2011 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 42,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 16 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Exploring the Harp Ukulele, video demo

Well, as soon as I heard I could pre-order one, I did. Several months ago. I had all but forgotten about it when Mike from Uke Republic emailed to say my aNueNue Harp ukulele, designed by Pete Howlett, was about to ship.

I thought to myself, do I really want one anymore? It’s so expensive and I don’t feel as excited about it as I did when I ordered it.

But what the heck? It came and it is a lovely instrument. Well-built. Smells good. The tenor uke itself is a fine instrument and fun to play. (My first tenor) Also, a sweet biproduct of the harp uke is it’s resonance. When I play songs on it that don’t use the diapason strings (the upper four, non-fretted strings) they behave as sympathetic strings, vibrating and creating a rich natural reverb sound.


Out of the box (and nice hard case) it is strung with a low G and the recommended tuning for the diapason is, from the top down, C D E F, with the low G of the regular 4 uke strings being next. Well, that didn’t work for me. I knew the first thing I would do is put a high G on it so that’s what I did. Better. Now I can play my campanella riffs and prettied up chords. Otherwise it is just a 7 string guitar to me and I have plenty of guitars laying around.

I wanted this thing to sound like a harp (hmm). I didn’t want to just play chords with bass notes because I do that on the guitar all the time. Note: If you don’t have or play a guitar, try it first with the factory stringing and tuning. It will definitely be an expansion from the norm. If you want to incorporate some Ukelele Secrets on it then read on.

So.. the top strings still weren’t doing it for me. My goal was, and is, to utilize reentrant tuning with campanella style somehow integrated into the bass notes.

I fished around and came up with (top down) C E A G. The same notes as the ukulele, only rearranged. When strummed they sound reentrant as well. And when the whole thing is strummed.. it sounds like a harp.

Now to just play it. The ideas that came popping out weren’t what I expected. This instrument has a way of revealing itself to you. I forced myself on it but it said let me show YOU some things. I listened.. and then I had to learn how to repeat what it revealed. This thing is not that easy to play (just watch me rubbernecking throughout the video, so much to keep an eye on). But it is cooperative. It responds to high repetition gifting you with greater accuracy and ideas. Snuck a Secret in there, didn’t I.

So, here is my first seedling of a composition. I know the future holds more and I look forward to sharing with you my journey into Harp Ukulele.


I shared this video in a forthcoming post but will add it here to have them together.

My second harp ukulele composition.. King’s Rain


Top 50 Ukulele Sites

Ukulele Christmas Medley Video with TABs

Well, the season sort of snuck up on me and I wanted to work up some new holiday tunes for Christmas. There are so many other things in the queue now but I decided to try to get this out sooner, in case you want to practice up before Christmas.


The tunes are:

It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
We Three Kings
Away in a Manger
Silent Night


The Ukulele Secrets I use in these arrangements are:

Ukulele Secret #3: Campanela riffs
Ukulele Secret #7: Pretty Up Your CFG… plus bonus chords

What I did here was make them as hard to play as possible. Ha! That’s just another way of saying I tried to put in as much campanella that I could.

The exception is We Three Kings. There is a wee bit of campanella but if you pay attention to the chord forms you will see it’s 90% ‘Pretty Up Your CFG’. It’s a great example of that secret. Coupled with the baroque feel, it makes for a fun song to play.


So, I am only offering the TABs to It Came Upon a Midnight Clear and We Three Kings for now.

Here’s why…

My arrangement of Away in a Manger is in the key of C, like every one else’s I’ve seen. I really made it hard to play. So hard that I couldn’t really get the full campanella effect in the video. There are just too many easier ways to play it and make it sound just as beautiful. It is super easy so fish around and you’ll find it.


This Silent Night arrangement started from my friend Jim’s interest in the song a few years ago. Then I saw Al’s version the other day at Ukulele Hunt. I wanted to give it the ole campanella try so I went after it. It’s really not much different than the others except some campanella and harmonics.

It is a beautiful melody and I encourage you to play it with a friend and do harmonies. Jim and I have been having fun with it and we might post a video before long.


TAB: It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
TAB: We Three Kings


And the viddie..

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas!


