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Thread: my ukulele progress

  1. #321
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    As I promised myself, I am going to be annotating a few of my favorite blues progressions. I originally found these in the Glen Rose workbooks I purchased a few years ago. The first one is unique to the workbooks (that is, I haven’t run across it but I don’t imagine that it was invented for the workbook), whereas the second one I’ve seen on other jazz websites.

    As an aside I need to mention that the Glen Rose books are great, but I outgrew the methodology. Rose’s pedagogical stance is to keep things simple so that there is no intimidation to approaching jazz. However I wanted a little more depth in terms of why we play what we do. I don’t mean to belittle Glen. I have spoken with him and I know he has been, and is, a musician and educator for decades. He knows everything I want to learn...he just hasn’t put that knowledge into the workbooks.

    At first, this progression looks hard just because the shapes are different. We are used to our dom7 shapes, but when you ponder it...it has know harder to make one shape as it is another (aside from the stretch of some shapes).

    This progression only uses two shapes, whereas a typical blues progression in C uses three.

    Bar 1: I dom13. This patently sets up the progression by establishing the root to which the deviation of the IV chord and the V chord all long to resolve to. I have heard it whimsically said that the IV and V are separated from and desire to return to the I chord just as in a life buffeted by the blues we long to return to god. I don’t know if that’s true but it is a pretty thought. Technically speaking, to play the dom13, I use the shape that has its root on the A string, except on the A string I play the tonic versus the 9th which results in a different voicing of the chord; I do it because it is easier.

    Bar 2: IV dom9. This is the “quick change” that is a staple of jazz. Normally the first 4 bars are all the I chord. But this quick change has its benefits. First of all, it previews the deviation which is to come in bars 6 and 7. Also it presents a different narrative. In the normal blues progression the first 4 bars are the I chord which establishes the sound to which we deviate from and ultimately return to. In the quick change narrative, instead of the I chord asserting itself in a straight forward manner, the I chord announces itself, the IV chord intervenes, then the I chord re-takes center stage. This represents more of a tension and a conflict. The I chord and its solidity is interrupted by the IV chord and only with difficulty re-establishes itself...but the IV chord is still there and it will re-emerge just as self-doubt can obtrude itself on our confidence. Technically, I use the dom9 shape which is rooted on the E string.

    Bar 3 and 4: I dom13. Technical note—since I don’t use the pinky in my inversion of the dom13 chord it is free to spice things up a bit by playing the 9 or the #9 or the b9 on certain beats to create some variations of sound.

    Bar 5 and 6: IV dom9. Here the IV does finally take over and pulls us away from the root chord

    Bar 7 and 8: the walkdown from the I. You play the I dom13 chord for half a bar, then descend a fret and play the shape to complete bar 7, and then for bar 8 you descend another fret and play the chord and then descend again and play the chord. In a traditional blues progression these bars are normally devoted to the I chord. In that traditional narrative, the I establishes itself for 4 bars, the IV interrupts for 2, and then the I re-takes control for 2. In that narrative, there is a conflict but it is rather black and white with either the I or the IV in command. In this alternative narrative, the I chord briefly regains its primacy for the first half of bar 7, but then for a bar and a half the shape moves away from the root as if the situation is slipping from the power of the I chord. Again this musical narrative resonates with our own lives. We often find that something, like the IV chord, shakes our foundation from its solid moorings. We take action but for whatever reason that action is ineffectual or at least only temporary and the situation slips between our fingers.

    Bar 9: II dom13
    Bar 10: V dom9

    These two bars are going to require some explication and I hope I actually have the power of articulation that is required. As far as the story line goes, bar 9 is the darkness before the dawn. It is farther away from the I chord than any other chord in the progression. And bar 10 is the beginning of the return to the I chord and that resolution. Again, this works as a reflection of our life. I have often been involved in a crisis which seemed to get worse and worse, and when I despaired that things couldn’t work out, then suddenly something happens to change everything.

    Here’s how this works musically. The II chord seems random, but it isn’t. A normal blues progression involves the I, the IV, and the V chords. In the key of C that would be C, F, and G. Now, focus on the G. In the key of G, what is the V chord? It is D. Therefore D is the V chord of G, which is the V chord of C. D is also the II chord in the key of C. So the II chord is the V chord of the V chord. However alienated the V chord is from the I chord, the II chord is even more removed. And so bar 9 represents a great distance from the I chord and bar 10 shows progress toward the I chord, which is to be realized in the next bar

    Bar 11: I dom13, for half the bar. Then move up three frets and play the dom13 shape.
    Bar 12: Another walk down. For the first half of the bar move down a fret and play the dom13 shape. Move down another fret and we are back at the I chord where we play it again.


