The words ukulele and revolution are found together quite frequently these days, and there’s a hint of humour in the contrasted terms. However, we really are in the midst of a revolution. Even if you don’t play ukulele, around you there are hundreds who do, and they are a movement, a tide, an agent for change disguised by the innocence of a small, happy-sounding musical instrument.
For a while there, ukulele seemed like a fad, but more than a decade on, it hasn’t gone away and doesn’t look like bowing out. The reasons for this are multiple, but I think universally human aspects such as belonging, bonding, gaining confidence, achieving and enjoying the brain’s reward responses from playing music together are what sustains group ukulele playing, in particular. This is reflected in some facts and figures from around the traps…
As a team, these three can contribute not only to our wellbeing, but to better treatment outcomes when we’re mentally ill or in physical pain. They can play a vital part in the development and maintenance of our cognitive abilities. With every technological advance, we see more detail of how our brains function and respond, bringing to light and in some cases proving what many of us believe - that music and humanity are intrinsically entwined.
Big ukulele ensembles are great for certain kinds of arrangements and ways of working together, but smaller groups travel to the beat of a different drum.
Techniques for remembering how to play songs can include making sense of chord progressions, using lyrics as mnemonic devices and the even pairing emotions
conveyed by the melody with the chords. The way I remember Willie Nelson's 'On The Road Again' uses a little of all three!
Lists of ups and downs are a good start, but really 'feeling' the music and experimenting will start you on the
path of making your own strum patterns.
If there's no drummer, bass player or conductor, how do members of string ensembles play in time with each other?
No matter who writes a song - a singer/songwriter starting out, or a skilled professional working to commercial imperatives - 'breakup songs' can tell a slightly different story to the one that’s being sung.
Repertoire choice is an important for ukulele groups to not only learn, but connect. Although meeting the challenge of new songs and the skills you need to play
them can be part of the fun, there's nothing quite as satisfying as learning a song you love, or even discovering you love a song once you play it.
Being able to play music by ear is a truly liberating gift, but most of us need varying amounts of extra information to play a song or a piece of music. Chord
and lyrics sheets, musical notation, tabs and the blessed YouTube are the currencies most used by ukulele players these days, depending on our requirements
and skills. But our chosen method of musical communication should not define us!
Where is the best place to strum a ukulele for maximum volume, and why?
Our brains are inextricably linked with our musicality, whether it's intentionally exercising them to learn a new song, or letting teenage brains exercise themselves while the music sinks in!
Being able to play the chords to songs by memory is liberating and allows you to put a whole lot more self-expression into performances. However, getting to that point is something people will go to great lengths to avoid! A motivating factor, an upcoming performance for example, and some of these methods can help
With many people taking up ukulele later in life, fingers, hands and shoulders don’t always cooperate to make playing a comfortable experience. Determined ukulele players are unstoppable, however, and have found ways to keep those strings ringing…
photo: Hriana | dreamstime.com
Singing in the shower and dancing around the loungeroom may be the only permission some of us give ourselves to engage in musically-related endeavour. The widespread recent uptake of ukulele has been helping to change that, but why did it need to? What caused community and family music-making to fall by the wayside in many developed nations over the past three quarters of a century?