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Thread: Uke in an ensemble/string band

  1. #1
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    Nov 2014
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    Default Uke in an ensemble/string band

    I am wondering about how to fit a ukulele into a group setting. not an all uke setting but, say a Texas swing band, or a folk/Americana context.

    What skills are important to have and are there people who are doing this well? I know a banjo uke strummed works well to cut through a larger band, and a baritone can work well with one or two additional instruments to add texture/another voice.

    (And I know any instrument can work in any context but curious about people who have actually been successful with this.)

    Many thanks!

  2. #2
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    Good luck! I was asked to play in a "string ensemble" once. Nobody could hear my uke, it was covered up. An ukulele will almost always be the quietest instrument in any group. Ask if you can amp it up!
    "Those who bring sunshine and laughter to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves".

    Music washes from the soul, the dust of everyday living.

  3. #3
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    Listen to Lyle Ritz album "How About Uke" and Ohta-San's album "Soul Time in Hawaii" and James Hill/Anne Janelle's album "Many a Moon." Each feature the ukulele with different types of accompanying bands.

  4. #4
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    Pre-pandemic, I was playing in my church worship band every Sunday. Piano, Electric guitar X 1, acoustic guitars X 2, bass guitar, cajon for percussion, and me on my concert uke. 6-8 vocalists. All the stringed folks plugged in, and everyone amplified through the church PA/sound board. Our sound guy had us pretty well balanced, so that my uke wasn't totally drowned out. Did my uke stand out in the crowd ? No, not really, but it added a nice sparkle to the overall sound. We play contemporary gospel music.

    I think with the right sound system, a uke would fit in very well with a western swing or folk group. They often have a banjo,mandolin, and fiddle, so why not a uke.
    My ukulele family.....
    KoAloha Koa concert - circa 2006 (Living Waters)
    aNueNue Moon Bird concert - Spruce & Rosewood - 2018 (Blackwater)
    Blackbird Clara - 2019 (Oasis Bright)
    Cocobolo concert - 2019 (Worth Brown)

  5. #5
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    I'm thinking that you will need amplification, one way or another. I played in a church praise band, and was plugged into the audio board along with the guitar, bass, piano, and vocals. It was up to the audio guy running the mixer board to balance us out. I suppose you could accomplish the same thing individually with your own amp.
    "The sole cause of all human misery is the inability of people
    to sit quietly in their rooms." - Blaise Pascal, 1670

  6. #6
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    You will definitely need to be amplified. Couple of ways to do that, have your own amp and mic the uke, or use a uke with built in pickup and/or preamp and plugin to your own amp or to the P/A. The leader of my uke group of about 25-50 when we met pre-covid, used an amp with her preamp uke in a large multipurpose room. She also had a headphone mic, both are on wireless systems.


    This is Michael Kohan in Los Angeles, Beverly Grove near the Beverly Center
    8 tenor cutaway ukes, 4 acoustic bass ukes, 10 solid body bass ukes, 14 mini electric bass guitars (Total: 36)

    Donate to The Ukulele Kids Club, they provide ukuleles to children in hospital music therapy programs. www.theukc.org
    Member The CC Strummers: www.youtube.com/user/CCStrummers/video, www.facebook.com/TheCCStrummers

  7. #7
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    The first group where I ever used a uke was the Maple Leaf Champions Jug Band. I usually play at least 3 or 4 songs a show on the uke and use a mic (not an expensive one, but usually an SM57 or a Beta 57 - both affordable and almost indestructible). It really depends on what other instruments are in your group. We have guitar, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, washboard, trombone, mouth harp. . . not all at once, but in different combinations.
    I step very close to the mic when I'm taking a solo and the uke seems to come through.
    MLCwithresouke.jpg
    With reso-uke

    MLCatGatsby_zpsd1ee1f9b.jpg
    Our biggest incarnation with a uke borrowed from my wife, Maggie. The three ladies at the right are a vocal trio called The Ukelillies. When they perform as a trio, they all play ukes, but when they play with us, they sing Andrews Sisters type back-up.
    Last edited by Jim Yates; 05-01-2021 at 08:09 AM.

  8. #8
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    Before covid I participated in two weekly acoustic jams one with traditional (including western swing) fiddle music the other Celtic style. Initially I brought guitars but lately have switched to ukes. And people like their unique sound and I think they provide a good contribution to the mix. I make a point to play them with uke strumming styles and unique chords such as rootless and not try to emulate other instruments that are already there such as banjos or mandolins. There is no amplification tolerated at these jams so I have to play hard but even with a concert uke can be heard in recordings, though my six string tenor seems to be most popular with the other players.
    Last edited by merlin666; 05-01-2021 at 08:23 AM.

  9. #9
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    Thanks all, super helpful ideas! I will follow up with some specific questions later. Volume is a concern, though I do have a tiple that is loud as crazypants. Honestly initially I’m okay being quiet since I feel a little nervous about my ability.

  10. #10
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    Of course, resonator instruments were invented for just such a reason. The mechanical amplification of a resonator may give you the additional "punch" you need to be heard. A Koa or Maple resonator will still have a distinctive Uke sound to the audience, even though it sounds quite different to the player.
    "The sole cause of all human misery is the inability of people
    to sit quietly in their rooms." - Blaise Pascal, 1670

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