It’s been a busy few weeks here at I Love Classical Ukulele and I wanted to update you on what’s been happening. If you’re following me on Facebook you’ll already know the most exciting news. My new works are now being published by Les Productions d’OZ! Les Productions d’OZ and Doberman are prestigious international publishing houses which specialise in music and publish works by leading composers and arrangers. It’s a great privilege to be one of their artists and huge step forward for classical ukulele. For some time I have been self publishing my arrangements and have a small but loyal following. Being published, however, will introduce my work to a wider audience and, hopefully, attract and inspire more classical ukulele players, composers and arrangers.
So, yes, I am excited and a bit overwhelmed. It’s all happened very quickly and I’m hugely grateful for all the support and encouragement I’m getting from my supervisor Steve Goss. Finding a publisher was a somewhat hazy dream that I thought might happen further into my PhD journey and if Steve hadn’t pushed me a little I would still be thinking, I’m not ready yet. This development has really progressed things, given me a clear direction and a confidence boost. The first publication, 12 Progressive Studies, is already available as a PDF download. The book version will be available in the EU from July 2018. The second work, Variations on the Dowie Dens of Yarrow, is with the publisher now. I’ll be performing that piece, plus selections from 12 Progressive Studies, at upcoming festivals and ukulele events so keep your ears open! Plans for other works are in the pipeline.
As well as updating you on my PhD shenanigans I though this would also be an opportunity to give you an overview of the new publication, 12 Progressive Studies. The book is in notation and tab and is for players of easy to intermediate standard. Although notated for high g C E A tuning the pieces can be played using low G tuning, or even on a 5 string uke with both low G and high g (I’ve tried them on my Dave Morgan 5 string and they work very well!). Right hand and left hand fingering is included and there are study notes on the pieces. I particularly like the d’OZ typesetting as the score is very clean and clear making it easy to read.
Initially, some of the studies were composed for classical ukulele workshops at ukulele festivals across the UK and for my private students. I needed material that was fun to play but met the technical needs of players who were looking to develop their fingerpicking skills. From experience I found many ukulele players who have been playing chords for a number of years have good left hand technique but are floundering when it comes to classical fingerpicking. For this reason I decided to compose a series of suitable pieces, many of which focus on the right hand. The pieces are intended to help develop fluency, accuracy and control while improving tone. Few players really tap into the beautiful sound of the ukulele and I hope these studies will inspire and be of benefit to players of all levels.
I have suggested metronome markings but please use these as a guide and find a tempo that works best for you. The best method for learning is start s-l-o-w-l-y and gradually increase the tempo.
Here’s an overview of the 12 pieces with Youtube videos (played on a Koa soprano ukulele made by DJ Morgan Ukuleles)
1. Adrian’s Song
This is the easiest piece and was inspired by the renaissance guitar works of Adrian Le Roy. In 3/4 time it has a light, dance-like feel and is in the C mixolydian mode (more about that in the next technique blog). The left hand notes are all in first position on the fingerboard and shouldn’t present any problems. Aim to let the notes, especially the bass notes, ring on. Each bar begins with a bass note, either on string 3 or 4, which is played by the thumb, or ‘p’. Note that the thumb is moving between strings 3 and 4. The open C bass notes will ring on naturally but the D’s in bars 9, 10 & 11 will need to be held while playing the upper notes so they ring on.
The main technical emphasis in this piece is on the right hand picking pattern which is mainly p i m (or thumb, index & middle fingers). This pattern feels very natural for the hand with the thumb playing the first beat of the bar. Aim for fluency and control. There are 2 phrases of 8 bars each which can be further divided into 4 bars. Think of the 1st four bars as the question and the 2nd as the answer. Also, try experimenting with dynamics. For example: try playing the 1st four bars forte (loud) and the 2nd four bars piano (soft).
2. New Bransle
This piece was also influenced by Adrian Le Roy and has a light, bouncy feel. Notice how the bass moves back and forth between strings 4 and 3. People often ask if they should play one finger on one string or use the thumb on 3 and 4. Both techniques are useful but in this piece the thumb moves back and forth. The opening 4 bars are played just by the thumb. Although similar to the first piece there is a little more movement across the strings. For example: in bars 11 & 13 the notes move from string 3 to 2 to 1. Awareness of which string you are playing on will aid your right hand.
3. Open Dance
This piece is called Open Dance for one very good reason – there are a lot of open strings. I really like the way open strings ring on creating little nuances and resonances. Be precise with your left hand finger placement and be careful not to touch, and dampen, the open strings. Once again this piece is in first position. The main emphasis is on the right hand fingers moving across the strings. Also, pay attention to the rhythm. If necessary clap the rhythm before you start playing the notes so you have it in your head. Things get a bit tricky in bars 9 to 12. Note how the index finger is suddenly called on to play the 1st note in the bar. The pattern across the strings is i p m i p m. This doesn’t feel as comfortable as the bars where the thumb leads. The balance is also harder to control as the index finger needs more weight and the thumb, which is playing the 2nd beat, needs a lighter touch. You might want to focus on playing these bars slowly.
