This was recorded amidst some vog on Wes and Nancy’s back lanai up in Volcano. We didn’t prepare much (well, we sort of ran through the tunes..once at least) Nevertheless, it is always a great pleasure to play music with my friend Wes Awana on vocals and baritone ukulele. I’m playing my Dobro resonator guitar. (all files: 128kbps mp3 @3mb each): (Listen to mp3s here)
Those playing a Dm7-G7-CMajor7 chord progression! (or a “ii-V-I,” which is a fairly common way to get around in a jazz tune):
If you play our old friend A minor pentatonic (think ‘Stairway to Heaven’) over the D minor seventh chord (Dm7), you hear some nice tones (the 5, b7, 1, 9, and 11).
(All interval relationships are as they relate to the chord being played.)
Then, over the G dominant seventh (G7) you can just shift your pentatonic noodlings up one fret (in the case of fretted instruments) and you are in an altered landscape, playing the b9, #9, #4 (or #11), #5, and b7 for some freaky diversions. This altered sound over a seventh chord can also happen in a simpler situation of playing over a blues-style G7. Just take your blues licks and move them up 3 steps (frets) for a temporary ‘outside’ sound to your blues soloing. The dominant seventh, or G7alt is a good place to freak out* — think tension before the resolution provided by coming back to home base: the 1 (or tonic) chord(in this case, CMaj7).
*remember, we’re talking jazz here..and it you can’t freak out in jazz, where in the hell can ya?
And for playing over that C major seventh chord, if you simply shift your pentatonic licks up a 1/2 step again, you are now playing what looks like B minor pentatonic. It’s actually a fine group of notes providing all of the CMaj color tones: 9th, 3rd, #4 (or #11), 6, and Maj7 (the B note, in this case).
So what does this mean? Hmm, I’m not sure. But if you are like me, and you got your bag of licks or ideas, and you try to keep your palette somewhat fresh—you may want to check out this very jazz-approved cycling of our ol’ friend: the five note pentatonic scale.
Anyhow, good luck if’n you choose to try and add this idea to your striving-to-be-hep-jazzcat-toolkit. Nonetheless, playing good music doesn’t really depend on clever note arrangements nor even high-zoot instruments. All you really need is some enthusiasm, a willingness to stay aware of what’s happening (mostly by listening), and the presence to respond honestly to what you experience.
(recording of a spruce-topped concert ukulele w/low g-string, about 1mb file size)
Playing the ukulele is a great way to relax while learning new ways to use your brain, ears, hands, voice, and heart.
If you are reading this, then perhaps you already have an interest in learning to make music with the ukulele. Congratulations! Through your curiosity you have already begun your study of this interesting instrument. And, if you keep yourself interested in the ukulele, you WILL learn to play it. It’s really that simple. Of course playing the ukulele well requires some other skills. Those skills are what we try and learn for as long as we play the ukulele. You might say that the journey is as important as the destination. Like any other interesting skill, you are always studying and trying to learn new things. Aside from having an interest, the other skills are technical and can be learned if you have some patience.
Brain (The Mind)
Let’s start with that thing in our head called the brain. While you don’t have to be a genius to play the ukulele, your brain probably plays your ukulele more than any other part of your body. Imagination takes place in your brain, and imagination is one of your best tools for learning the ukulele or any other useful skills. If you can imagine yourself doing one of these skills well, the brain has a wonderful way of trying to make that image a reality. Some of this happens when you are sleeping, as dreaming teaches us many things. However, it is important that you take a little time while you are fully awake and imagine yourself playing the ukulele well. Having an idea and imagining how playing the ukulele looks, sounds, and feels, is a very important technique for realizing your imagined future.
Of course the brain does many other amazing things – thinking comes to mind!
In this world, there is plenty of information about the ukulele. Too little information is not a problem for most of us. The internet is a huge source of technical information about playing the ukulele and for actual recordings of beautiful ukulele music. This introduction is a resource kept simple, to get you started on your path of enjoying the ukulele. One of the peaceful and relaxing things about the ukulele is that it is easy to carry and does not need cords or electricity. While it can be exciting to play music through a sound system or to use technology like the Internet, ukulele enjoyment is found in its beautiful simplicity.
Listening well is another key approach to playing good music. First of all, accurately tuning your ukulele’s four open string notes, or pitches, from low to high, G (can be low or high), C, E, A is going to sound out good chords. A chord is like a family of notes, played together. On the ukulele, 3 different notes usually make up a chord. Basically, there are major chords, minor chords, and dominant seventh chords. Other chords can mostly be considered to be some version of these 3 basic chord qualities.
Good tuning of your instrument is a skill that you can continually improve upon. Finding the best notes to compare for a good tuning just takes time. Some, if not most, of these things naturally become known if you just pick up your ukulele and spend some time learning the map of the notes through experimenting and getting used to an ukulele. Electronic tuners are certainly an easy way to get your ukulele in tune. However, becoming familiar through listening and adjusting your uke’s tuning by ear will improve your overall musicality. Remember, whether tuning with a machine or by ear, you should always bring the string’s pitch down and then, gently, upward to the correct pitch. This tuning up into the correct note helps the ukulele better hold its proper pitch. Be sure to pluck the note as you turn the tuning peg.
Of course our hands play a big part in getting sounds from the ukulele. Just getting the instrument into your hands should naturally teach you many things about holding the ukulele. If you let the sounding of notes and chords be your guide for holding the ukulele, you are sure to find out what works best for you. Keeping your left hand fingernails short will help you in clearly fretting the instrument. (If you are left-handed and just starting to play the uke’, you should learn to play right-handed like others do. If you really feel better playing left-handed, learn to play a standard ukulele upside down; not standing on your head but sort of like how Jimi Hendrix did. ((caution: lighter fluid and ukuleles DON’T MIX!)) Seriously though, being able to pick up others’ ukuleles and play is better than being the oddball who has to play a special design ukulele. The experience of experimenting with different ways of making music with the ukulele is your best teacher. Your relationship to the ukulele is a personal one that only you can come to know closely.
If you sometimes try to match the note of your ukulele with your voice, you will bring the note relationship into your body and that can help your musicality. To sing some of the notes can lead you naturally to being able to sing in a very musical way. Your voice is the most interesting instrument you will ever use. Singing harmony melodies is an incredible experience that we can share while developing our voices.
Your heart and your guts are what are behind your expression, musical and otherwise.
(recording is of variations on Am-G7-F-E7, about 1 mb in size)
Drop a line if you have any questions or comments. You are also welcome to email an mp3 file of your playing:
darren @ islandnotes .org (disregard the spaces)