Monday, December 31, 2007

Mahalo U30 Improving Intonation

If any of you had read my previous post Mahalo U30 Soprano - Sound and Intonation

You will know that while a good value for money beginner ukulele the intonation was not the greatest. Well after reading numerous posts over on Ukulele Cosmos from very knowledgeable peeps a few tips came out on how to improve the intonation. I thought I'd try some of them out.

1. Lowering the Action at the nut end.
This this the part I stressed over the most, if I went too far or made the slot too wide I could end up making the string buzz.

If you put a credit card in between the first fret wire and the string the gap between the top of the wire and the string should be just small enough as to snag on the card, if you can move the card easily between the two then the string is likely too high. I used a needle file to make the slot deeper, two swipes at a time.

Tip : Its important that the angle of the slot gently points down towards your pegs, having the angle the other way can make the string buzz or cause an unpleasant twanging dead sound.

2. Changing the Direction of the Saddle
As you fret up the neck, if the notes are sharp according to the tuner, this little tweak could work for you and is an easy one to try. One of the reasons it could be going sharp is that the distance between the nut and the saddle is too short. Fortunately on the Mahalo the saddle is shaped in such a way that simply turning it around will give you a few millimeters extra on that distance. Pop it out using a small screw driver and turn it around. See the photos below.

This shows the saddle in its original direction

This shows the saddle turned around

Here is the intonation after performing the above, as you can see although not perfect, its certainly better than it was before :)

Please Note : You make these changes at your own risk, I take no responsibility if you end up making it worse.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Mahalo U30 Soprano - Sound and Intonation

For a lot of people their first experience of playing a ukulele is with the inexpensive coloured Mahalo U30 Soprano, for very little outlay you can pick up one of these ukes and have fun with it straight away. I thought it would be interesting to put up a sound and intonation post for my first uke that would act as a 'control' for any other comparisons.

As with the Clearwater Roundback Concert I've used all the same programs and recorded in the same way. This is not a review of the Mahalo U30 Soprano Ukulele.
Intonation pictures were done using AP Tuner, recording done in Audacity.

NOTE : I've replaced the strings of the Mahalo with Aquila Nylgut Sopranos (most people recommend that the concert strings are used for extra zing). I've done no alterations to improve intonation etc.

Sound Sample



The Mahalo in all its glory


Saturday, November 17, 2007

Clearwater Roundback Concert - Sound and Intonation

When I first started looking to upgrade from my cheap coloured Mahalo, other than reading what others have have said about particular ukuleles I could not find examples of what the ones I was interested in sounded like and how good or bad was their intonation. While this is no replacement for actually trying out a ukulele, I thought it would be useful if I recorded a sound sample and a few intonation diagrams for the ukuleles that I own. Therefore this is not a review of the Clearwater Roundback Concert ukulele (UCW7R), but I am hoping that what is included on this post will help someone who may have bought one of these ukes cold. At some point I will also be doing posts for my other two ukes, a cheapo Mahalo and my Ohana SK25 Soprano.

Clearwater Roundback Concert ukulele (UCW7R)- Really Useful Music Company
The following sound sample was recorded in Audacity, no effects applied using a Logitech USB Desktop Microphone. Just a simple chord sequence from a familiar song (can you recognise what from the chords?). They are first thumbed slowly so as to hear individual strings and then played at normal and faster speeds.

Sound Sample

I used AP Tuner 3 ( a fantastic shareware tuner) to generate the intonation pictures, I hope they are self explanatory.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Finally a few pics of how it looks, note the plastic back and how it joins to the neck, very well constructed.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

It would be great if there were more sound samples for other ukuleles, if you want to do one or have done one send me your urls and I will link to them.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A month since the last one !

I thought I really must update my blog only to discover that a whole month gone by since my last update. In that month I've learn the following songs :-

1. Daydream Believer - The Monkees
Quite tricky for a beginner, worth persevering with though. My biggest problem I had was trying to sing along, the key wasn't right for me and by the time I decided I really should have changed the key I was too sick of it to bother.

2. Fishermans Blues - The Waterboys
I love it sung by the Waterboys and is an easy song to learn, but becomes boring fast. Have a search on youTube a guy with a guitar does a great version.

