Many of you will already be familiar with the composer Loretta Notareschi. A professional composer and musician, Loretta is also a keen ukulele player. She is dedicated to creating new repertoire for the instrument. I reviewed Loretta’s Five Etudes for solo ukulele a couple of months ago. You can read that blog by clicking here. The Five Etudes explored the technical and musical challenges of the ukulele. The Etudes are characterised by a sense of edginess suggestive of the composer’s own struggle to reach beyond the musical and technical limitations of the instrument. Reaction to the Etudes on social media was mixed. While many welcomed Loretta’s compositional boldness and explorations into dissonance, others retreated to the familiar sanctity of the C major chord. Loretta’s latest offering for the ukulele is best described as the polar opposite to the Five Etudes. Songs Without Words are short, lyrical pieces which are both joyful and rhythmical in a unique yet quintessentially ukulele way!
Songs Without Words is a set of five pieces in notation and TAB. They are primarily for intermediate players but advanced players will also find them a worthy addition to their repertoire. The score has been produced to a professional standard. The layout is clear and includes fingerings, dynamics, tempo indications and programme notes. Available as a PDF download and, for US only, printed score.
In this blog I’ll talk a little more about each Song. Youtube videos of each Song are embedded.
The most well known collection of Songs Without Words is by the Romantic composer Felix Mendelssohn. His series of short, lyrical pieces for the piano became popular in the mid 19th century and the pieces are still popular today. Other composers have used the title as a way of conveying the idea that the music is songlike and expressive but in a way which defies lyrics.
A set of Songs Without Words for the ukulele really appealed to me. Although I don’t sing I’m a romantic at heart!
I. Ruby’s Song
The first piece is dedicated to Loretta’s daughter Ruby. The programme notes tell us that when Ruby was born Loretta would sing and dance with her to made up tunes. The instruction is Singing and Dancing and this really is a happy, toe-tapping piece in 3/4 time. The melodic line is complemented by a repeated open 4th string accompaniment. This repeated bass note gives a drone effect reminiscent of some of Adrian Le Roy’s Bransles for renaissance guitar. The piece starts with the melody moving up and down the first string before moving to the second string for the second phrase. Conveniently, all of the melodic notes fall on the 1st beat so it’s very easy to feel the melody. A good exercise is to play just the melody notes and leave out the bass. This will help to achieve the singing effect when you add the bass. All the melodic notes are marked as dotted minims which means they should ring-on over the bass drone. To achieve this ringing-on effect make sure you hold the melody note while playing the open 4th string bass notes. If you lift the finger the melody note will stop and this will spoil the effect.
This is also a good piece for working on vibrato. To achieve vibrato keep the left hand finger planted, release the left hand thumb and move the arm rapidly from side to side. Keep the wrist straight and use the weight of the arm from the elbow. Vibrato subtly alters the pitch and creates a musical wobble.
Tip: the repeated notes on the 4th string should be played lightly so they balance with the melody.
A slow and heartfelt piece which should be played with rubato. Rubato is a musical give and take in the tempo. I often tell students that rubato is like a musical elastic band. The tempo stretches out (getting faster) and then in (getting slower). The rhythm of Lament is tricky being in 3/2. This means there are 3 minim (half beats) per bar. You could start by counting in 6 crotchets (quarter notes) per bar BUT remember that what you are aiming for is a pulse of 3 beats per bar and not 6. The piece flows really nicely and, with practise, the rhythm will become natural. In bars 7 and 9 watch out for the rests in the bass part. The open 3rd string C notes should be stopped while the upper notes ring on. Re-placing the right hand thumb is an effective way of achieving this. It stops the note while preparing for the thumb for plucking the next note.
III. Merry Tune
The title says it all! A jolly little tune in 6/8 time. The melody is in the upper voice and the accompaniment, although simple, is effective. Two and three note chords on the 1st and 4th beats help accentuate the pulse. Although in 6/8 time the rhythmical pulse is two per bar. The 2nd section, starting at bar 9, is in the relative minor key of D minor. The minor key creates a slightly darker more serious mood. The chords in bars 13 and 14 give a little tension and drama before the melody meanders back to F major and the opening theme is restated.
IV. High Wire
This piece explores playing the melody on the 4th string with the right hand thumb. The accompanying chords are mostly open string A minor chords and these should be played gently so as not to swamp the melody. In the 2nd bar, however, the melodic interest is in the middle voice with a little 4 note descending scale – G, F#, E, D. Aim to bring out these notes. Placing the melody on the 4th string is very effective with high g tuning but this piece would also sound good using low G tuning.
V. Climb the Ladder
Nimble fingers are required for the final piece which alternates between running scales and chords. While this is a good workout for both hands it’s also a really fun and lighthearted piece to play. Bar 25 is a challenge and I recommend playing the G major chord with a half barre. The barre can be released as soon as the 4th finger lands on the 14th fret F#. This will give the hand a chance to reshape for the 10th fret D which should be played with 1. The 1st finger then slides back to 7th position and 2 drops onto the C at the 8th fret. The open 4th string G provides an opportunity to shift back to 1st position for bar 26.
Practise this piece slowly and try working on it in sections. You could, for example, work on two bars at a time. Focus on the fingering and aim for fluency. See if you can memorise each two bars. This will enable you to really get the scales under the fingers and focus on your technique. Self assessment is easier when you aren’t glued to the score. A couple of things to consider: Are you using the same fingering each time? (recommended). Or are you constantly changing the fingering? (not recommended).
When Songs Without Words popped up in my inbox I literally dropped everything and started playing them. I hope you will find these pieces as delightful to play as I do!
Click here to buy the score. You will be redirected to Loretta Notareschi’s website.