August Meeting

5 August, 2011

We held our ‘August’ meeting on the last weekend of July in order to get in another practice of our concert songs – Jamaica Farewell and End of the Line.

We had a record turnout, and had to readjust some of the some arrangement – it turns out that solo singing mostly doesn’t work against a significant number of strumming ukuleles, unless you have a great belting voice. We readjusted to have specific groups of people singing different verses (to keep that variation in the arrangement), and where we do have some solo verses in End of the Line, significantly reducing the volume of our playing to allow the vocals to ring out.

We’re looking forward to going back to a normal meeting structure in September, and trying a few new songs.

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July Meeting

5 July, 2011

In July we worked on arrangements for two songs, as we are playing two songs in the interval of Freedom Train’s concert in August.

We decided on:

1. Jamaica Farewell (C, F, G7)

2. End of the Line (G, D, A)

We were down a few people, and we worked out some arrangements with solo singers. We found that End of the Line particularly needed some variety in the vocals so that it didn’t sound too repetitive. The Traveling Wilburys clearly realised as well, given that they alternate vocal lines in the original. How clever of them!


Introduction to 12 Bar Blues

10 May, 2011

For those who don’t know, this is how 12 bar blues works (or at least it’s how I play it). You use the same chord progression, and the chords you play change depending on what key you’ve decided to play in. It goes like this:

I I I I
IV IV I I
V IV I V

And then it starts again at the beginning.

That reads as:
 – 4 counts of the first chord
 – 2 counts of the fourth chord, 2 counts of the first chord
 – 1 count of the fifth chord, 1 count of the fourth chord, 1 count of the first chord, and 1 count of the fifth chord to finish it off.

On Saturday, we were playing blues in A. So the progression went:

A A A A
D D A A
E D A E

As Jay was saying, you can make all or any of those chords 7s (which sound nice and bluesy). So most of us were playing A, D and E7 – but you could also play A7, D7, and E7, or any combination of those.

[Just a reminder to beginners about chords that are 7s – for example, if a song goes from C to C7 and back to C, if you find that too difficult you can just ignore the C7 and play C all the way through. It reduces your chord changes, and will sound just fine.]

By way of example, if at the next meeting we decide to play blues in C, the progression would go:

C C C C
F F C C
G F C G

You repeat the progression over and over again, until a) you get sick of it, or b) your fingers hurt too much to play any more. And then over each couple of progressions, someone gets a chance to improvise a solo. Or if you don’t want to solo on the ukulele, you could do some improvised singing (I know all you choir members are good at that).

Some of the great things about 12 bar blues are:

  1. repeating the same chords over and over is a good way to practice smooth chord changes;
  2. it helps you work on your strumming;
  3. it gives you the chance to listen to everyone else, and hear how the sound you’re making mixes together;
  4. it helps you practice timing, and learning to hear where the next chord change will be coming up (hot tip – listen to the bass!);
  5. playing the same progression in different keys helps you learn what chords are in each key; and
  6. it gives everyone the chance to have a solo (or you can just keep playing the chords, if you prefer).

May Meeting

5 May, 2011

At our May meeting, we celebrated the glorious chords of C, G, F and Am. And Celia discovered that just because a song has easy chords in it, if the chord changes are fast it’s not exactly a song for beginners.

We played the following songs:

1. Take on Me
2. Fisherman’s Blues
3. Let It Be
4. Country Roads
5. Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World (also has Em, E7)


Introduction to Keys and Chord Progressions

10 April, 2011

You will find that C, G, Am and F are very common chords for songs which have been transposed to be played more easily on the ukulele. I was going to write something terribly fascinating about chord progressions, but I think all the songs I am proposing for the next meeting are actually in different keys (despite having the same chords).