3. I Wanna Be Like You - Song from the Jungle Book
This is a great fun song and sounds lovely on the uke, definitely learn this one. In fact my brother was around the other day, he didn't know I was learning the ukulele, after hearing a snippet of this he's decided to by a uke of his own, I'm expecting hate mail from his wife shortly ;)

4. I'll Fly Away - Traditional Gospel type song
This is the open invitational song for October at Ukulele Cosmos, not a type of song I would normally play, but its all for fun so I though I'd give it a blast. It turns out that its a good song to play and easy for a noob :)

I'm currently learning "Ain't She Sweet" courtesy once again of Doctor Uke.

Also one month ago I only had one ukulele, I now have three. My original coloured Mahalo, a soprano Ohana SK-25 and a concert Clearwater Roundback. I plan on putting up a comparison of these ukuleles, not a review as such but recordings of how each sound so that people can make up their own minds and draw their own conclusions.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Last 7 days

I think as a blog about learning the ukulele I'm going to be posting less frequently. At the beginning because it was so new to me I seemed to have plenty to post about, now I'm in more of a routine and don't have that manic urge to absorb evey bit of ukulele information I come across :).

So what have I done over the last seven days? Well since getting my uke I have played it every day which surprises me, as I still know only a handful of songs some of those songs start to get a little boring to play, but I won't move onto another song until I'm happy with how I'm playing the current one (rightly or wrongly?), the current one happens to be "Can't buy me love" by the Beatles, again courtesy of Doctor Uke's brilliant website. The song had a nice challange for me in the form of the chord "F7" because it uses 4 fingers for the chord. It took me ages to get that one correct but is now hugely satisfying when I hit it just right.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

05 : When You're Smiling

This is a great song to try out out and not too hard either. What I've enjoyed most about it is experimenting with the strum patterns, slow, fast, etc. all sound good. When You're Smiling also happens the most number of chords in any song I've tried so far, as can be seen in the picture topping in at 10 chords. This has not been a problem however as all are easy with the transitions from one chord to the next being simple.
I found this song from Dr Ukes website (link on the right) who has a recording and pdf with words and chords, I also checked out youtube to see some of the other versions.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Finger Gymnastics

Ukulele Cosmos have a monthly event called open invitations where a song is picked each month for members of the forum to give their own interpretation of that song. This month's song is Daydream Believer made famous by the Monkees, already there are some excellent versions posted up on the site.

Seeing as I'm already familiar with that song I thought I would give it a try and promptly hit my first stumbling block early on in the form of the chord [Bm] , no matter how I tried to play it, it didn't sound clean. I posted a pic on the Cosmos of my attempt at forming the chords and asked for some advice, I wasn't let down :) I got lots of great detailed tips which I won't go into in full as they can be easily looked up on the forum, however here are a few useful pointers that can be applied to any chord you might have trouble with.

1. There is no right or wrong way to play a chord if it sounds right and works for you then its ok.
2. Try a different fingering, quite often some strings do not need to played or a different fret can be used to represent one of the notes, espicially true of triad chords (3 notes make up the sound of the chord)
3. Keep the wrist below the neck.
4. Don't press down so hard.
5. Try rolling the finger slightly so that the fleshy parts are not as much on the string.
6. And back to number one, there is no right or wrong way to play a chord if it sounds right then its ok :)

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Transpose songs to a new key

Come across this brilliant online transpose utility from Logue Internet Services thanks to a posting in the Open Invitational section of Ukulele Cosmos. Quite simply cut and paste a song into the window (use "In Search of a Rose" from my previous post as an example), then select your key and output format, couldn't be easier :)

Why would you want to do this? I'm sure there are a lot of reasons but three that I know of are :-
1. If you're having difficulty with a song, by transposing you could end up with easier chords to play(ideal for a beginner, but remember at some point you're going to have to learn all the chords ;) ).
2. A song may be too high or low for you to sing in, changing the key should fix it.
3. If you're playing with other people who know the song already in another key you can easily transpose to match there version.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

04 : In search of a rose

A song that I have grown to love from the Room to Roam album by the Waterboys is "In search of a Rose". I remember when I first heard it thinking that this is not the usual Waterboys material, it had a distinctly Irish folk sound and set the tone for the rest of the album. Mike Scott even sang it with an Irish accent, which I thought was odd as he was born in Scotland :D

While looking for songs to play at the chordie website I came across this favorite of mine :- however I had a couple of problems with it. :-

1. I wasn't convinced it was in the right key, easily solved by using chordies transpose function, plus as an added bonus, the chords used are a little easier to play, perfect for a noob like me :)

2. The chord used at the bridge at the start of the line "But I don't mind" was down as [Em], no matter how I tried to play it, it just sounded wrong, I therefore replaced it with [C], It now sounds right to me, but I don't know if its correct :/

This raises a couple of questions to me, should we take the chords listed on chordie and other sites as being accurate? Is it ok to fiddle with them to make it sound right "for you" ?

