my ukulele progress

ripock

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I am really liking the Bb key. It is a little dark and moody, which is more my style. I am very much not a fan of the whole perky island vamp sound that is so connected with the ukulele. The only thing that doesn't quite work is the I IV V progression. At least with a linear tuning it sounds a bit off. The Eb inversion sounds out of place (too high). I didn't notice this when playing a re-entrant tuning. It still works but it is a little idiosyncratic.

I was playing the Bb melodic Aeolian and making little songs. I really like moving from the Bb to the F in syncopation, and then running back up the scale. It sounds kind of like a Russian march.

I practiced the Bb minor pentatonic as well. Since I'm playing linear I can get three octaves although the latter part of that run is made by sliding down the A string since I've run out of room.
 

Rrgramps

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That was a really good post on why a strap comes in handy. Mostly useful when standing. Too many ukulele folks are snarky against those who use straps, even to the point of offering to teach them how to properly hold the ukulele without using it. To them, squeezing the ukulele body against their chest is superior. But if the top is responsible for moving and producing the main portion of sound, as I'm frequently told, then it should be free to vibrate and not hindered from producing sound waves. Maybe. But all the reasons you mentioned are right on.

I'm still strapless though with my Flea, soprano ukulele. It's my beach Ukulele, that I purchased for its water resistant materials. It still sounds pretty good, and almost competitive with my Mainland Red Cedar tenor. But I don't worry with it, it's meant to be specific purposed. It's purpose driven, LOL. 😂
 

Rrgramps

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Bb is a really nice and movable chord. It is an F chord on the guitar, and one of my first learned in 1963. It lended to an easy barre chord on the guitar, and my band then, used to play I-V-IV regularly in C-F-G, some songs with C-Am-F-G. It worked for us, bringing it down the keyboard in other keys to. Early on, we played the Ventures songs, and "Walk Don't Run" was popular F shaped song with A-G-F-E, all F-shaped on the guitar, except for the open E. now it's a Bb on the ukulele, and all my guitar shaped chords (minus two stings) work for the ukulele. Like riding a bicycle, I've never forgotten, and memory response is effortless, without thinking. But I'm going back to basics, and it's a good time to run through music theory that I missed so many years ago.
 

ripock

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That was a really good post on why a strap comes in handy. Mostly useful when standing. Too many ukulele folks are snarky against those who use straps, even to the point of offering to teach them how to properly hold the ukulele without using it. To them, squeezing the ukulele body against their chest is superior. But if the top is responsible for moving and producing the main portion of sound, as I'm frequently told, then it should be free to vibrate and not hindered from producing sound waves. Maybe. But all the reasons you mentioned are right on.

I'm still strapless though with my Flea, soprano ukulele. It's my beach Ukulele, that I purchased for its water resistant materials. It still sounds pretty good, and almost competitive with my Mainland Red Cedar tenor. But I don't worry with it, it's meant to be specific purposed. It's purpose driven, LOL. ��

You have a cedar? That's on my list. I like my cheap baritone, but see that I would really like a quality baritone. I've been looking at cedar and redwood baritones. Of course, not for now because those are going to run quite a bit.

I forgot to mention another thing I like about straps: consistency. I have my strap adjusted to a level so that whether I stand or sit down the ukulele sits in the same place on my chest. This way I can play better.
 

ripock

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Continued playing around in Bb. I realized why I never play in Bb. I have a chord wheel. It is a circle of fifths with a lot of other useful info. It has a dial you turn. If you picture a clock C is at the top at the 12 o'clock position and Bb is around the 10 or 11. I naturally move in a clockwise direction and therefore I never play Bb because of its position.
 

ripock

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I became totally sidetracked today with something that I had to resolve. I don't want to appear pompous but I don't especially like playing songs. Other people do it better and that's what my cd player is for. For me studying music is very much an intellectual pastime like philosophy or something. I remember being struck by this at a much younger age. I was impressed by the mathematics of music. It seemed like if someone intimately knew their scales, they would know the next note before it was played. I mean, for example, if someone plays an E there are only so many possibilities of what's coming up. There might be 50 options, and that's a lot, but it is finite. I guess I was reading too much Plato and thinking about the music of the spheres, or something.

