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Thread: my ukulele progress

  1. #121
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    I've been practicing the problematic strums: clawhammer and travis.

    I made a bit of a discovery. I can now play D minor in the regular fashion. I had always played it by playing an F but flattening my ring finger so that it spread over the G and C strings. The problem with this technique is that it is very tempermental. Depending on factors which I am not quite aware of, somedays it works and somedays it doesn't. Because of gaining competency in other areas, I now have, unbeknownst to me, the ability to play it with three fingers, which is an improvement because by playing it that way no string is ever muted. I never would have guessed at this kind of cross-over. Oh well. I wonder when the m7#5 chords will magically appear in my repetoire.

    There have been some fussy threads around here lately. Fussy sounds bad. Let's call it exacting. I haven't taken part in them because I don't really feel I have anything to add. They don't seem important to me. To wit, they are which A to tune to and at which fret do you tune. These topics do nothing for me but cause me to shrug. I can't even say that I am overly fastidious in my tuning. On my tuner, the pointer points straight up at 12 o'clock when it is pitch perfect. But to be honest I don't even fuss with the pegs as long as the pointer is somewhere between 11 o'clock and one o'clock. As for the 432 A...I think it is mainly psychological. If it floats your boat, go for it. We all do things that are negligible or even untrue because it makes us happy. I have some idiosyncratic views on strings that someone could probably scientifically disprove, but they organize my outlook and make me happy to follow them as precepts. Live and let live.

  2. #122
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    In an old steno notebook I found some investment notes and chord progressions.

    There are two versions of what appears to be 12-bar blues in Bb. It also contains what I recognize as a Be-Bop version of the same. I scratched that out because it is too busy for my tastes.

    What follows is somewhat puzzling. The first thing, at least, appears to be a turnaround. It is an 8-chord progression which could be used in the final two bars of the blues if you gave each chord one beat. Here it is:

    I /\
    vi -7
    ii -7
    V 7
    iii -7
    VI 7
    ii -7
    V 7

    That seems a bit rococo, but I played a blues in C that I know and inserted that progression into the final bars and it works, especially since it has the ii-V-I built into it. It is a bit desultory but it does work.

    Don't ask me what's on the rest of the page because I couldn't say for sure. It is all nice in a listless jazzy kind of way but I don't know if they're turnarounds, intros, free-standing songs, or what. For example, at the bottom of the page there is a 10 chord progression:

    C/\, C7, F/\, F-7, E-7, A7, D-9, G13, C6/9, C/\

    Play it. It is nice. Admittedly I dislike the finger-spread of the F-7 and I actually had to consult my binder to refresh my memory regarding a D-9. Aside from that it is a pretty little progression. I don't know why I wrote it down but it was fun to find it and play it.

    Tomorrow I think I should have a right-hand day. I am feeling like pulling out the re-entrant Kamaka and practicing some clawhammer as well as some arpeggios.

  3. #123
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    I've been getting lazy. I have just been sitting down and playing without a strap. For me that isn't too good because when I do that I tend to tilt the fretboard up so that I can see it. That, in turn, is bad because it then prevents me from playing by touch. There isn't anything inherently wrong with that, except that it is one of my goals not to do that. Therefore, for me it is bad. Plus, playing while standing is better. We sit down way too much--so much so, that our hip flexors and back muscles get contracted and cramped. And if you ever play in public, it will probably be whilst standing, so it is better just to get used to it. In fact, the custom ukulele I commissioned doesn't even have fret markers because I shouldn't be looking at them anyways. I could go on for an extended period of time about what I like about straps, but I will just end with saying that I also like the rhythm of moving and playing.

    Life derailed this, the penultimate day of my holiday weekend. Instead of practicing as I had hoped, I just squeezed in some wanking around with augmented chords and in narrowing down a list of turnarounds I found. Some of them were impractical, or too blase, or not to my taste. I kept four of them.

    1. iii7 VI7 ii7 V7 that's a good, solid turnaround
    2. I/\ bIII7 II7 bII7 this one is a bit goofy with that descending chromatic sound
    3. I/\ bII0 ii7 V7 this one's the same as #1 except the 11th bar has that nice diminished chord
    4. I/\ bII/\

  4. #124
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    I just bought a brand new Blackstar amplifier and it is completely awesome! It is 75 watts and totally solid state. You pick from six tubes to get the head-room, sag, and bias of that tube. Of course, I stuck to the EL84 and 6L6 because they are so traditional to the blues. To be honest, there isn't a lot of difference in those settings. It is more of a tonal nuance. It also has built in distortion, overdrive, reverb, phase, flang, delays, and chorus. In fact, the only things I could possibly want that isn't in the amp is some fuzz and maybe some boost. For my purpose, being a bedroom-practicer--although I never play in the bedroom--this thing is excellent. Maybe if I were allowed to turn the volume above 2, to play a gig or something, then I would hear some flaws...but as it is, it is perfect.

