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Thread: my ukulele progress

  1. #351
    Join Date
    Feb 2017


    I am still having some conceptual blind spots, and it seems like they occur on the E string more frequently than not.

    I have run across this with dominant chords already. I do not like the 7 and m7 chords rooted on the E.

    But now I have to face the more fundamental problem of the minor triad.

    When I think of the minor triad, The E string root never pops in my head unless I force it. And that's a shame because there are two really nice shapes rooted in the E. I suppose some people would consider it one shape, but I tend to break the shape into two shapes. I do this so that I can control the pitch and decide if I want a higher or lower pitched triad, instead of smooshing them together.

    The two shapes are the ones we learn as F#m and Gm. To take E as an example, we have that E on the 12th fret. Now we can either play:

    12 11 12 X

    or X 11 12 10

    If we select the former, then the flatted third is on the G string and the A string is muted, resulting in a lower pitched voicing, whereas the latter suppresses the G string and has that A string singing out.

    This is my usual modus operandi; I keep my triads as triads in order to keep the sound clean and in order to be able to have more options.

    I won't at this time bore anyone with my augmented and suspended triads, but just looking at the major and minor triads, here's what I usually do:

    For E minor, aside from the two shapes I have already mentioned, I normally would use: X777 or X432. Sometimes, if I want a lower pitch, I will play 9777 and make use of that low G string.

    For E major, my typical shapes are

    X 11 12 11

    Alright. I've talked it out and got it straight at least in my head. now I have to practice those E string roots and make them natural to me.

  2. #352
    Join Date
    Feb 2017


    I was braving the New Mexican winter (it was in the 60's because of a semi-overcast sky) and reading some Vergilius. A certain passage seemed significant. At Aeneid 8.8 it says "vastant cultoribus agros." It is rather a small line in terms of the narrative but here's what struck me:

    Students, of course, would ask what does this sentence mean.

    I would say it means

    1. They despoiled the fields of its farmers (i.e., they conscripted the farmers into war)
    2. They ravaged the fields to the chagrin of the farmers (and they either did it unintentionally because an army eats and tramples as it goes or they did it intentionally to trap the farmers and local residents into fighting as they had no alternatives)

    The students want a simple answer but the poet actually takes pleasure in saying two things at once; it is what elevates poetry from prose. The reader has to be flexible and understand which meaning works for him or her.

    I mention this because I find myself settling into a similar flexibility with the ukulele. I used to be as stiff as one of my students when it came to music. I came from a rather more objective background where an E was an E and there was one way to play it. As you can imagine I was very upset because 1402 does not sound like 4447 although they are both E major. I certainly understood the concept of voicings, but it took a few years for me to allow that information into my heart as well as my brain, and to be cool with it.

    Speaking of being cool, I have also become more flexible in terms of opinions with the ukulele. For example, there is a current thread about outdoor ukes. I think the concept is asinine. I don't leave things in the car; as I walk out the door I collect stuff like books, backpacks, wallets, some tobacco. And if I want a car ukulele, I grab my kamaka on the way out. That's my outdoor uke. Why spend money on some piece of crap ukulele when you can just bring a good one with you and take it back inside when you're done. However, to each his own.

    And what has been my own lately has been the dominant diminished scale. It is a great scale because it does work well with blues progressions being that its triads lend themselves to dominant chords and the vibe of the scale is somewhat minor-ish. The first two strings of the scale resembles the phrygian mode.

    ...uh-oh. I just heard my wife's alarm resound and I haven't made her porridge yet. I'll be back if I can arrange it.

  3. #353
    Join Date
    Feb 2017


    I've been busy with a new job and I am still busy. But I did manage to spend some time with my Kamaka today.

    Someone mentioned how I do everything the hard way, and I cannot deny it. However I think I like it that way in certain respects. It is almost as if I invented the things that I have discovered on my own. Granted, a google search would have been easier but, as things stand, I have a much more personal connection with some things.

    For example, I was practicing harmonic minor scales merely because the guitarists I appreciated in the 80's were said to be all about the harmonic minor and diminished stuff as well.

    So I was practicing the harmonic minor. Then I started to think. I said to myself if the major scale can have modes, why can't the harmonic minor? So I mapped out shapes to play the notes of the harmonic minor starting at the seven different degrees of the scale (I could have just googled this).

    Fast forward a good spell and I have become enamored with a song entitled "Sails of Charon." I discovered that it employs B Phrygian Dominant. What the hell is that? I look it up and immediately recognize it as the fifth mode of the harmonic minor and it is also one note away from one of my favorite exotic scales which is alternately called the Byzantine or the Greek or the Gypsy or the Double Harmonic. And since it is the fifth mode, that means that it is in the key of E, which is my key of choice for two years.

