountered that are involved with the ukulele are kind folks, I have in fact encountered some (both online and offline) that are focused upon generating unnecessary friction who seem more interested in the unrest that is a result of a conflict, than having any kind of meaningful conversation.

I tend to avoid those individuals. Like you said, there are some folks that are more than expert trolls, that basically derive their pleasure in a sadistic way by raining on the parades of others, in order to try and compensate for whatever unresolved misery that they have in their own lives. I feel sorry for those folks, but will waste no energy in engagement with them, once I have recognized this intent.

Like you said, the ukulele is a 'just a box with 4 strings' and it in itself has no 'feelings', but maybe when WE play it, WE like it, and WE feel happy, and that's how the 'happy' or sad part comes about. This also holds true even if you play a sad song, that has meaning for you. Maye it helps you to purge the sadness from your soul, and once the immediate sadness is gone, what remains can allow for other feelings, like melancholy, bittersweetness, more sadness, or nay dare I say, happiness. Or just maybe you feel content and neutral.

I have written a few songs now in a minor key, and I love the sound from the ukulele like this. I also like major keys, but the standard I,iV, V or ii Vii, V, chord progressions can get boring to my ear after a while.

(this is sort of a tangent) What kills me is the fact that so many folks outside the ukulele community think that it is either a 'toy instrument' or only know of it from Tiny Tim or Hawaiian Hula music, and they laugh and smirk when I tell them that I play and they want to hear 'Aloha-'e' or 'Tiptoe Through The Tulips' with me singing in falsetto. GET REAL!

I am starting to tire of defending the ukulele as a 'serious instrument' to the collective of (mostly willfully) ignorant naysayers.

-Booli

pabrizzer
02-12-2014, 09:05 AM
But the little ones are so ... little ..... and happy looking....... and cute.

I think it suffers the fate of all of the 'small' instruments.

It IS a totally valid musical musical instrument and does deserve to be taken more seriously.

Is there a concerto for ukulele?

byjimini
02-12-2014, 10:14 AM
I did a spot at a club a few years ago, a woman rushed over to me and said "I didn't know the ukulele could play minor keys!".

FFS.

However I will say that I don't want the ukulele to be taken seriously. As soon as it starts getting serious, it stops being fun. I've been in plenty of bands who refused point blank to do "Ain't She Sweet", "See You In My Dreams" etc. because they were songs people would associate with the ukulele. How sad.

SeattleSean
02-12-2014, 11:17 AM
To be fair, do we give full respect to recorders, piccolos and triangles? I don't, so i can't blame others for not taking ukuleles seriously.

OldePhart
02-12-2014, 11:38 AM
...and they laugh and smirk when I tell them that I play and they want to hear 'Aloha-'e' or 'Tiptoe Through The Tulips' with me singing in falsetto. GET REAL!


Actually, Tiptoe Through the Tulips is kind of a neat song minus the falsetto. I've been known to do my blues version of it when people smirk and ask if I can play Tiptoe Through the Tulips... LOL

John

Camsuke
02-12-2014, 11:47 AM
But the little ones are so ... little ..... and happy looking....... and cute.

I think it suffers the fate of all of the 'small' instruments.

It IS a totally valid musical musical instrument and does deserve to be taken more seriously.

Is there a concerto for ukulele?

Colin Tribe has actually arranged the "Rodrigo Guitar Concerto" for ukulele. Very serious stuff! Although it may be a bit of a stretch for the mighty uke!

pabrizzer
02-12-2014, 12:06 PM
To be fair, do we give full respect to recorders, piccolos and triangles? I don't, so i can't blame others for not taking ukuleles seriously.

There has been a lot of very serious music written for the recorder and recorder ensembles, especially from the baroque period. And the other two are legitimate members of a full orchestra.
Yes, we adapt stuff to play on uke, but I don't believe there is an historical body of written music for the ukulele.

But really, who gives a rat's bottom what people think of the ukulele.
Love it and play it.
That's what I (try to) do.

And surely there are worse things than being known as a happy instrument even if it's just ain't always true.

Nickie
02-12-2014, 12:48 PM
Actually, Tiptoe Through the Tulips is kind of a neat song minus the falsetto. I've been known to do my blues version of it when people smirk and ask if I can play Tiptoe Through the Tulips... LOL

John

John, I'm pretty fed up with people (ignorant cusses) asking for Tiptoe, and I don't know it....will you please teach me your blues version?

Sammu
02-12-2014, 01:26 PM
A worthy discussion. I am a believer in "the happiest instrument in the world" ideology. My reason is simple: every time I look at my ukulele it makes me smile. I don't really know why, it's just something I feel - an inner happiness and joy. And that makes me want to play it and share it with other people. People mostly smile when I take out my uke. Some people laugh and, to be honest, that annoys me. I do not think of the ukulele as a trinket or a bauble. I see it as a serious instrument capable of producing beautiful and profound music. I love minor keys too.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kJ2wBmZiYxg

OldePhart
02-12-2014, 01:38 PM
John, I'm pretty fed up with people (ignorant cusses) asking for Tiptoe, and I don't know it....will you please teach me your blues version?