    I played around with the amp for a spell, playing stuff I normally play but with obscene levels of gain, overdrive, and flange. I tuned my uke to an open C and practiced a ton of slide.

    That was the fun stuff, then I had to get back to basics: I did an hour of re-calibrating practice with standing practice. I need to re-train my muscles because the angles are different. So I just played four fret blocks trying to actually hit the strings. Once I nailed that, I practiced the phrygian mode. This is going to take a while.


    Now that I have an awesome amp, I need a totally electric instrument. I am about to order a 4 string cigar box guitar, tuned like a baritone ukulele. I have to special order the fret markers because this luthier is a guitar maker and they have that inexplicable perversity of putting a dot on the ninth fret! Have they no sense of history?

    The sequence of open, 3, 5, 7, 10 is the most essentially American sound that exists. It is the minor pentatonic. The sound the Africans brought with them and which captivated their captors. It is the backbone of the blues, jazz, R & B, and rock and roll. It is the sound that skiffle bands such as the beatles, rolling stones, and Jimmy Page all sought and which they used to invade the airwaves of the United States.

    And it is American, or at least something outside of the European experience. I remember many years ago reading a R.L. Stevenson novel--I think it was Black Arrow--and in it a character was described as a generally good person although when he whistled it was a bit too negroid. And what is negroid? It is having that good old flatted third and seventh that is so much a part of the pentatonic. I had a similar personal experience when I visited a friend for a PhD study group, he had a harpsichord. I sat down and improvised a bit and shocked my friend. Apparently, I use a lot more black keys than he does in his lessons, which undoubtably were along European lines.

    So we need to stand up for the ten-spot! Just play the dots using the 10 (flatted 7th) and then the 9 (sixth). That 9 is so meh. So mayonnaise.

  5. #125
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    I kind of fell off the grid for a while. I have been playing, just not annotating.

    On Monday I expect the arrival of my new "baritone." It is an electric cigar box guitar with a humbucker pickup and the strings tuned like a baritone, DGBE. However, the last communication I had with the builder indicated that he couldn't tune it that way. I don't know what that means. Does that mean with the strings he had on hand that the Chicago-tuning wouldn't work? Surely one can get DGBE, or any other tuning for that matter. We'll see. I am fussy with my instruments voice. I don't like it to change once it is established. I bought some Martin strings, MLJ13 (Retro medium/light). I hope they'll work. They are apparently acoustic guitar strings, but they are nickel and steel and I assume they will work with the magnetic coils. If not, I'll get some bona fide electric strings.

    I have been occupying this space for almost a year now and I looked back at my goals. I am making progress on most of them. Every day there seems to be a new ukulele distraction, but I have been relatively faithful to my goals. The exception to that is my mastery of the fretboard. In my conception of what a musician should be, knowing the instrument is essential. And I don't really know my instrument despite how much time I have spent with it. For example, if someone said play the Lokrian mode in C...I know that I need to do the Lokrian pattern starting on the fifth fret (in linear tuning). However if halfway someone said "Stop! what was that note?" I wouldn't know. I could probably use the pentatonic markers on the fretboard to figure out the note, but I don't actually know it. To address this shortcoming I have been playing the blues modes in Ab, my favorite key. To do all five modes requires the entire fretboard, frets 1-14. And I am being hyper-aware of the note I am playing, so that when I am done doing this I will then know those notes. Combining these notes with those of the marked frets, I will then know the majority of the places on the fretboard for the first 15 frets. I suppose if I wanted to...after I am done with Ab, I could just go up a fret and do the A minor pentatonic from frets 2-15. That would give me a different set of notes to memorize throughout the fretboard. That being said, I just love Ab. It is a scale of all black keys: Ab, Cb, Db, Eb, Gb. I like it because it is the lowest key that doesn't use open strings. I hate open strings. You cannot bend open strings or mute them. Open strings screw up the patterns. Plus, the chords in an Ab blues progression are easy, as long as you mute the 4th string on the Ab.

  6. #126
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    I have Arpeggio Meditations For Ukulele and it got me meditating about arpeggios. I was thinking why can't I arpeggiate extended chords? In this fashion I can play things that I cannot usually play because of having four strings. It is actually an awesome idea (I am sure--absolutely sure--it has already been done but I came up with it as I sat in my library).