4. Sunday Stroll
The form of this piece is A B A. The A section is fairly simple with the right hand playing a repeated arpeggio pattern – p m i m i m i m. Aim to make the notes rhythmically even and be careful not to speed up. The B section is a little trickier with the arpeggio pattern changing to m i p i p i m i. The 1st string notes require more emphasis to make them stand out and sing. Also, try holding these notes while playing the accompanying arpeggio.
5. Spring Dance
This piece uses a hammer on in the left hand. This is indicated with a curved line between 2 notes. Pluck the 1st note and then sound the 2nd note by hammering the left hand finger onto the appropriate fret. The key to making a good hammer on is speed and accuracy. The hammering finger doesn’t need to be too high to make a good sound. Make sure it lands behind the fret and not on it – which will mute the sound. The left hand also ventures further up the fingerboard in this piece. The fingering is written alongside the notation. At the end of bar 8 you have to move from 7th position back to 1st position. As this is the end of the phrase it is quite appropriate to have a little pause on the last note of the bar. The new phrase starts in bar 9 with the G minor chord. Notice the change in mood – as if a dark cloud has covered the sun. By bar 12 the sun has come out again with the return to the tonic key of F.
6. The Dusting Song
It always amuses me the way ukulele players refer to the higher end of the fingerboard as the dusty end. I wanted this piece to be a user friendly way of venturing up the fingerboard, hence the use of a lot of open strings. In bars 1 to 8 the melody notes slide up and down the 2nd string. In bars 9 to 16 the melody notes slide up and down the 3rd string. Watch out for bars 20 where the left hand finger has to slide up to the 8th fret. Make sure you bring the 1st beat of each bar, unless marked with an accent (see the notation).
7. Blue Buggly
This piece was composed for a workshop at the Biddulph Ukulele Group’s Festival. The 4 bar introduction uses a shifting left hand pattern which ends with 1 or 2 strummed chords. When I presented this piece to the group everyone saw the 8th and 9th frets and groaned but once I pointed out the shifting pattern with fingers 1 and 2 (see the fingering in the notation) they found it very doable. The 2nd section is an arpeggio with the melody moving up and down the 1st string. The piece has a bluesy feel a swing rhythm. This means the quavers should be played in a slightly ‘lumpy’ way: long – short – long – short etc.
8. Flow River Flow
Another simple idea with shifting patterns in both hands. The 1st and 2nd fingers of the left hand slide up and down the fingerboard while the right hand plays a repeated arpeggio. Notice how the p i m pattern moves from string 4, 3 & 2 to 3, 2 & 1. The 1st and 4th strings are always open. As the title suggests this piece should flow like a strong, yet gentle river.
9. Waltz Falabella
This little waltz is dedicated to my favourite little horse! The left hand has a bit more work to do with the chords moving up the fingerboard. One tip for reading tab is try to see the whole bar rather than just the individual notes. For example: look at bar 1. Can you see a familiar chord shape? You should be able to see a D major. In bar 2 the chord is A major but without the note on string 4. Bar 4 is based on an E minor shape – you arrive on E minor with the hammer on. Finding patterns and/or chords in the music will help the learning process.
10. Waltz Variations
This piece is based on the harmonic structure of the Waltz Falabella and plays around with a few different ideas. The opening bars have a bass note followed by 2 strings played together. To do this use i on the 2nd string and m on the 1st string. Pluck the 2 notes together. They should sound as one. Bars 5, 6 & 7 use a little tremolo technique with p a m i. Bars 17 to 24 start with a strummed chord. I use the flesh of my thumb. The strum should be fast in order to keep the rhythmic momentum. This section has a slightly Spanish flavour.
11. The Waking
This piece explores the fingerboard and has some shifts in position. The shifts often use a slide. For example, at the end of bar 2 the 4th finger moves from 5th fret to 7th fret and then in bar 4 the 2nd finger slides from 5th fret to 3rd fret. The shifts should be very clean and smooth. The rhythm consists mostly of flowing quavers but the feel is slightly lazy. A little rubato works well. In other words let the quaver movement feel a little elastic. Bars 19 to 21 require a a barre on 3 strings.
12. Tom Thumb’s Study
As the title suggests this study is a workout for the thumb which is constantly moving from string 3 to string 4. Meanwhile, the melody, played by i and m, moves from string 2 to string 1. As a general rule I suggested i on string 2 and m on string 1 but you could be heroic and go for a constantly repeated p i p m p i p m pattern. If you don’t have a 15th fret then play the note at the 12th fret. Practise this piece really slowly at first and gradually increase the tempo once your left hand fingering is secure. A slight swing rhythm is quite effective but you might also like to practise this with an even rhythm. Make sure the thumb plays the bass notes softly.
Video coming soon!
Thanks for your continued support! If you have any feedback about the pieces, or anything else to do with classical ukulele, please either leave a comment or get in touch via the contact form. Classical ukulele is a new and developing genre so your input is relevant!
Copyright Josie Elias 2018