Anyway, I ran across an intellectual issue that I had to look into. This will sound stupid, but I didn't realize the ukulele had variations of the blues scale. In retrospect, it is elementary; the blues scale is the blues scale regardless of the instrument. I had of course seen on youtube videos entitled "Learn the 5 pentatonic shapes" but those were guitar videos. I must have dismissed them because they weren't my instrument.

However, yesterday it just kind of dawned upon me that we must also have the same thing in ukulele-land. Sure enough, we have the five shapes. I had been blithely playing the first shape exclusively thinking that I was on the road to being a proficient blues player.

I immediately saw the advantage of these shapes. If you can stitch them together using the tonic note as the unifying thread, you have instant blues solos.

So far, so good. Here's where the problem arises. Even though none of the sources specified this I could see that the five pentatonic shapes were modes.

shape 1 was like the Ionic mode starting on the tonic note of the key
shape 2 was like the Dorian mode starting on the supertonic

you see the pattern: shape 3 is like the Phygian

and here's the problem, shape 4 should have been a Lydian mode starting on the subdominant note but it is a mixolydian starting on the dominant. Then shape 5 follows suit by looking like an Aeolian mode starting on the submediant.

What happened to the poor Lydian mode? Why aren't there 6 shapes instead of only 5?

I constructed my own Lydian shape and it sounds good. On a re-entrant tuned ukulele, it goes like this: pick a fret. On the C string play notes with the index, then the middle. Go to the E string and play index and ring finger (that's the tonic). Move to the A string and play index, ring, pinky.

It wasn't that hard to come up with this. Why doesn't this exist? I know there has to be a reason other than that I am just a musical genius and saw something that has escaped the attention of others for millennia. I admit the fingering on the C string is different from the other shapes. Is that reason enough to exclude it? Or maybe it doesn't sound bluesy enough or that it just doesn't mesh well with the other shapes.
 
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ripock

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The random key of the week is F#. I had to actually think about what the IV and V of F# are. Glancing at my Chord Wheel, it suggests substituting a maj7 for the I, an add6 for the IV, and a add9 for the V. I'll give that a try.

I'm not going to randomize a scale or a voicing this week. I am still very much obsessed with my pentatonic shapes. I am going to follow up on that.

In my effort to be more mindful of the fretboard, let me say that the F# blues scale is: F# A B C C# E F#. Regarding my roots, there's one at G11 (11th fret of G string), C6, C18, E2, E14, A9.
 

ripock

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Today, April 3, I finally freed my kamaka by getting down to 175 lbs. I'll be playing that later tonight. In other ukulele news, I got tired of the buzzing of my D string on the baritone so I bought a set of classical guitar strings and settled on using the G string as my ukulele's D string. I initially tried the wound E string but it was an octave lower than my other strings and when I tightened it up an octave it snapped.
 

Mahalo Mike

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That was a really good post on why a strap comes in handy. Mostly useful when standing. Too many ukulele folks are snarky against those who use straps, even to the point of offering to teach them how to properly hold the ukulele without using it. To them, squeezing the ukulele body against their chest is superior. But if the top is responsible for moving and producing the main portion of sound, as I'm frequently told, then it should be free to vibrate and not hindered from producing sound waves. Maybe. But all the reasons you mentioned are right on.

I'm still strapless though with my Flea, soprano ukulele. It's my beach Ukulele, that I purchased for its water resistant materials. It still sounds pretty good, and almost competitive with my Mainland Red Cedar tenor. But I don't worry with it, it's meant to be specific purposed. It's purpose driven, LOL. ��

My GF goes strapless, and she's got Flukes.
 

ripock

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My GF goes strapless, and she's got Flukes.

if only she would tune up and lose her g-string then we'd have a picture worth a thousand words.

On a totally unrelated note, I just took a bath and took my Makala Waterman with me. I didn't submerge it, but it did get wet and its tone wasn't any worse than otherwise. It is an odd little soprano. To my ears it is making sour notes, but the tuner says everything is in tune. I have to just resign myself to its idiosyncratic voice, I suppose.

My kamaka was, on the other hand, quite nice to play. I didn't really do much with it. It was more of a session of getting used to it and its size (two inches shorter than a baritone). I just played around with some chords to see what the kamaka liked to play. Then for some reason I started playing an F mixolydian with its first interval diminished. It made very gypsy-ish music.