    So I could have saved a lot of time, but I meandered onto the rudiments of the song by accident.

    Anyway, I just practiced improvising melodies using the B phrygian Dominant, the F# Dorian, and E minor pentatonic. I based it around my favorite B, which is the one on the 11th fret. I think I like it because it resides between those two fret markers.

    So I was just jamming around with the B Phrygian Dominant, the B Double harmonic (only different from the previous with an A# instead A), and the E minor pentatonic (dominant shape). I interlarded some B minor chords and some 6th interval double stops.

  4. #354
    Join Date
    Feb 2017


    It is a few hours 'til sunrise and I've been trying to find things to do. I pressure cooked some pinto beans for breakfast this week. The one thing I am not allowed to do is play my ukulele.

    I can play Thelonious Monk or John Coltrane on the stereo and no one is the wiser. However, if I play my ukulele, even fingerpicking it, it awakens my wife. I don't know why, maybe because my ukuleles are expensive solid-wood instruments that are very resonant. Maybe it is because of the inherent percussiveness of a live instrument. I don't know and it doesn't really matter. The only thing that matters is the result. And the result is a gato mojado.

    So I did some ukulele planning on paper.

    First off, I decided to finger pick the melody of that song most of us know from Billie Holiday, "Gloomy Sunday." So I printed it out. I know it is in C minor, so I was confused when I saw it had three flats. C has no flats. Three flats is Eb. Then I realized that C major has no accidentals, but C minor is the relative minor of Eb, so it does have accidentals. Aside from my stupidity, the rest of it went like clockwork. I still find playing things on a stringed instrument a bit complicated. With my silver flute, for example, it is simple. There is only one way to play a note. You see the note and you play it. With the ukulele there is a bit more work.

    Here's what I do when I look at a piece of sheet music.

    First of all, I confirm that the ukulele can play the lowest and highest note of the piece. It is usually the low note that's the problem. If the note is lower than the uke can play, then I quickly transpose it to a higher key. Then the real fun starts.

    As I said before, with other instruments there's one way to play the note. With stringed instruments, there's more than one way to play the same note. So you need to consider some factors when decided which version of the note to play: considerations such as do you want an open or fretted note, which note will facilitate transitions, etc.

    Just to gratify morbid curiosity, I decided to use the C on the fifth fret to start the song off because it seemed to be closer to the other notes I will need. Also the lower C's seemed too close to the nut for comfort. I want space to move about, even if I'm not going to move about.

    The second thing I did in my ukulele-planning mode was left unfinished and deemed a failure by me.

    I have really been enjoying the new shapes of my modes of the harmonic minor. They sound really cool. So I figured since the guitar heroes of my youth valorized the harmonic minor and the diminished scales, I would map out the modes of the dominant diminished scale. I mapped out the shape for the scale starting on the first and second degrees of the scale. When I got to the third degree, it was the same as the first. And the fourth copied the second. This repetition was also a symptom of the fully diminished scale. In hindsight, it makes perfect sense; since the scales are symmetrical, there isn't a lot of variation in its modes. So that was a bust. At least I garnered a little more understanding of the diminished scale. I now see the odd-numbered degrees have the same shape (only differing on what note they start with). And the even-numbered degrees all have the same shape as well.

  5. #355
    Join Date
    Feb 2017


    Since my ukulele playing has a curfew that is demarcated by my spouse's sleeping patterns, I thought I would get in some practice early. I worked on combining three scales into one big improvisational block. Here's the deal:

    1. starting on the E on the 10th fret, I can ascend the harmonic minor scale 'til I hit the D# and E of the E string.
    2. or while I'm ascending the aforementioned harmonic minor scale, once I hit that B note at the fifth degree of the scale, I can then start the B Phrygian dominant scale instead of completing the E harmonic minor scale.
    3. or when I ascend the B Phrygian dominant scale and hit that final B on the A string, I can descend back down using the dominant shape of the E minor pentatonic.

    So I have three great options that I can line up paratactically, or I can syntactically imbed them within each other and jump back and forth. It makes for a lot of cool jamming. However, in a recent post in another thread I had to lugubriously admit that my wanking doesn't serve a higher purpose. My wanking just arcs away on a one-way tangent like a comet or like Lady Godiva riding by. I need to get hooked into a structure and into repetition which will turn what I do into music. That is easy to explain, but maybe more difficult to do:

    just open the front of my metronome and let it start pounding out time and then restrict my wanking to a harsh mistress of time. I'll see how it goes.