Anyhow the transposed version that I'm playing, with "changed" chord is below, the colour is different so you can easily see and change it back if you want :)

In search of a rose (from Room to Roam)
Mike Scott / the waterboys

[C]Where will I [G]wander and [C]wonder
[F]Nobody [C]knows
But where[F]ever I'm [G]going [C]I'll go
In [G7]search of a [C]rose

[C]Whatever the [G]will of the [C]weather
and [F]whether it shines or it [C]snows
where[F]ever I'm [G]going, I'll [C]go
In [G7]search of a [C]rose

Bridge :-

[F]I don't know where it's found
[C]But I don't mind
[Dm]as long as the world spins around
[C]I'll take my [G7]time

I'll [C]savour the [G]softness of [C]summer
[F]I'll wrap up when winter [C]blows
but where[F]ever I'm [G]going, I'll [C]go
In [G7]search of a [C]rose

Thursday, August 30, 2007

03 : Sloop John B

Is it only me that has trouble remembering the words to songs? It always takes an age before they sink in.

I thought the third tune I'd learn would be a simple one, it doesn't get much simpler than Sloop John B. and doesn't sound half bad on uke. I looked up the song on YouTube to get familiar with it, only 3 chords C, F and G7, and then got the sequence off of Chordie. I was suprised to find that no one had put up a version of this song played on the ukulele on YouTube, maybe now is the perfect opportunity :)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Chord Progressions

This is more of a reminder for myself. I know next to nothing about chord progressions, the basics are that chords can be grouped together to form a progression. A lot of songs are formed in this way. Here are two chord progressions, using the 1, 4 & 5 form :-

1. C, F, G in the key of C Major

2. G, C, D in the key of G Major

So in example 1, with it being in the key of C, then C=1, D=2, E=3, F=4, G=5, A=6, B=7, because it is a 1, 4, 5 progression 1 is C, 4 is F and 5 is G. Just remember that what ever the key is that becomes the first note.

What I know is that I should learn these, so between new songs I'm going to be slotting in a couple of progressions to pick up.

The following are sources of information that should help.

Howlin' Hobbit - The ukulele section has a couple of PDFs with a large number of progressions.

Ukulele Theory 101
- This is a YouTube tutorial, explaining it in basic terms, worth watching.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Eno ET-3000 Chromatic Tuner Review

At some point you're going to get tired of tuning up your ukulele by ear, especially considering how often you're going to have to do it. It took me about a week before I was looking for chromatic tuners on ebay.

I chose a chromatic because they work for any type of instrument and not at a set note like some of the guitar tuners out there.

After a little browsing I came across the Eno ET-3000, what I liked about it was :-
1. It was cheap ;) - I spent £10.98 including postage
2. It was small.
3. It will work from either vibrations (by clipping it onto the head of your ukulele) or from its built in microphone.
4. Did I mention it was cheap :)

I found it very easy to use, clipped it onto my ukulele, set it to chromatic mode, twanged the string and it told me what note I was trying to play and whether it was flat or sharp. It has a little needle to show what side of the note you are. When you have the desired note the screen changes from red to green and obviously the needle will point straight up.

Its very easy for me to recommend this and can't think of any downsides. If I was pushed to come up with any I would say that the display is a little hard to read in sunlight being of the LCD type and secondly it uses those little lithium button batteries which I imagine are easy to find on places like ebay, saying that it did come with a spare :)

Monday, August 27, 2007

02 : When I'm Sixty-Four

I think I've bitten off a little more than I can handle with this one, buoyed by my success with "Five Foot Two" I looked for another fun song and thought that the chords in "When I'm Sixty-Four" looked simple enough. But my first stumbling block was the transition from G to G7, I had troubles moving my fingers between these two chords. To help I practiced those two chords back and forth outside of the song, which has definitely helped.

My next problem was the line "Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm sixty-four", there are 6 chord changes in that one line and to do it at speed caused me no end of frustration. I'm still a way off of mastering this song and if I had known the difficulty I would probably have left this one until later. The chords for this song can again be found at Doctor Uke's excellent website.