I recently made a really big leap for me and my music. I finally saw how to use modes. I always practiced them because, like a good nazi, I just do what I'm supposed to do. I never questioned the value of it although I never had a sincere understanding of it. I could have probably written a fine essay that mouthed all the right things but now I can actually see the big picture.

What I do is noodle around in a mode for a while and then intellectually erase the shape I'm working with, superimpose another shape, and start noodling in another mode. It is probably something that others do naturally, but I am not natural so it is a quantum leap for me.
 

ripock

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I haven't really made discernible progress because I'm working on more technique oriented stuff that doesn't lend itself to annotation. Since my dedicated re-entrant ukulele is now free I have been practicing the rudiments of claw-hammer with it. Once I get that down, I was thinking of playing something like a m7b5 or dim7 with it and see if something interesting came out.
 

ripock

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I re-strung my baritone with Living Water strings. Musically, they are perfect. Personally, they leave much to be desired. I have always played Worth brown strings. With that context in mind, I find these strings stiff, fat, too bright, and ugly (the dark strings look better against a dark fretboard). Maybe this just means that the baritone isn't for me. Or maybe I wouldn't be having these issues if I had a Tony Graziano baritone instead of a cheap clunker. Anyway, I am over this drama for another year or so. It is now stringed and I will play it 'til I need to change the strings again. Then I will definitely try to get back to my fluoro-carbon strings. Maybe try the baritone strings again. Maybe try the fat gauge strings that worth puts out.

Some time this weekend I will put the strap buttons on the baritone and then it will be all pimped out.


As far as my practice goes, it went well. I'm still in the feeling out stage with my kamaka. Today I was just playing chords and practicing pentatonic shapes. I also worked on clawhammer strum (I know that is a bit of an oxymoron). I'm trying to figure out if I want to use the index or middle finger. The middle finger makes so much sense in terms of having a straight wrist and playing more relaxed, but everyone says to use the index finger. I'm still on the fence.
 

ripock

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I'm still getting used to the kamaka. It just sits lower, and I think I like it that way. I adjusted the strap a notch and then the strap felt constricting and it slightly made my playing hand kind of do a palsied t-rex kind and retraction. I re-adjusted it and although it is strange for me, having the ukulele lower feels better--more open. It taking some acclimation because I cannot see the fretboard...which is the point. I play this way to do that.

Anyway, I just played chords and pentatonic variations because clawhammer is frustrating. I can pick up picking patterns fairly easily, but this clawhammer is tough. One thing I am learning is that I have to adjust my strumming arm. I usually rest my forearm between the bouts and strum somewhere around the 18th fret. With clawhammer I need to move my arm back so that I am strumming closer to the sound hole.
 

ripock

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I know it seems silly to people who have been playing or have played stringed instruments for a while, but I am still fascinated with the rudiments. I'm still working on getting used to my ukulele straps. With one ukulele, it hangs above the crease of my hips so I can sit and play it as well as stand. With the kamaka it hangs a little below the hinge-point. My corboda is a few inches shorter than the kamaka and then straps are also a little different in terms of length. I was going to change the corboda's strap to match the kamaka's, but I decided against uniformity. The ukuleles are different and I need to just acknowledge that. Although the cordoba sits higher, it doesn't impinge my playing hand by its elevation. Something else I have been realizing is that the ukulele can move. When a player is pinching the ukulele with the strumming arm it is essentially locked into place. With the straps I can point the headstock away from my body or I can nudge the ukulele with my strumming hand so that it changes angles. This is useful in accessing different areas of the fretboard. Once again, simple but I never really experienced this before.

I am becoming acquainted more and more with the kamaka. I find that I gravitate to the 7th fret with it. With the corboda I tend to play a lot of Ab stuff around the first fret. It is interesting where you end up when you let your fingers do the walking.

I now know why you can't spell frailing without "failing." I am starting to get some consistency (only with the A string; don't even ask about the E string). And the rhythm is atrocious.
 

ripock

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So far today I have, in terms of ukulele activity, re-strung my Oscar Schmidt with clear Worth Low G's. This was my first uke and it has a pre-amp so I use it to wank around with distortion and overdrive. Someday I would like to get a Mustang III solid-state amp with all the effects built in. I know next to nothing about amplification. All I know is that I am supposed to tell everyone it is a tube amp.

I also put strap buttons on the Lanikai Baritone.