  6. #356
    Join Date
    Feb 2017


    I have been working and sleeping more than playing. I went to youtube to look around at some jazz guitar stuff which I could possibly adapt to my playing and, man oh man, the media sure is trying to push Billie Eilish down our throats. I wouldn't have even noticed her--just another figurehead to the corporate machine, but she was also mentioned on this forum. That made me take notice of her--not enough to actually listen to her. But I will remember the name.

    What I've been doing is using my Kamaka (despite its disadvantage of having a high G and no cutaway) and playing around with the modes of the harmonic minor. Starting at the 11th fret, I've been focusing on the B Phrygian dominant, C Lydian #2, and D# super Lokrian bb7.

    These modes have a vaguely foreign sound to them and that's a priori pleasant. And I have been playing with the metronome, so I've been phrasing the scales in-between the percussion of the 'nome. Because of the nature of these scales, you can just straight up play them and it sounds like a song, or you can actually skip notes to actually make songs.

    This area of the fretboard also has some dominant, leading tone, and tonic shapes of the pentatonic. So I can morph between the two with ease.

    Something that doesn't seem to work as well is harmonizing these modes. One salient problem is the lack of resolution in these. For example, in the B Phrygian dominant harmonization, the simple I IV V progression would be B, E minor, F# diminished. Or, if you add a dominant flavor to all the chords, you get B7, E minor major7, F# minor 7 flat 5. In either case, it just doesn't feel good to go back to that B, regardless of what chord qualities you use. I even tried to slip in a V of the V, the Ab (as both a minor chord and as an augmented chord) before the F#. The problem is that the IV chord is where my ear wants to stop. Of course that is because all these modes are variations of the key of E.

    Maybe if I use something like the G Ionian #5, I could get around the E altogether. In that case, my progression would G aug, C major, D# diminished. That might be good because I have always felt that there was a marked similarity between G+ and E minor, so that maybe I can have my cake and eat it, too.

  7. #357
    Join Date
    Feb 2017


    Some days you want to be in the vanguard and some days you want to be just amidst the pack. Today was one of the latter days for me. I just didn't feel like leading or advancing. I just wanted to tread water and keep my head above water. So I was just doing some very mechanical stuff.

    I may sound impressive if I were to say I played the whole fret board from the A Dorian # 11 at the 3rd fret (I could have started with the G Ionian # 5, but I don't like open strings) and went all the way up to B Phrygian dominant on the 16th fret. However all that nomenclature obfuscates the fact that all I'm doing is taking the notes of the E harmonic minor scale (EF#GABCD#) and playing them modally--i.e., playing E to the next E, then F# to the next F#.

    That was all I was up for today. I just wanted to sling the strap over my shoulder and move my fingers for a bit.

    Yesterday I did something a bit dodgy. I have a ukulele curfew because I cannot play after my wife retires for the night. She had been staying up late and she was going to go to bed soon. So I started playing and kept on playing continually because I knew she would wait for a natural break in the playing.

    I knew from just general knowledge that Iggy Pop's song "I wanna be your dog" only has three chords G F# E. So I just started playing that in 16th notes. I played five chords to keep things moving briskly along. It becomes entrancing. It is akin to marathon running. The physicality of beating out chords is hypnotic and I can do it for a long time. Every once in a while, as a bridge of sorts, I would improvise with the chords you always hear in hispanic music. Stuff like A7, D minor, or other chords diatonically linked to E.

    In that way I was able to string out some playing-time.


    I did find a way to get in some practice without crossing swords with she who must be obeyed. Although it is almost 4 in the morning. I went out like a troubadour and played as I walked. It is winter and a bit chilly--being a bit below freezing--but I work in colder weather. So why not play.

    So I prepared a single fondant potato.

    {{{I wonder if people know how to make fondant potatoes. It is basically a potato cooked in stock. Here's what I do. Make stock by pressure cooking mirepoix, animal bones, and water. Cut the ends off a peeled potato, brown the truncated potato in butter, add some stock to the potato and then throw it in a hot oven for a spell}}}

    So I threw a single fondant potato in the oven and then I took a walk, playing in A. I chose A because I heard that A is the key favored by country musicians and I figured if I met any unsavory characters out at that time of night, they would be the sort of people who would have voted for Donald Trump and who listen to country music. So I was currying favor with that demographic. I also was carrying a .45. If I was compelled to hand over my ukulele, I would do so willingly, but my assailant would get 8 slugs in his back as he started to flee the scene of the crime.
    Last edited by ripock; 12-24-2019 at 12:18 AM.

