Learning the ukulele when you don't like most music written for it?

Io Sapsai

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I listen mostly to progressive metal. This is the music that inspired me to play bass. The routine around playing bass or any electric instrument involves plugging in more cables into sockets than I like. Nothing too big but when you're short on motivation, it often makes the difference between playing and not playing. It sucks because playing music is such good therapy. I always feel invigorated after a session but it's hard to pick up the instrument when video games get in the way. Path of least resistance and all that. Ukulele seems perfect, being small, portable, easy to pick up and play, not too hard to grasp the basics, especially when you have some experience with another stringed instrument.

I have a concert high G uke that I haven't touched in a year at least. I toyed around with it every now and then. It still feels a bit awkward but I can make it work. I got some strumming patterns down and with some brushing up, I'll figure out most basic chords. I really want to play it. My problem is that most ukulele tabs/charts I find are...pop. Or country. Or whatever that I don't listen to. I spend most of my time looking for songs to learn and then just put it back on the stand. I feel like I can't find music that I like that isn't metal. Metal doesn't sound too good on ukulele. Especially most of the stuff I listen to, unless it's a slow song, I can't see a way to make it sound good on my uke. I kinda like jazz though. I don't actively listen to it too much but if there's a jazz concert in town I'm there. But jazz seems awfully difficult for a beginner. Or maybe I'm just quick to give up. I think "groovy, yet melodic, with high energy" is a good way to describe the music I like.

Part of the problem would be solved if I learn to play by ear. Not relying on charts is a good skill to have, I understand. Has anyone ever felt like this?
 
I wouldn't call playing by ear a skill. It's just something you learn by doing with a little patience. Just take the uke and plink along until you find a note that fits and then the next. It helps if you can slow the music down. Otherwise most music tabs for Uke are not uke music but tunes that someone simplified and wrote down for others benefit to play who like those tunes and enjoy playing the simplified versions on uke. There is plenty of this stuff to find for any genre.
 
See if you can find the documentary “Rock That Uke.”
 
I'm intrigued that you mention progressive metal and bass in particular, because one of my tippity-top ukulele professionals, and a UU forum member, is Sammy Turton, @4stringboy, and he started as a prog metal bassist! If I were to carve my Mount Uke-more of four all-time greats, he'd be on the mountain, I'm not kidding.

One of the things you'll find as you explore his work at 4stringboy.com, his YT channel and such is that he doesn't play a single thing from the traditional repertoire. Not one. He's completely carving out his own way, and you can do the same.

It may not necessarily be prog metal, but it certainly doesn't have to be songs like Three Little Birds, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Brown-Eyed Girl, or other popular strum-alongs. It's a little unfortunate that this is exactly the repertoire that most YT teachers are teaching, so you've got to work a little harder to find the folks who are specifically avoiding it. @4stringboy is definitely one of them, but there are others.

I'm still new-ish at this (a couple of years in), but one thing I've found to be endlessly delightful is that there's NO SUCH THING as music that you can't play on ukulele. Some genres are more widely adapted than others, but ukulele adaptations from Bach to Sex Pistols to Metallica to Rage Against The Machine are out there, and people are KILLIN' it. One of my favorite genres is techno, and the techno repertoire for uke is getting MASSIVE. You just have to know where to look.

There are a million different approaches to this, and they're all up to you. Do you want to strum and sing acoustically? The same way as if you were playing acoustic guitar? If so, that's easy. You're a bass player, so you have at least one amp laying around. Consider plugging in your uke. You CAN make it a straight acoustic amplification, but there's nothing stopping you from adding every kind of pedal that you want. There are ukulele players doing that every day.

You can also go the route of a full-on electric ukulele, with all the humbuckers and pickups you'd want, including some ukes inspired by famous guitars. This Gibson SG-inspired uke does in fact sound a LOT like an SG! They also make one that looks and sounds like a Les Paul. So that's another route.

1712698485732.png

Still another route is to record yourself, add some multitracking, and make it sound like anything you want. It happens that I've been a bit of a Rage bender of late, so I recently stumbled across a cover of "Killing in the Name...of Ukulele" that features live drums and a couple of tracks of ukulele...AND he includes a tutorial after the cover!



This may not be AT ALL what you're looking for, but my point is, there are so, so many different approaches to ukulele, and many of them have nothing to do with the traditional repertoire.

fwiw, "the traditional repertoire" might not mean what you think it does! As just one example, much of the music from Tin Pan Alley was assumed to be played on ukulele, since in 20s and 30s, there were a lot more people buying ukuleles than pianos or phonographs. Regardless, your point is well-taken. Nobody is the boss of you on the ukulele. Play what you want! Loud, distorted, fast, plugged in and pedaled, or soft, sweet, and natural -- your pick! Mix and match!
 