    I don’t know if this way of looking at the blues is orthodox or heterodox. I don’t really talk to others about this. Either my views are so universal that they deserve no comment or they are a bit outlandish. Again, I don’t know.

    However, I commit them to writing because I wanted to illustrate how I get around being a robot.

    In a recent thread about the blues, beginners were cautioned against being robotic in playing the blues. As my writing shows, I totally agree with that but I think it is completely inappropriate advice for a beginner. We don’t expect a beginning keyboard student to be Scarlatti and we shouldn’t expect a beginner in the blues to be accomplished.

    However, once a beginner is ready to put some nuance in the structure that he or she has been playing, this bunch of writing shows one way of doing it. By making the blues progression a narrative, you as a player can invest certain chords with an appropriate emotion by using tricks such as triplets or a masterful use of silence or whatever. Taken in this light the progression is: I chord (the perfect situation where you are centered and nothing is wrong), IV chord (something bad), V chord (something worse), and II (the worst thing).

    And if that is still too abstract to work, you can certainly vivify the progression with a concrete situation. Most people use love and its betrayal as the theme of the blues. However, my wife is a wonderful person; I mentally appreciate the love angle of the blues, but I don’t feel it. But something that does make me blue is how unfair and capricious life is. I have done everything I was supposed to do. I was a good person, I received my education and training, I worked hard...but I didn’t get my reward. It is as if I fulfilled my end of the bargain, but reality welched. I wasn’t in the right place at the right time or I didn’t know the right person, and because of that I am not living the easy life. However someone else may think of it, that’s what gives me the blues. And what I would do musically is think of three levels of dissatisfaction that I have with this topic and associate those dissatisfactions with the IV, V, and II chords. Then when I play those chords I try to play them in a way that invokes my attitude.

    I should mention that most people do this with words; they express their feelings with their song. I don’t like to sing. I try to do it with the chords. However this can’t really be done with the chords since chords are just chords. So I loosen up the structure. Instead of 12 bars, I think of it as 12 parts of a story. And sometimes I take liberties with the timing of the bars and extend them with finger picking or other techniques which lend themselves to what I’m trying to do. Since this is all a bit improvisational, sometimes it doesn’t work. Music after all, needs to have a certain modicum of repetition to be significant to an audience. This improvisation is sort of like pre-writing and if I going to actually publish it as a song, I would definitely narrow the scope of my whimsies to give an audience some footholds to use.


    There we go. That is just my attempt to show to myself that the I IV V progression isn’t so simple and boring, and that it is worthy to be the most frequent progression in jazz. And I haven’t even touched upon muddying the waters by using different chord qualities such as add6’s or maj7’s. Nor have I alluded to using different voicings for the chords. This aspect, in particular, is very interesting. Different inversions have different pitches and those pitches seem to have associations of their own. After all, the difference between a question and an indicative statement is merely a question of pitch and a higher pitch seems to connote a “big finish” at the end of a song. However I am getting into a barrel of monkeys which should probably not be disturbed right now.

  2. #322
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    I am preparing for a move, so I have been a bit pre-occupied but I have been trying to systematically pursue my current interest in making chords all over the fret board.

    I was wondering how high I could go and for me it depends on the sort of chord. Chords having the index finger barre stop working at the fifteenth fret. Until then all my notes ring out, but after the 15th it gets muted. I suppose my finger is too big. I can do those circus tricks like twisting my hand to get the bony part of the pinky to (maybe) play the chord, but it doesn't seem appropriate to me. We're supposed to enjoy this and doing that sort of thing just isn't enjoyable. I do use some trickery such as nudging my ukulele to the left to keep the frets I'm working with in front of me.

    Other chords go higher. For example something like the m7 chord with the C string root (2212) I can take all the way up to the 19th fret.

    And still other chords can work if I change my finger patterns to accommodate the tighter space.

    All this, of course, is a bit academic. I won't be needing to play chords that high on the fret board; I merely want to be able so that my choice is artistic and not based on my lack of ability.

    I do finger pick up to the 19th fret all the time, but I think I am content to let the chords rest at the 15th and go no further.

    Now that I've established the parameters, it is time to start practicing these shapes and learn my fret board better. I think I will start with the Key of F merely because I never play in that key. I am sure that the different keys will have unique challenges based on where those notes lie on the fret board. Hopefully I will find some new favorite places to visit which will rival my fondness for the 11th fret.

  3. #323
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    Just tried play with my keyboard the complete C13 chord. Did not sound that bad if I could get my fingers in right places and right order. Just way too complicated, but I don't play jazz. Did not sound exactly like a cluster of notes.