  8. #358
    Join Date
    Feb 2017


    I think I've finally arrived at the terminus of the rabbit hole.

    I love the aiolian mode. I love the harmonic minor variation of that mode. I love finger picking the modes of the harmonic minor.

    However, I don't really like the harmonized chords of those modes. That are alright in a very low-key way but nothing I feel avid about. Just look at the 1-4-5 progressions from these modes

    aiolian #7: Em/Am/B
    Lokrian 13: F#/B/B
    Ionian #5: G+/C/D#
    Dorian #11: Am/E/Em
    Phrygian Dominant; B/Em/F#
    Lydian #2: C/G/G
    Super Lokrian bb7: D#/F#/Abm

    Some of them, like the F# Lokrian 13 just don't work. I suppose it is just too derivative. The minor is a derivative of the major, the harmonic minor a derivative of the minor, the Lokrian 13 a derivative of the harmonic minor. After a while, the notes get wonky and not spread out.

    Even the ones which don't have duplicated chords are unsatisfying. As I said above, they are distinctive but very mellow.

    It helps to move the voicings around in some cases.

    Maybe there is some redemption for these modal harmonizations, but right now I do not feel like my investment of time is paying dividends--especially when compared to the scales. For example, there are 3 instantiations of the B Phrygian dominant on my low-G fret board and it is very rewarding to play around with them and to interlard them with nearby pentatonic shapes. I am very happy with them. And I do not hesitate to assume that I would be just as happy with the other modes of which I am not currently familiar with. For example, the F# Lokrian 13 looks like its shape lends itself to some very quick wanking. I do look forward to adding it and the others to my understanding.

    But I just cannot extend the same hospitality to the associated modal harmonizations. Obviously the Aiolian #7 is a keeper. Maybe I'll spend a little more time and see which ones can be made to be catchy. The problem (or perhaps the boon) of these modal progressions is that they all seem unresolved when I return to their I chord, and they all seem to want to resolve to the E. For example in the C Lydian #2 schema, the C is the I chord and there's an Em for the III. As I said, that might be useful. I could start off in E Aiolian #7 and when I reach the B in that progression, then move to B Phrygian dominant. In the B Phrygian Dominant mode I could shilly-shally a bit and then end with a B, Am, and Em. I think that would seamlessly interweave the two modes because, when you hit that B, at first it seems like it will be the unsatisfying I chord of the B Phrygian dominant, but it is actually the V chord of the Aiolian #7, to be followed by the Am, the IV chord, and the Em the I chord.

  9. #359
    Join Date
    Feb 2017


    As an addendum to what I said above, I made some errors in calculating the chords in those harmonizations. Nonetheless, even after correcting my errors, the progressions didn't always sound very satisfying. The E aiolian # 7 is very good; the rest--not so much.

    I had a very New Mexican new year. I had some food and ukulele.

    For the food, I made some carne Adovada made with ground turkey thigh. Well, it is adovada-esque. For those who don't know, in New Mexico, we braise meat in a sauce. Braising is meant to tenderize meat by slowing parboiling. Usually tough meat, like pork roast, is braised. Turkey is as tender as a baby's butt; there's no need to braise it. Nonetheless, I simmered the turkey in our sauce. The sauce is easy enough. It is some of our red Hatch chili, an acid like vinegar (but I use lime juice), garlic, brown sugar, cumin, and oregano.

    As an aside, in New Mexico there are two chili sauces, red and green. It comes from the same plant. With the green chili, we take the unripened pepper, still green, and cut the pepper up to roast it and preserve it as a chunky green sauce. For the red sauce, we take the same Hatch chili which has matured and dried, and we grind it to a powder. The red powder is more hot than the green since it is denser. However it isn't overly hot. People are shocked that New Mexican cuisine isn't very hot. But we value flavor. Hotness is cheap. Any fool can add heat to a meal. For that purpose, I keep two hot sauces handy. One, an Australian sauce called Bunsters, is a Ghost pepper natural sauce which can add a very respectable amount of heat to anything with just a splash. Moreover, since it is Ghost pepper, the heat doesn't fade. It lingers on the lips and surrounding area for fifteen minutes or so. I also have a sauce called 357 which isn't natural; it uses extracts from Ghost, Scorpion, and other peppers, and it is ridiculous. A dollop in a pot will make a chili hotter than comfortable for most people. So, as I said, heat is puerile; taste is what we're after.

    So I made some carne adovada and drank some New Mexican IPA (Sierra Blanca is the brewery that lies close to my heart). For myself, I mixed some of the meat with stilton cheese (I am an inveterate anglophile afterall) and Bunster hotsauce into a burrito or two. My wife is more refined, more of the Sante Fe type, so I made her a burrito by combining the carne advocada with some black beans, basmati rice, and spinach.