I'm intrigued that you mention progressive metal and bass in particular, because one of my tippity-top ukulele professionals, and a UU forum member, is Sammy Turton, @4stringboy, and he started as a prog metal bassist! If I were to carve my Mount Uke-more of four all-time greats, he'd be on the mountain, I'm not kidding.

One of the things you'll find as you explore his work at 4stringboy.com, his YT channel and such is that he doesn't play a single thing from the traditional repertoire. Not one. He's completely carving out his own way, and you can do the same.

It may not necessarily be prog metal, but it certainly doesn't have to be songs like Three Little Birds, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Brown-Eyed Girl, or other popular strum-alongs. It's a little unfortunate that this is exactly the repertoire that most YT teachers are teaching, so you've got to work a little harder to find the folks who are specifically avoiding it. @4stringboy is definitely one of them, but there are others.

I'm still new-ish at this (a couple of years in), but one thing I've found to be endlessly delightful is that there's NO SUCH THING as music that you can't play on ukulele. Some genres are more widely adapted than others, but ukulele adaptations from Bach to Sex Pistols to Metallica to Rage Against The Machine are out there, and people are KILLIN' it. One of my favorite genres is techno, and the techno repertoire for uke is getting MASSIVE. You just have to know where to look.

There are a million different approaches to this, and they're all up to you. Do you want to strum and sing acoustically? The same way as if you were playing acoustic guitar? If so, that's easy. You're a bass player, so you have at least one amp laying around. Consider plugging in your uke. You CAN make it a straight acoustic amplification, but there's nothing stopping you from adding every kind of pedal that you want. There are ukulele players doing that every day.

You can also go the route of a full-on electric ukulele, with all the humbuckers and pickups you'd want, including some ukes inspired by famous guitars. This Gibson SG-inspired uke does in fact sound a LOT like an SG! They also make one that looks and sounds like a Les Paul. So that's another route.

View attachment 170522

Still another route is to record yourself, add some multitracking, and make it sound like anything you want. It happens that I've been a bit of a Rage bender of late, so I recently stumbled across a cover of "Killing in the Name...of Ukulele" that features live drums and a couple of tracks of ukulele...AND he includes a tutorial after the cover!



This may not be AT ALL what you're looking for, but my point is, there are so, so many different approaches to ukulele, and many of them have nothing to do with the traditional repertoire.

fwiw, "the traditional repertoire" might not mean what you think it does! As just one example, much of the music from Tin Pan Alley was assumed to be played on ukulele, since in 20s and 30s, there were a lot more people buying ukuleles than pianos or phonographs. Regardless, your point is well-taken. Nobody is the boss of you on the ukulele. Play what you want! Loud, distorted, fast, plugged in and pedaled, or soft, sweet, and natural -- your pick! Mix and match!

Beautiful post! Thanks Tim.
 
You can start by learning the power chords, and maybe change the high G string for the low G. (If you want to go cheap go to a local music store and buy a single D string for classical guitar) It takes away most of the bright traditional sound and adds a fuller tone.
 
I used to only play metal back in high school. Loved Dream Theater through college.

I just learned riffs and never full songs. The uke taught me to actually play chord progressions and be happy with that.

I eventually got electric ukes then bass then keys. That was followed by a baritone uke and now, I'm back to a Paul Gilbert Mikro...that one is specifically for palm muted power chords I can't do on the ukulele.

Long story short, I feel like Genesis and some Rush would be possible. Maybe some Haken but I think the uke might be a little limited. You're probably not going to be satisfied trying to play Periphery on it.
 
Loved Dream Theater through college.

Turns out that there are bunches of Dream Theater uke videos!

This one's a general lamentation that could be an alternate name for this thread 🤣



And here's one with the ukulele I mentioned above, made by a company called Flight that I like a lot. I have one of their traditional Hawaiian mahogany ukes, and @4stringboy is one of their official artists. I'm sure he can tell you more about this uke, but you might dig this:



A DT ballad, but still nicely done:



You need an acoustic bass ukulele.

Speaking of which:



There are so, so many more! I do understand that Dream Theater as a specific example may be no more useful than Rage Against the Machine if that's not specifically what you're into, but my only point is that if there's music that you wish you could play on a uke, just play it on a uke! It won't sound the same as a guitar, bass, drums and keyboards, but you already knew that.

People are out there playing songs written for entire freaking orchestras. It can totally be done! 🤘
 
Fair is fair...I have seen Polyphia covered with numerous non traditional instruments and the kick lots of ass. Though the technical proficiency is probably measured in decades.

Otoh, knowing the source material Tim. Those are a far cry. It's like building a Fiero Ferrari. Which is cool but not the same.