    I found this thread of what are usually left out:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thirteenth
    "In the common practice period the "most common" pitches present in V13 chord are the root, 3rd, 7th, and 13th; with the 5th, 9th, and 11th "typically omitted".[8] The 13th is most often in the soprano, or highest voice, and usually resolves down by a 3rd to the tonic I or i. If the V13 is followed by a I9 the 13th may resolve to the 9th.".

    So it is C, E, Bb, A. It does not sound good on uke, the A should be played an octave higher. But even if it was possible, there is that unevenness in sustain of strings then.

    Still I am pissed off and to anyone using such chords as notation. But I don't know jazz harmony and goes beyond my usual understanding/able hearing of more chords than the 4 note ones. Our ukebuddy tells it is a no chord, 2001.
    Last edited by Jarmo_S; 09-04-2019 at 09:09 PM.

  4. #324
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    The 13 I play is 3 b7 9 13. I think that would be E Bb D A. The 13 has some relatively easy patterns and it sounds a little bit more mellow to my ear than a 9 chord.

  5. #325
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    My plan seems to be a little more difficult than I had anticipated.

    I had planned to learn my fret board by going around the circle of fifths counter-clockwise (which, I know, is actually the circle of fourths) from F to C and play I IV V progressions all over the fret board. In that way I would hit every note three times (once as a root, once as a subdominant, and once as a dominant).

    I became quickly overwhelmed because you need to know where the notes are (in F, they are F, Bb, and C). Next you need to know which chord shapes to place around the note. And then you need to know which positions to play. I'm out of time right now because I need to get ready for work, but I will expand on what I came up with in ten hours or so when I return.

  6. #326
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    It will not be that easy I must say. One key at a time. Now I can quite easy play the basic chord progressions from 4 flats (Ab/Fm) to 4 sharps (E/C#m). They are all relatively easy to finger with our ukulele. In that sharp department, I do some muting, but you know that already because of your E liking.

    The rest of 12 keys, Db/Bbm, B/G#m, and the hardest shit F#/Ebm, are needing a lot of barres. Plus I don't really know if I should call the chords with flat or sharp names.

    I play same chord progressions in every key, so that keeps me knowing that I play them right. What is the 1st, 5th, 6th, 4th or 3rd and 2nd degrees. Usually I use the 7th chord just with 2nd and 5th degrees, to keep all simple. And with 3rd degree that is the 5th of the relative minor but dominant 7th with harmonic scale.

    And I am not really sure how much I depend on the ukulele and then not really able to transfer that chord degree knowledge to say like piano. But I do think I know a lot without the uke too. I have not learned much about my keyboard, except that it is not based on movable chords lol. It has just been sitting there, gathering dust on keys.
    Last edited by Jarmo_S; 09-05-2019 at 01:19 PM.

  7. #327
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    Okay, as I said in my last entry, I had bitten off more than I could chew. That was great because it immediately exposed my weakness with not knowing my fret board as well as I should. It was upsetting at first, but at least it showed me what has to be done. After all, it is lame that an instrumentalist should not know the rudiments of his instrument.

    So I have to take it in smaller bites.

    First of all, I have to know where these twenty-one or so notes are at. So, I am going to maintain my plan of playing blues progressions...but instead of using chords, I will just use the root notes at first.

    I noticed that around the 6 F notes on the fret board, certain Bb and C notes are nearby and seem to be the natural choices for the progression.

    Here are the clusters I saw (I will be using a naming system I created. E1=the first fret of the E string, C5=the fifth fret of the C string, etc.)

    E1 / A1 / A3

    C5 / E6 / G5 or C5 / G3 / A3 or C5 / E6 / E8

    A8 / E6 / E8

    G10 / C10 / C12

    E13 / A13 / C12 or A15

    C17 / E18 / G17 or C17 / G15 / A15

    The plan is to play these three-note sequences until I am familiar with where these notes occur. Then I think I will mix and match the elements to see what kind of sound I get. I’ll try something like E1 / E18 / C12. Some of these new sequences will just sound random and utterly forgettable. However some are going to sound like appropriate variations.

    Once I am comfortable with using these notes, then I will just put the chord shapes around these root notes and get a proper blues progression. I intend to use both major and minor blues progressions because, in my philosophy, those (the triads and the 7 chords) are the essential chords, without which a player should be ashamed.

    I naturally foresee a few issues

    1. With the minor blues, the m7 shape (root on the E) will always be a problem

    2. With the major blues, that 7 shape (root on the E) is something that I don’t use, except for F7 or F#7. Therefore I just don’t have much experience with it.