    After I had staunched my need for drink and abated my hunger (Vergil always says something like that in his poetry), I turned to music.

    I turned off John Coltrane's Ole, which accompanied my kitchen work, and I attempted my own versions thereof. John Coltraine is paying homage to a Spanish vibe in that recording and my minor harmonic does the same.

    Specifically, what I did was combine the B Phrygian Dominant with the A Dorian #11. What I am trying to do is create an immense scale shape. These two scales share some space. The bottom of the A Dorian #11 is identical with the top of the B Phrygian Dominant. What I am trying to do is to pass from one to the other so fluidly that there is no seam. I want to get to the point where I'm zipping between the two, using them as one. I am making some progress. I am still thinking of the two as separate entities, but I am trying to break down the walls I have erected didactically.

    I also worked a pentatonic scale into that mess. Since the B Phrygian ends on a B, I thought it would be expedient to switch at that time to that Dominant shape of the E minor pentatonic. That is where is problem started. The Dominant shape of the pentatonic was immediately recognized by me as what comprised Led Zeppelin's "You shook me." That's why, unlike other musicians, I don't listen to other music. Once you hear something, you cannot unhear it. And once I started playing it, I had to keep playing it for an hour, until I had smoothly worked out the backing rhythm (taken from the tonic shape of the pentatonic) as well as the solo.

    It was strange, but it was instructive.

  10. #360
    Join Date
    Feb 2017


    I had an accident. My pressure cooker blew up. Well, not actually. It must have developed a blockage, blew off its safety valve, and sent pinto bean juice everywhere. The latter was especially vexing because, living in a traditional southwestern home, I have bigas (logs serving as exposed rafter that support the roof) and they are not easy to clean.

    I took advantage of the situation by purchasing a new pressure cooker. My former one was thirteen years old and I thought it was time for a new one. I probably could have, and should have, bought a new valve and gasket for $12, but I presented it to my wife as an issue of breached structural integrity. So my new pressure cooker should arrive soon, as will also a twenty-five pound bag of Dominican habichuelas. So my food is going to be set for a while.

    Because of the kitchen drama I did not really apply myself to ukulele creativity. I merely practicing running down the fret board using the modes of the harmonic minor. I started with the E aiolian #7 at fret 4 (there are two modes below that E, but I wanted to start on the tonic note). Then I moved to the F# Lokrian 13 @ fret 6, then G Ionian #5 @ fret 7, the A Dorian #11 @ fret 9, the B Phrygian Dominant @ fret 11, the C lydian #2 @ fret 12, and the D# Super Lokrian bb7 @ fret 15. That final scale ends with the D# on the 18th fret of the A string, but since that's the leading tone of the key and just begging for resolution, then I just give the people what they want and end on the E of the 19th fret.

    I played this on my re-entrant Kamaka despite its inherent handicaps. I was surprised that its upper bout had a low enough profile to allow me to pick all the way up to the end of the fret board.

    As for the linkage of the above scales I just ascended the scale (intercalating phrasing as I went) and then descended back until I reached the first note of the next mode. From there I just continued with the next mode.

    The only other thing I did was to try to combine three modes (G Ionian #5, A Dorian #11, and B Phrygian Dominant) into one unit. I was focusing on the A string (since it is easier to see) as a conduit between the modes. I find it easy to hit the A string in G Ionian #5 and then just keep hitting the notes of the harmonic minor as I went up the A string, until I was back in B Phrygian Dominant territory. It was good to break up the continuity of the harmonic minor modes with some pentatonic modes, namely the G mediant, A subdominant, and B dominant shapes. The two different sets of modes each have their own vibe and I haven't figured out what I want to do with that difference. I'm thinking of using that difference in a similar manner as the Beatles used to modulate between two sounds in their verses and chorus/bridge of their songs. Or then there is something like the AABA scheme.

    Since it is now the year 2020 and people have spoken about the chord shape, 2020, I played a blues progression in G using the F# dim as a D7 and it was most unedifying. It didn't have that tang that you want as you pull away from the tonic in the blues. Maybe the Hawaiian D7 has a place in something like the edentate smooth jazz of Lyle Ritz, where unassertive buttery chords are more the idiom.

    Lastly I saw a youtube video which I liked merely because it validates what I do. It was an interview with the guitarist Reb Beach and he mentioned, among other things, how there are so many guitar ninjas out there, but so few of them can write songs. That's my experience as well. There are many robots who can replicate somebody else's music, but they cannot create their own. I try to create my own.

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