And I really don't want to discourage anyone from playing whatever. Hell, I'm basically going it alone in with my electric ukes and I'm just playing pop / classic rock and r&b these days.
 
You can start by learning the power chords, and maybe change the high G string for the low G. (If you want to go cheap go to a local music store and buy a single D string for classical guitar) It takes away most of the bright traditional sound and adds a fuller tone.
I did it once but I got a set with a wound string and I hated it. The G sounded and out of place and louder than the rest. I might look around for a flatwound/unwound set. The acoustic guitar string bugged me because it sounds different from the rest. I ended up buying a traditional high g set again and sticking to it.
 
Maybe I’m just weird, but I never use specific ukulele tabs
When there is a song, I like I look for an acoustic version on YouTube then I either hear which chords to play or I look on a guitar tab website. The songs I listen to are mostly to unknown To have ukulele tabs.
I also know most chords and if I don’t I googled it. The rest I just figure out for myself I just play the chords and look which strumming patterns/style to play fits the song best. It might not be the same as in the original, but I don’t care.

I also like progressive metal, although I haven’t played anything on the ukulele because the style of playing is mostly very complex and my lack of fine motor skill prevents me from doing a very complex strumming or melodies
but I don’t see why you couldn’t play metal songs on ukulele, if you don’t stick to specific ukulele tabs
 
I feel a lot of sympathy with the OP because I too think ukulele music sucks. So much of it is elevator music. My solution is not to play it. Being a bit older, I grew up on Neo-Classical metal and I merely take some of the key concepts from that genre and make my own music. I use the usual suspects such as the Lokrian mode, the Harmonic Minor scale, and diminished arpeggios. The OP did mention a tolerance for jazz and you'll notice that these musical elements are jazz although not in the "Fly Me To the Moon" sense of jazz. So my suggestion is to gravitate away from ukulele music and graduate to music music. Oh, and get rid of that high G string!
 
Well I had my first learning session in years. I used Bernadette's resources which are as basic as they get but her being a qualified teacher really shows and I had most success with her.

Meanwhile I tried to drift away a little bit from the music I usually listen to and revisited artists my partner mostly listens to. She's into indie rock - Mother Mother is one band I really liked. Folk stuff like Kalandra were also nice but I'm not sure how they translate.

One thing is for sure, my pet dove was approving because he started singing while I was practicing. He was silent since he arrived, I even thought he was mute.
 
I feel a lot of sympathy with the OP because I too think ukulele music sucks. So much of it is elevator music. My solution is not to play it. Being a bit older, I grew up on Neo-Classical metal and I merely take some of the key concepts from that genre and make my own music. I use the usual suspects such as the Lokrian mode, the Harmonic Minor scale, and diminished arpeggios. The OP did mention a tolerance for jazz and you'll notice that these musical elements are jazz although not in the "Fly Me To the Moon" sense of jazz. So my suggestion is to gravitate away from ukulele music and graduate to music music. Oh, and get rid of that high G string!

You sound like me during my peak prog-metal snobbery as a teenager.

Thankfully, I've grown out of that. While I would agree that traditional ukulele music does nothing for me, I would argue that a good melody is a good melody.

I've found a lot of satisfaction in arranging for the uke, bass, guitar and keys. The songs themselves can be simple, but when you're learning all the parts and how they all fit, it's quite a lot of fun...Once you start adding harmonies with twin leads (possible if you record), half time stuff, improvised solos...But ymmv OP on what inspires you.



As you can see, I don't play that heavy of a music, but I definitely still need a guitar in there to give it some heft.
 
Wow what an eye opening thread, great contributions by the members here.

You said you wanted to keep it simple and a baritone uke with its linear tuning could get you there. Baritones eliminate the percussive plinky sound you associate "ukulele music" with. Although the electric ukes seem like they would be appropriate for the music you like. Just plug straight into an amp and away you go. I had two different ones and they were a lot of fun

As another person said, riffs, leads and melodies should scratch your itch.

I wonder if there is a program that would take a guitar riff and transpose it to ukulele tabs. That would be a good use of AI, maybe ChatGPT.
 
In light of so many spot-on replies, the only thing I’ll add (much the same as noted by @ripock) is to not dismiss early jazz and Tin Pan Alley as antiquated, boring or irrelevant.

The old Cliff Edwards sheet music currently and meticulously being compiled by UUF member @BigJackBrass entails a trove of complex chord progressions that should not only challenge anyone but are great fretting hand dexterity exercises, regardless of your preferred genre.

Thread 'The Cliff Edwards Project'
https://forum.ukuleleunderground.com/threads/the-cliff-edwards-project.160114/
 
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