    3. The 7 shape (root on the G) is also always troublesome unless I mute the G string, rendering it rootless. The only problem with that is that the sound is a little less full, since it has one less string. But its sound is perfectly good. One good aspect about muting the G string is that if I choose not to mute it but fret it along with the C string, then I get a 9 chord.

  8. #328
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    I am not feeling very well. As I pack up some stuff for my move, I am listening to Wagner's Lohengrin and feel like a schmuck. I imagine Verdi felt the same way after hearing Wagner. Anyway, I am here struggling with the different voicings of the blues progression in F whilst listening to Wagner. I feel pretty lame. There's so much I could do being...I'll elaborate later what I've found this week. However, now I have to do some more immediate things.

    I'm back and here's some of what I have found out.

    1. I realize there's going to be a learning curve here with the chord shapes. It is a little hard now, but it will be less so when I move onto the next key. In that case, the notes will be new but the shapes won't.
    2. the dominant 7 shape with its root on the E string (e.g., the F7=2313) is actually two chords in one. You can play it with all fingers down, as we all learnt it, or mute the A string. That mutes the fifth of the chord but you still get that dominant sound with the flat 7. More importantly you get a chord with a lower pitch since that A string is missing.
    3. Similarly, with some muting you get get two chords out of a very popular major chord shape. It is the one we learn a Bb major (3211). You can play it as 3211, but also you can play it as 321X and get a lower-pitched chord which only lacked a reduplicated root note.
    4. Similarly again, there's the chord we learn as E major, 4447. I find it much better as 444X, without that high note.
    5. My instinct was correct in terms of not wanting to play any chord higher than the 15th fret. It is doable sometimes with a bit of acrobatics to get your fingers into those cramped quarters, but the sound! The chords down there sound tinny and toylike--like a soprano. That's not a sound I want at all.

    That's a pretty good synopsis of my observations this week. I am writing from memory so that I cannot recall which inversions sounded good and which didn't. At the time I just moved around randomly (e.g., the F @ E1, the Bb @ E6, and C @E8). Everything sounded good in a way. I did start to get a feeling for when to go extremely high, like the C7 @ A15. Depending on how you deal with it, it can sound surprising but purposeful...especially with some triplets. I could foresee it as a good way to mask transitions since the pitches are so apart that a key change wouldn't be so evident.
    Last edited by ripock; 09-14-2019 at 06:36 PM.

  9. #329
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    As an update, I haven't been able to do much with the ukulele. I am in the middle of moving a household by myself. I know...I have a PhD in ancient languages, I have some righteous tenor ukuleles, I have a dilettante knowledge of music theory. I should have a lot of friends to help. However, the world is a crazy place right now. I'm by myself. I'll get by and after the move is affected I will be able to re-dedicate myself to my ukulele.


    Just to be break up the monotony of my blues in F, I have been trying to intersperse some picking--in the style of a stop-time blues. It is pretty easy to do with my pentatonics because no matter what root you are centered your chord around, you can play the corresponding shape. I also tried ( and succeeded) laying down some F Phrygian. It sounded it pretty good although technically F Phrygian is actually in the key of Bb. Phrygian is probably my favorite mode. Actually the Aiolian is my favorite since that minor vibe is the backbone of my sound, but the Aiolian is sort of a default rather than a choice. It is more of a way of life that isn't negotiable. But the Phrygian is a choice. It has that nice progression of minor 1, minor 4th, and flatted minor 7th.

    I just looked at the main forum and noticed a thread about which ukulele would you like to play. I don't want to comment and throw something other than supportive vibes that way...but I do wonder why someone would want to play some other ukulele. I mean, what is there to gain? You're still playing. It is still going to be the same old songs you always play except that it may be slightly more warm or bright on a new ukulele. instead of fetishizing one or another ukulele, I think the energy would be better spent in learning a new scale or chordal quality or technique that would elevate the player's style--regardless of what ukulele is being strummed.

    To some extent, that's what I'm doing by playing movable chords all over the neck in all keys. I want to play better whether I am playing a Lichty $10000 monstrosity or my humble Yorkshire tenor.
    Last edited by ripock; 09-20-2019 at 06:55 PM.

  10. #330
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    My wife awoke to a shock. I was trying to re-listen to Lyle Ritz's edentate ukulele jazz. I couldn't get through How About Uke?. "At least it isn't Hawaiian music," my wife commented and I have to agree.

    It got me thinking about listening practices. Obviously I don't like traditional uke music but I don't usually listen to music I like. I know it is counter-intuitive but I find I cannot unhear things. I suppose I am rather impressionable. Once I hear something it traps me. Once you hear a riff and hear how someone resolves the musical problem, then you have to follow down those lines or avoid those lines so studiously that you are still following them albeit in reverse. I do listen to classical music a lot because I am no longer playing it.

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