    So I took a crazy chord: dom7b5#9, and mapped it out. What's nice is that it is, of course, moveable so that you can play progressions with it. It is also great for improv because you can bust that little five note shape out anywhere. You can also compose with it, as if it were a little scale by using those notes with repetitions and phrasings.

    It is pretty fun and I was about to map out some more variations when I thought: shit, I can't flawlessly play all my first position chords without looking and I don't know my fretboard. I have to get back to some basics.

  7. #127
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    Upon waking up I followed up on my observations of yesterday. I practiced some "fly aways," an exercise I remember from the late Ukulele Mike in which you practice chording by making the chord and then send the hand away from the neck and kind of shake out the muscle memory and repeat. I focused on the white-key chords. The E isn't quite there and there's no need to even talk about the B. Ignoring that praeteritio I think I will note that if I practiced making the A with the middle and ring fingers, then I could slide it down and have my B and Bb. I could do that but it is kind of cheating. It is like using a capo: it is fine if it is an artistic choice, but if it is a necessity, then you suck and need to practice more.

    I then played around with m7b5 arpeggios. I think I've found my sound. I really like these, and by 'these' I mean these non-central chords in arpeggio form. I guess it is kind of jazzy. I like the way the notes almost sound random but with an ever so slight peppering of intentionality. I also like how it doesn't really sound like anyone else (perhaps for a good reason). The challenge, to my ear, of the ukulele is that everything sounds the same. It is as if Nickelback invented the ukulele. Maybe it is because of the timbre of the ukulele or maybe there is an accepted circle of chords and shapes that most arrangers use. I don't know. All I know is that when I hear regular ukulele music I immediately think I am in an elevator. That's one of the motivations for why I do what I do. I fingerpick and focus on techniques borrowed from blues guitar just to exorcise the ghosts of George Formby and Tiny Tim.

  8. #128
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    I mapped out more arpeggio patterns. The major and minor triads in arpeggio form are nice, but nothing to write home about. It is easy to use them. I played a blues progression in Ab using the arpeggios instead of strumming. Some of the more heavily stacked chords don't lend themselves to my style. For example something like a m11 with its six notes require sliding up the A string after you run out of space (especially on a re-entrant tuning). This is obviously doable and I've seen people like Guthrie Govan use legato to hit those 9 or 11 notes with his picking hand. However cool it looks, I just don't want that right now. I am looking for things that are within the span of a hand so that I can use them as building blocks, like scales. My favorite is still the one I started with originally, 7b5#9. The #9 is the thing I like the most. Without it, the 0 chord is just kind of there. I like the dim7 a little more than the 0, but it still doesn't hold a candle to my favorite.

    I think I suffered some PTSD today. I was playing around with my 75 watt amp and tenor guitar. I accidentally twirled my master volume knob instead of my effects knob, and I initiated the loudest sound known to man. At least it was the loudest sound my wife and cats have ever heard. My memory may be playing tricks on me, but I'll swear that the sound waves actually moved my hair like a stiff breeze would. At least I now know that my fuzz pedal and amp might have something to say when my drunk neighbor starts singing Bob Seger.

  9. #129
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    It is nearing the one-year anniversary of this ukulele thread and I have to surmount a few obstacles soon (skin cancer surgery, taxes, etc). So I don't think I'll make any more progress toward my goals. I may as well admit it. In fact, I cannot really say that I met any of my goals fully. I made progress both toward them as well as in other unexpected areas. However, none of them get checked off the list. So, in order not to be a failure, I am making the executive decision to make these goals the end-point for a two-year effort. In that way, I haven't failed after one year; I have made significant progress and am halfway done with my plan. Let's get concrete about what we're talking about:

    1. continue perfecting the basic chords: all major and minor triads, as well as their corresponding 7 and m7 versions. By "perfecting" I of course mean knowing how to fret them. Moreover I need to do it without looking. This will involve not being lazy. My nice ukuleles are in their humidified cases. Rather than get them out and strap them up, I grab my desk-side baritone and play it on my lap. When I put things on my lap, I tend to tilt it up to see what I'm doing. Furthermore, lap angles are vastly different from strapped angles. I need to stick to the latter.