Happy to. Between the rather lengthy contest intro and the song, at somewhere around 1:40, I put up a lead sheet...


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GSHgYRn3YYw

John

MutinousDoug
02-12-2014, 05:31 PM
From my ukulele set list:

Can't always get what you want- Rolling Stones
Badfish- Sublime
Creep- Radiohead
Far From me- John Prine
Guilty- Randy Newman
China Doll- Grateful Dead
God's away on business- Tom Waits

I do know some "happy" songs but their not germain to the OP's question

UkuEroll
02-13-2014, 05:33 AM
Barry, that was a very refreshing and honest article, I whole heartedly agree. I often think that the rose tinted view of Ukulele and the people that play them is just plain wrong. People are people! Some nice some nasty and some are in between. There will always be gear snobs and haters but like in life, you soon find the folk that are on your wave length and weed out the rest.
The Ukulele isn't happy or sad! It's an instrument just like any other. That's my rant over, now I'm off to play the blues :p

Jnobianchi
02-16-2014, 07:39 PM
Actually, Tiptoe Through the Tulips is kind of a neat song minus the falsetto. I've been known to do my blues version of it when people smirk and ask if I can play Tiptoe Through the Tulips... LOL

John

I get requests for Tip Toe all the time. When I do, I put down the uke and pick up my guitar and play it a la Nick Lucas, the originator of the tune. If people complain, I explain its a guitar tune, not a ukulele tune. Rubenstein's Melody in F, now THAT's a uke tune.

Phluffy the Destroyer
02-16-2014, 09:48 PM
I'll take my ukulele music dark, vicious, and evil please! Of course anything that involves me singing tends to depress most people, lol, even if the songs sound "happy"...

I do songs about serial killers, nuclear war, child abuse and suicide. Funny, sick, and sad is amazingly popular. The crap video I did when I had a sinus infection for Puff the Magic Tampon has over 4,700 hits since I put it up on Youtube last February. I even have one up about bestiality that has 280some hits since May, and I don't advertise my channel...

My only lament is that I did not write any of them.

consitter
02-16-2014, 09:54 PM
I'll take my ukulele music dark, vicious, and evil please! Of course anything that involves me singing tends to depress most people, lol, even if the songs sound "happy"...

I do songs about serial killers, nuclear war, child abuse and suicide. Funny, sick, and sad is amazingly popular. The crap video I did when I had a sinus infection for Puff the Magic Tampon has over 4,700 hits since I put it up on Youtube last February. I even have one up about bestiality that has 280some hits since May, and I don't advertise my channel...

My only lament is that I did not write any of them.

Awesome subjects! You should've done some background music for Criminal Minds.

coolkayaker1
02-16-2014, 10:27 PM
Thanks, I'll keep that in mind the next time someone asks if I'm interested in playing a wedding :)

God, that's funny. Good one, M.

Olarte
02-25-2014, 09:06 PM
Funny, I seem to be playing very unhappy songs lately... Here are a couple of links to my latest contribution to breaking the ukulele always being a happy instrument.

Mr. Bojangles :(

http://forum.ukuleleunderground.com/showthread.php?93401-quot-Mr-Bojangles-quot-vocal-instrumental-arrangement-Mya-Moe

Falling Slowly

http://forum.ukuleleunderground.com/showthread.php?92524-Falling-Slowly-Ukulele-Cover-Instrumental-Vocal&highlight=Falling+slowly

barefootgypsy
02-26-2014, 12:54 AM
There has been a lot of very serious music written for the recorder and recorder ensembles, especially from the baroque period. And the other two are legitimate members of a full orchestra.
Yes, we adapt stuff to play on uke, but I don't believe there is an historical body of written music for the ukulele.

But really, who gives a rat's bottom what people think of the ukulele.
Love it and play it.
That's what I (try to) do.

And surely there are worse things than being known as a happy instrument even if it's just ain't always true.What Brian said, with bells on. I don't care a kipper what anyone else thinks or says about the ukulele - or the recorder etc for that matter... every instrument has its place, whether it's as a fun, serious, solo or supporting instrument..... I love and play my ukes (and recorder!!) to amuse myself, and the rest of the world can please themselves... eventually the ukulele will go out of favour as it has done before - but I will still play - for me.

Hippie Dribble
02-26-2014, 06:30 PM
Yeah from a selfish point of view it's about how it makes me feel when I play it. Sometimes I'm in the mood for silly, sometimes desperately sad. In each case its a therapeutic release and takes me somewhere, deepens an emotion, helps shake one off, whatever. The ukulele has a lot of music in it that can elicit a range of responses as can any other.

Camsuke
02-26-2014, 07:56 PM
Here's a sad one from my happy new uke! https://app.box.com/s/vrspepj1r7yra4ccayck