The four 4-string close harmony tunings

One of the appealing qualities of the ukulele is that it sounds “sweet” to many people. Perhaps this is why it became so popular in Hawaii, from where it spread to the rest of the world. Musicologists explain that this perceived “sweetness” is the result of close harmony, made possible by the 4th string typically being tuned one octave higher than it would be normally. In this post, I delve into other re-entrant tunings (some already known, others not so much) that can be applied to a ukulele or similar, with sound samples. Perhaps there’ll be some that appeal to you. Read More

An inexpensive guitar/uke Midi setup that works

This may not be for every amateur musician out there, but I’m sure there are some that have felt quite frustrated over the apparent inability to have a guitar or uke that will sound like anything else (for a reasonable budget) and still be playable. Sure, you can always add a Fishman or Roland Midi pickup to an electric guitar for a lot of dough, only to find that they work well only for fingerpicking but not for strumming (the essence of uke playing) because of lag or inability to pick up every single string. Well, I think I finally licked it, and quite inexpensively. You can see it at right. The yellow tape on the “strings,” which is quite optional, is a simple tactile aid so I can use only strings 1 through 4 for ukulele playing. Read More

The XI century ukulele

The old chicken and egg problem, with music. Chances are you already knew that the ukulele, that little guitar that people use for accompanying Hawaiian and pop music, as well as a lot of pieces from the Tin Pan Alley era, was born in the late XIX century, when some Portuguese luthiers landed in Hawaii. So obviously the ukulele derives from the guitar. But did you know that before guitar existed there was an instrument that looked very, very much like a ukulele? See what the angel in the picture is playing. Read More

How to write a song

I’ve written six songs within the last week or so, keeping a full-time job and living an otherwise fairly normal life. I don’t claim they are any good, only that they were surprisingly easy to make. In this article I give you a blow by blow account of how this happened, the tools I used, and the process I followed. Maybe you’ll find something that will uncork your own creativity. Read More

How to measure string tension easily

They say that “high tension” strings pull harder on the neck of a guitar than “normal” or “light” tension. You have tested tension with your fingers and indeed some strings seem to have more tension than others, but how much, exactly? How can I tell whether the tension of one of my strings is too high or too low? I’ve run into this sort of discussion in several forums (like this one, or this other one, or still this one) and nobody seems to have the answer, yet you know that “your fingers tell you.” In this article, I translate that qualitative method into one that will give you a pretty accurate number, and explain the math behind it. Read More

Try this trick to accompany any song

Let’s face it, a lot of chords on the guitar are quite hard. Take, for instance F on the guitar, equivalent to Bb on the ukulele, which requires a barre and a lot of pressure on all strings. What’s worse, F is a very frequent chord in the very common keys of C and F. In this post, I tell you a trick that professionals use (well, at least the Beatles did) but don’t talk much about. Read More

How to pick a pick for a ukulele

You’ve heard it many times: “It’s not in good form to use a pick for a ukulele.” Well, here’s my awful disclosure: I use a pick. And you know why? Because it does sound better, as least for a beginner like myself. It allows me to strum loud, fast, and consistent. If you look at YouTube videos, you’ll see that a lot of semipros also use picks. I haven’t asked them, but I presume it is also because it does sound better. Picks are pretty much a must for steel strings, and they are quite helpful on plastic strings. But you’ve got to pick the right pick. Read More

Find more ukulele chords

A year and a half after I took up the ukulele, I’m calling myself an intermediate player. Now, an intermediate should be able to do a little more than strum a few open chords with a felt pick, so here’s a chart that is helping me to find chords up the neck (I still strum with a pick ;-). Hopefully you’ll find it useful too. Read More

Cheapest MIDI guitar

For quite a while, I’ve been interested in making a guitar or ukulele sound like other instruments. The way a guitar sounds when strummed appeals to me, since it blends so well with singing to make a song, but I get bored quickly with things always sounding the same. This is while I’ve built a number of ukuleles in the last few months and my collection now counts some 15 units. There is this device called “MIDI guitar controller” that you play like a guitar but can sound like anything else, since what it does is get real-time note information from your performance, which can then be fed to a hardware or software instrument. Most MIDI guitars, however, are either discontinued or very expensive. I was resigned to never using one until I ran into the “Rock Band 3 Fender Mustang guitar controller pro” (whew!), which is now selling (new) for a tad over $50. This article expounds how this relatively cheap device compares with much more expensive devices. Read More

At last! A MIDI ukulele

There are a number of MIDI-enabled guitars out there, but did you know now there is also a MIDI ukulele? Kudos to Maker Hart for their courage in developing the DU-one and EU-one instruments. They were kind enough to send me a free DU-one so I could write this review. Short version of this rather long article: it takes a lot of effort and frustration to get it to work, but in the end it is all worth it. Read More