I have a few other songs that I'm planning on checking out which are around the 3 chord mark just so that I can add more songs to my repertoire, I will list them here for reference as a reminder to look into them :-
Walk of Life - Dire Straights
One Hand in My Pocket - Alanis Morissette
Johnny B Good - Chuck Berry
Louie Louie - The Kings Men
Wild Thing - The Troggs
Get Back - The Beatles
Jambalaya - Hank Williams

If you know any other easy ones please let me know :)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

01 : Five Foot Two

I wonder how many others learn "Five Foot Two" as their first ukulele song. I blame a guy called Benny. While searching YouTube for ukulele tutorials I came across "learning Uke with Benny Lesson 1", he picked "Five Foot Two" as his song to learn, it sounded to me pretty good and also sounded like a fun tune. I managed it but it took me a few days to pick it up, in hindsight it might have been a little difficult as a first tune as it uses 5 chords, but I've really enjoyed learning it. I think its important that you pick songs that you're going to enjoy playing, if the song is boring to you it will be a chore to learn it.

The downside to this song, is that I've played it so much that my wife and children are completely sick of it :/

To help learn this tune I recommend that you go to the songs section of Doctor Ukes website and look for this song, he has a pdf with all words and chords which were invaluable to me.

Noob stuff and resource

Before getting onto the songs I've learnt I'm going to list the sites I've found my information from, but before even that you need to get yourself an ukulele.

I picked up a cheap coloured Mahalo, a nice bright purple one with gig bag, the cost about £15 (yes I'm from the UK :) ) which included postage. You will be tuning it GCEA, as you hold it to play , the top string is G. When mine turned up as soon as it was tuned it would go out of tune within seconds, a closer look revealed that the tuning pegs were not tight and would turn by themselves, this is easily fixed by tightening the little screw on each peg ( a quarter turn until it holds). Even with the pegs tight the ukulele will go out of tune alot until the strings are fully stretched, this could take a week or so.

I added some new strings to my Mahalo thanks to the recommendations of some very nice people at Ukulele Cosmos. The strings recommended to add are Aquila Nylgut uke strings, I put soprano size on mine but the suggestions are to use concert size. These string gave my uke a nicer tone, increased the volume and improved the intonation (the ability to stay in tune up and down the fret board).

Onto the links :-

Tuning - You will be doing this alot, especially at first, I've since bought myself a small clip on tuner, but here are some useful sites to get your uke in tune until you buy one.
MiniTuner - If you have a microphone I recommend this, its a small free program that will tell you if you're in tune.
Doctor Uke - There are loads of sites that play the sound for each string all doing pretty much the same, so I'm listing one here, just go to the song section, find the string you want to tune and match it by ear.

Forums : Great places for advice
Ukulele Cosmos - Very friendly and active community, lots of good advice here.
The 4th Peg - Looks good but not posted.
ezFolk - Also contains tutorials and other info.
Flea Market Music - not keen on the forum layout but I'm sure there is plenty of good info there.

Tunes and Chords
Doctor Uke - one word, brilliant.
Alligator Boogaloo - another excellent site.
Chordie - you will find everything here (probably)
Sheep Entertainment's Chord finder - Pick your tuning and then your song.

Thats all for now, if you know of any other good resources then please let me know :)

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Why pick a Ukulele?

The ukulele was a complete impulse buy for me. Other than learning the uke I also play computer games and I have a Nintendo DS. I was reading on a forum about a new game for the DS called "Jam Sessions" which basically turn the DS into a pocket virtual guitar, on one of these threads someone mentioned that he'd had problems learning to play the guitar but had come across his uncle's ukulele one day and found he could play something on it fairly quickly.

This appealed to me as I too over the years have tried to learn to play the guitar, I'd pick up a few chords and then just give up, then try again a few years later. So now inspired to learn to play the uke I did a quick search on ebay and not wanting to spend very much purchased a coloured Mahalo soprano ukulele all for the princely sum of about £15 including postage.

NOTE : I was lucky that I'd picked that Mahalo as this seems to be the recommended beginner instrument all the others in that price range are apparently garbage.

A short introduction

"There's so much beginner stuff out there, why a blog about learning to play the ukulele ?", you may ask and you'd be right, a tonne of stuff. Sometimes if you have so much information it can seem a little daunting and for a newcomer like myself make it a little tricky in deciding where to begin. With this blog I'm going to write about the tunes I've learnt as and when I learn them, problems I come across and little pearls of wisdom (if I come across any ;) ) and if this helps anyone else to learn the ukulele then I'll be a happy man.

I'm also hoping that you share with me and anyone that might be reading, let us know if you have found something that has helped you or tunes that have been particularly noob friendly, please no "row row row your boat" type recommendations :D