This is easier than you think! For example, the keys of C and A minor actually have the same chords in them – they just start in different places. The key of C starts on C, the key of A minor starts on A. This is why A minor is called the “relative minor” of C major. Other keys also have relative minors, but I have no idea what they are. This is because I play ukulele, and the key of C is our all important key. (You could read the Wikipedia page on relative keys if you want to make your brain melt.)

A minor and C major are related because they share the same key signature. In this case, C major and A minor have no sharps or flats in their key signatures. They are the only keys to have no sharps of flats in the key signature, so they are classed as rellies.

The way to discover the relative minor key to any major key is to count the notes and find the sixth note in the scale.  The relative minor is always the 6th note in that major scale.

So what is the 6th note in the scale of C major?  C D E F G A B C – why it’s A of course!   This rule applies to every major key – they all have a relative minor.

Conversely, the relative major key to any minor key is always the 3rd note in the minor scale.  So in the A minor scale A B C D E F G A – yes it’s C! Every minor key has a relative major key.

Common chord progressions involve the first, fourth and fifth chords in a key. For the key of C major, these are C (the first chord), F (the fourth chord) and G (the fifth chord). As all these chords are quite easy on ukulele (on soprano, concert and tenor ukuleles, anyway!) many songs for ukulele are written or transposed into the key of C.

Do you know Leonard Cohen’s song Hallelujah (more famously covered by Jeff Buckley and kd lang)? Well, in the first verse, he sings “I heard there was a secret chord that David played and it pleased the Lord – but you don’t really care for music, do you? It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall, the major lift…” If the song is being played in C major, when he’s singing “the fourth, the fifth”, the chords go from F to G (the fourth, then the fifth chords). When he sings “the minor fall”, the chord goes to A minor, and then the “major lift” it goes back to F. Isn’t that cool? “Yes, Celia, very cool – please stop talking about chords now.”

I know sometimes music theory can sound a bit nonsensical (don’t let Chris start talking you about modes), but when you’re starting to play an instrument, I think that learning a teensy bit of theory can make the whole structure of songs much more understandable. For example, if you’re trying to remember the chords for a song, and you know it has a C, F and G in it, you’ll say to yourself, “Well, it’s fairly likely that this other chord will be an Am, because, like, Am is totally the relative minor of C major. Dude. Also, there’s 20 billion songs with C, F, G and Am in them, because I learnt them all at uke club.” (I know you all talk like that in private.) And you will probably be right! That’s always a nice feeling.

If you have read all of that, you can now make yourself a little badge that says “Music Theorist” and wear it out when you go grocery shopping. This will be a wonderful boost for your social life. I promise.


April Meeting

3 April, 2011

Our second meeting!

We played:
 – Amazing Grace (in the key of C)
 – End of the Line (D, G, A)
 – Handle Me With Care (G, G7, C, F Am, E7)
 – Fisherman’s Blues (G, F, Am, C)
 – Take On Me (F, G, C, Am)
 – the Smoke on the Water riff (G, B flat… something or other. You don’t play the full chords anyway)

In our new Show and Tell section, Celia played a new song she learnt called Tanglewood Tree (which both Chris and Cath thought sounded very familiar… hmmm), and John played a new song he wrote on his ukulele called From the Head to the Heart.


March Meeting

5 March, 2011

Our first ukulele club meeting was a great success, and for a group of beginners we made a great deal of progress.

We began practicing the change between G and G7 and a basic strumming pattern. At the end of a couple of hours, we had worked up to playing Hotel California together (albeit in a ukulele friendly key).

Here’s a list of the songs we did, and the chords we used:

Morningtown Ride (G, G7, D, Em, C, Am)
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot (C, G, G7, D)
Amazing Grace (in the key of G – G, C, D or D7, Em, and then in the key of C – C, F, G7, Am)
Don’t Worry, Be Happy (Dm, F, C)
Somewhere Over The Rainbow/What a Wonderful World (C, F, G, Am, E7)
Take Me Home, Country Roads (C, Am, G, F, G7)
Hotel California (Am, Dm, G, F, E7, C, D)