Top 50 Ukulele Sites

Secret Update and James Hill cover video

Hey Folks,

Well, I am finally moved back into my space, with the studio partially together.

1. Apartment repairs complete
2. Garage semi normal
3. Doctor visits complete and feeling much better
4. Business trip to Seattle over
5. Earned my CUA – Certified Usability Analyst
6. Lots of craigslist.com stuff out the door (with still more to go)
7. Received my signed copy of James Hill’s new CD A Man With A Love Song

And started a new chapter in life.. in a few different ways.


My day job is absolutely crazy right now and will be for several months to come but I am resolved to share more secrets… so here’s what’s coming up.

1. the Train rhythm (my secret weapon)
2. a duet version of Tico Tico that will make your socks go up and down
3. Elvis has left the building.. the quintessential Elvis rhythm
4. a TAB of my Danny Boy arrangement
4. and “Claw-panela” a unique (to me) way to combine claw hammer technique with campanela runs


WTH is claw-panela?

Well, I coined the term yesterday after having loosely worked up James Hill’s claw hammer medley from his new CD, of which I was a “Mover and Shaker”. The track is called Assam/Like a Bird and is a tribute to John Kavanagh and John King, respectively. An incredibly beautiful tribute. When I first heard it I was entranced. I still am.

BTW the CD is great. Lots of excellent James Hill compositions and playing and musicianship from guest artists. I highly recommend it.

Back to claw-panela. The song is played in the claw hammer style utilizing campenala style to play beautiful melody lines. I have been exploring ideas with the technique and will share what I have come up with in the future.

Meanwhile here is my toob of James HIll’s Assam/Like a Bird (minus his superb foot-stomping)

See you soon..


Top 50 Ukulele Sites

Ukulele Secret #10 Claw Hammer Triplet

Howdy folks,

I’ve been playing with this technique for a few weeks and thought I would share my progress and let you in on the secret. There is a prerequisite. You really need to be somewhat comfortable with basic claw hammer technique. But as you will see, and I would like some feedback on this, the technique is VERY similar to the mechanics of the common triplet STRUM.

So, my theory is.. if you are good at the triplet strum that is INDEX DOWN, THUMB DOWN, INDEX UP, and not that good at claw hammer, this might be a way to sneak into claw hammer technique. Kind of like a back door. Don’t know if that makes sense or not. But let’s continue


In the video I demonstrate the technique with a C F G ditty similar to Larry O’Gaff chords with a little A minor thrown in for a Swallowtail feel. I am not trying to play those melodies but just have fun with the progressions. I also use the ‘Pretty Up Your C F G‘ chord forms as an example of potential melody.


The technique is simple, but may be tricky.

Using the basic claw hammer technique, strike DOWN with the index finger. If you are striking the bottom string you can follow through to the body of the ukulele. In my case I am hitting the head of the banjo uke thus producing a percussion beat.

The thumb follows and lands to rest on the top string at the same time the index is striking. Basic claw hammer.

Next is the thumb pluck DOWN. It is important to leave your index finger where it landed after the first strike.

Now for the triplet finish. Pluck the same string UP with your index finger. And there you have it. The claw hammer triplet.

Getting a little deeper, you can use the index DOWN strike on inside strings as well. It takes a little more precision, meaning a little more practice, but you open up a lot of melodic possibilities. This is especially true when using the ‘Pretty Up Your C F G’ chord forms.


I have heard of this technique being used with banjo, maybe Celtic banjo. I am curious as to which songs can be learned with this technique. If anyone knows of any banjo or ukulele videos using this technique, please let me know. I am anxious to expand on this and see what others are doing.


Here’s the viddy..


Top 50 Ukulele Sites

Ukulele Secret #9 Exotic Scales & Claw Hammer

Video and scale tabs at the bottom of post.

I know, it’s been a while. So many things are happening right now but due to some persuasive nudging from some of you I put this together as fast as I could. Forgive my always brilliant video editing.


Here are three exotic sounding scales that I have been having fun with on the banjo uke. (Banjo uke not required).

To be honest, there are only two scales here. The second example differs from the first only by skipping the note on the second string, sixth fret. It does make a difference. I like to mix them up, as you can see in the example.