    2. I really need to continue finding a way to know the fretboard. My Kamaka and baritone have 19 frets and I need to learn them. Something that didn't work was learning the frets with flash cards. I memorized the notes on all four strings for the first 12 frets, but that information doesn't unpack. I can't break the unit of the fret in my mind. What I mean by that is this: I can tell you the four notes contained on the 9th fret, but if someone says where's the C on your E string, I don't know. I think I have found a more profitable exercise in playing pentatonic modes thoughtfully. So that I remember the notes of the fretboard. I am going to keep working that angle and see if it doesn't stick this time around.

    3. I need to finish some books that I acquired in quest of forging my style.
    a. How to Play Blues Ukulele
    b. Clawhammer Ukulele
    c. Fingerstyle Ukulele
    d. Arpeggio Meditations for Ukulele

    Those books are in a descending order of needs, based on how long I've been dilly-dallying with them. It is noteworthy to see that all the books have to do with style more than content and that reflects my interests. I recently also order James Hill's new book, Duets For One, to make some progress on fingerpicking.

    4. Speaking of which, I should say that I am still committed to developing fingerstyle picking. As the books above indicate, that means clawhammer and Travis picking.

    5. I want to continue perfecting my use of modes, especially the five modes of the pentatonic minor.

    I think that should be all that I commit to, especially since I need to get to bed. It is 0430 and I need to meet someone at 1200 to pick up my cigar box guitar and my tenor guitar which were being repaired. The cigar box I had re-wired and the tenor guitar (it turns out) had nothing wrong with it. The luthier thinks it must be my cable. So I bought an obscenely expensive Mogami cable. It is weird but my two cheap cables work on my Oscar Schmidt and my Cigar Box, but with my blueridge it only picks up chords and not fingerpicking. I could obviously participate in some Ed Sheeran strum-along--but what kind of friggin' life would that be? It reminds me of those Paul Simon lyrics:
    Oh, oh, what a night
    Oh what a garden of delight
    Even now that sweet memory lingers
    I was playing my guitar
    Lying underneath the stars
    Just thanking the Lord
    For my fingers,
    For my fingers

    6. Okay, I just added this goal. I want to stop being sophmoric with my slide. I need to hunker down and practice some basics whilst standing and get natural with that tool.
    Last edited by ripock; 02-10-2018 at 10:42 PM.

  10. #130
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    I learned a few lessons this week...which cost me some money as most lessons in life do.

    1. I received my cigar box guitar back from my luthier all re-wired and sounding great. I was re-tuning it and snapped the G string. I think I was trying to get it to a G one octave higher than it was intended for. I'm just used to our ukuleles and I was shooting for that customary pitch not remembering that it was a guitar. I use Martin Retros for the cigar box and I think those run around $7, if memory serves me.

    2. I also sent my tenor guitar to the luthier to get "fixed" because it wasn't picking up my finger picking on the amp. However, the luthier said there was nothing wrong with it! He said to try new cables. So I bought an expensive hi-grade cable--I think it was called Mogabi or something Japanese-sounding. I was still having the symptom. Then it dawned on me: I was the problem. Here's what I figured. Electric instruments are different than acoustic. On the electric instruments, a certain threshold of vibration must be met in order for the sound to register. So I just plucked harder and it worked. I suppose the problem was intensified because I never have and never will use a plectrum. So that new elite cable was for naught, but since I have a great cable, I'll just keep it.

    On to what I've been doing. To practice what I consider the foundational chords (maj, min, dom7, min7) I started doing that old jazz chestnut, the 2-5-1-6 progression. The voicings I use are ii min7, V7, i maj7, vi min. Therefore this progression practices everything I want except for major chords and if I need help with major chords at this stage in the game, I may as well sell the ukuleles.

    I noticed that in some keys this progression doesn't sound so good. I suppose it must be because of the inversion of the chord that our ukuleles use. I suppose I could try to find a different version of the offensive chord, but then the pitches would be out of synch. That's fine when it is intentional, but when it is compulsory it doesn't sound so hot. More likely than not, I'll just except it as-is. I will say that I really like the progression in F...or whatever the key is on a baritone when you think you're playing F. Isn't the formula to go up a 4th to get the real key name? If that's so, then I guess that would be B. I'll have to try it on my tenor ukulele and see if I still like it. Anyway, this progression in "F" sounds really warm unlike, say, E where the notes are a bit more strident, or what people who prefer their non-linear tunings call bright.

    This made me think, instead of playing this progression chromatically through the keys, why don't I do a progression of the progression? For example do the 2--5-1-6 progression in C, and then F, and then Bb, etc? It could make a little song, especially if I repeated or returned to certain keys periodically--kind of like resolution. I would think it would sound like when you travis pick or clawhammer a blues progression.

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