I am starting to see ukulele charts in everyday objects. On the brick pillar that supports my porch I noticed four splotches and immediately I recognized what they were: minor 7b5! On my way to work last night I was driving behind a semi and it had 13 lights arranged in two rows. It was like a scale diagram. I memorized it and played it when I got home. It was disappointing. Take a string, the C for example, and play frets 6,7, 9, 10. Move over 1 string and play frets 1,2,3,7,8,9,13,14,15. I was hoping that I was receiving some transcendental revelation.

I am starting to get the feeling of being pulled in too many directions. So I just went back to basics and practiced major and minor chords and major and minor 7's. These, plus add6's, are to me the essentials that you just have to know. I only had a few problems. Abm7 is always a tough one for me. For some reason, I couldn't remember if Gm7 was on the first or second fret.
 
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ripock

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practiced clawhammer today. After studying and trying I now see that a fundamental problem resides in my lack of rhythm. I am not keeping time consistently. I seem to collapse the interval between measures. This technique is syncopated and it doesn't quite work if the timing's off.
 

ripock

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I am still intercalating beats in the clawhammer technique. It is time to unlock the mystery of the metronome. It is a mystery because I don't know how to open it. It is shaped like an obelisk and one of the facets of the structure comes off. But when I move the locking mechanism nothing happens, so that I just tug and pry at it in a Bacchic frenzy until it opens.
 

ripock

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Using the metronome I am dialing in the clawhammer rhythm. I am thinking of it as a 3/4 waltz type of thing: claw, rest, strum, thumb. I am primarily just clawing the A string. After a while, it did seem a bit more monotonous, which is a good thing because once the right hand becomes ho-hum then I can work on moving the left hand more. At this point I favor chords that don't utilize the G string. I like chords like C, G, G6. It makes it simpler that way. When you play stuff like an F chord or a Bb, then the drone note is changing and makes a secondary melody that you have to account for. With something like a G chord. All you have to do is focus on the claw's melody. I was playing around with some moveable shapes like the G's triangle and the G7's inverted triangles and Em's diagonal chord.
 

ripock

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I was playing my Cordoba today. Obviously really enjoying it. The strings bend and the frets are where I know they'll be. The kamaka and I are still feeling each other out. The cordoba is comfortable.

Today I was playing my "Tipi di blu", the different modes of the blues scale that I have named Kind(s) of Blue, after the Miles Davis record. I don't know why I put it in Italian. Maybe I meant to put it in Italics, but the polyglot part of me took over.

I have settled on the key of Eb. I settled on a key so that I could use it to memorize some fretboard positions. Otherwise I am just playing the shapes and not really knowing what I'm doing.

Eb is a nice key. It is comprised of nearly all black keys: Eb F# Ab A Bb C#. And it is obscure. I'm sure it is not obscure to real musicians, but a dilettante like me is more accustomed to keys like E or A or C. Eb seems like a dark continent. Aside from the mystery--imagined or real--of this key, I like its sound. To my ear, at least, the flat/sharp keys have a pleasantly grating quality. I guess it is slightly dissonant. I has a bit of flavor that C doesn't although all the intervals are the same.

I also strategically picked Eb because it works reasonably well starting from the G string or the C string (obviously I have a low G).

On the G string the Ionic and Dorian modes (I realize that I may be abusing these terms by applying them to a blues scale, but by Ionic I simply mean the scale that starts on the tonic note and the Dorian is the one that starts on the supertonic) are on the 7th and 8th frets. The other modes are located in the lower frets 1-4). If you start on the C string The modes start on the 3rd fret and work their way down to the 10th. Unless you want to play the 13th fret, the aeolian mode is down at the 1st fret.

Essentially what I am doing is just wanking around in a mode, ending the phrase on a root note, then superimposing a new mode around that note and playing on in the new mode.

For example, I would be playing in the phrygian mode and punctuating the root note on the 8th fret of the C string. Then I would erase from my mind the phrygian mode and build the Lydian mode around that root note and play on in the new mode.

I have to admit, at times this doesn't sound very bluesy, unless you really draw out notes, or repeat notes, or adorn notes with bends, slides, hammers-on, etc. However it is very musical, if not melodic. I really sound like I know what I'm doing. That's half the battle. The other half would entail becoming more repetitive so that what I'm doing has more of a song to it.