Examples 1 and 2

If you noticed at the beginning of the video, I am using these examples with the Claw Hammer ukulele technique. It sounds really amazing when I get warmed up. Review my basic, basic claw hammer tutorial and all the other great tutorials out there if you need to brush up.

During the scale demonstrations of 1 and 2 notice the technique I use while demonstrating them a little faster. I pick out some strategic notes and do the Koto sounding micro bend technique that I showed you in Sakura Sakura. This adds tremendous effect and authenticity to the scale.

Quick review of the Koto technique:

Before you pluck the note with your right hand finger, bend the note SLIGHTLY up with your left hand fretting finger. Then IMMEDIATELY after you pluck the note, let it return to it’s original ‘unbent’ state.

Also, don’t be afraid to improvise. Mix the notes up.


Example 3

You might remember this scale from Sakura Sakura. It is a common Japanese scale (I think). In that video (linked above) I play the scale using John King’s campanela style. Here I am playing it in a more linear fashion. THEN I add the microbend Koto style and there you have it.

Exotic Ukulele

And the vidya..

Ukulele Secret #8: Cross Training, with demonstration videos

I recently read a forum post with someone inquiring about an unusual instrument (harp ukelele, but that is not important). It seemed like every other reply was something like “I would never play that!” or “What’s the point?” or “That is stupid.” I am paraphrasing but that is the general feeling I got.

On the other hand, there were some folks, like myself, that were excited and intrigued and even wanted to get one in their hands. That’s more like it! To me, at least. I am always curious to try some new kind of instrument.


Which brings me to Ukelele Secret #8: Cross Training


If you ever get the chance to pick up a new (to you) instrument, I highly recommend doing so. Whether “picking it up” means buying one or just trying it out at a friend’s house or a music store, do it!

And I am not talking about trying different ukuleles. Do that, too. But I mean different INSTRUMENTS. Like a banjo, mandolin, sitar, bass guitar, venezuelan cuatro, hammer dulcimer, violin (wince).. etc. These are all stringed instruments but don’t stop there…

Try a piano or keyboard. Learn how to do a triplet or paradiddle on percussion. Get shakin’ with a shaker. Try like heck to get a good note out of a bamboo flute. Pluck a kalimba (thumb piano). Make a sound, make music with whatever you can get your hands on.

After all, you are a musician.

It might sound less than pleasing at first (starting something new always has some learning curve) but spend some time learning a few chords or fishing for a melody.


Getting out of your comfort zone is a good thing.


Gosh, why?? Well, because of the different tuning, different sound, shape and feel, new musical ideas emerge that would not have, if you stuck to just one instrument. You don’t have to master it, just noodle. Your brain gets exercised and your creativity gets a boost that you can bring back to the uke.

It will make you a better ukulele player.. maybe even a badass

I am not blowing smoke here, either. I speak from the mountain. I currently own, play, or have played all the instruments mentioned above and gained a level of proficiency with them as well.


Listening to different kinds of music fits into cross training, too. You don’t have to go buy K-Tel’s Top Hits but just be curious. Try to play something that was originally played on a different instrument. When I was 16 or 17 I transcribed Frank Mills’ Music Box Dancer, a piano song, to classical guitar. I loved the melody so much I just HAD to learn it. So I taught myself.

Which brings this stream of consciousness to my next secret.


Play anything. Any type of music.


Don’t limit yourself to “ukulele music”. That’s what’s fun about being a musician. But if you haven’t tried it, there are TONS of resources, tabs (even on this site) for ‘different’ kinds of music to play on the ukulele. Al Woods, proprietor of Ukulele Hunt is one of the best examples of a musician turning the ukulele into a black hole and sucking every kind of music into it.

And if you’ve come to know me even a little, you can see I love to play a great variety of music and flavors.


So.. here is an example of the joy I get playing different kinds of instruments. It’s a bluegrass classic called Blackberry Blossom. Rhythm guitar is in the left speaker and melody features mandolin, ukulele and acoustic guitar. I am by no means a master of any of these instruments but just getting through a song like this is really fun.

And now for something totally unrelated.. well, not totally. I wrote and recorded the music, played the instruments, except the electronic drum loop, for this self shot and edited video, featuring me enjoying another hobby of mine. Hula hooping.

Get creative!