Ukulele for Dummies

I received my copy of Al Woods’ Ukulele for Dummies the other day. I’ve been waiting since April 24 this year (I pre-ordered as soon as I saw the title — I bought Dostoevsky’s classic book, The Idiot, for the same reason — both titles resonate with me), and I think it was very much worth the wait.  It has over 300 pages of ukulele happiness, full of useful information, tips and tunes in a whole swag of different playing styles. Things to strum and tunes to play.

The intro says it is more for dipping than for sequential reading — you start wherever you’d like to or need to start. Sort of like an encyclopaedia of the ukulele.

It is written with good sense and wit. The tab/notation is clear, the photos also. Apart from an interest in things ukulele, the author assumes nothing — everything is explained, and explained well.

I have one gripe (call me a grumpy old man if you like — for such I am). The top joint (the fleshy bit) of the thumb of the fretting hand seems to me to be presented in the wrong place in forming some of the chords. It is not behind the fretboard on the neck, but beside the fretboard, off the neck in many of the photographs. What would Segovia say?

Al’s playing is excellent with the thumb off the neck (fine example below).

I know lots of good players who put their thumbs out like this, but it is not for me.

My concern is that this thumb position might encourage a player to tilt the fretting hand back and put pressure on the wrist, especially if one plays the ukulele for long periods of time.

But that’s my only gripe. This book is huge value for money.

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Published in: on August 27, 2011 at 7:46 pm  Comments (2)  
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My Old Kentucky Home on ukulele

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Poor Butterfly on Boxalele

Published in: on August 20, 2011 at 6:34 am  Comments (8)  
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The making of a Boxalele

Published in: on August 18, 2011 at 6:31 pm  Comments (2)  
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A boxalele — by me

Here are a few pictures of my hand-made (with my own blistered and bleeding hands) Boxalele. I was going to make a cigarbox uke, but the only cigarboxes I can get easily are pretend wood (cheap veneer), and after carving the neck (black heart sassafras), I couldn’t put it with a rather ordinary cheap cigarbox — so I made my own ordinary, blood stained box.

I hope to put strings on it tomorrow, and if it stays together, I’ll link to a youtube video of it to give a sound sample. If it falls apart, I’ll let you know that too.

Published in: on August 16, 2011 at 5:45 pm  Comments (4)  
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Not so Rosy — Tommy Malie (1897-1932)

I was watching again the 1967 movie Thoroughly Modern Millie. The opening scene shows the kidnapping of a young woman (sadly an orphan who was “all alone in the world”) from a boarding house. Before being knocked out by an ether-filled handkerchief, she was happily playing “Looking at the world thru rose-colored glasses” on a tenor banjo (but it was tuned like a ukulele). Tommy Malie wrote that song back in 1926, and it was a hit.

Tommy was orphaned at the age of two, and when he was ten, he lost both arms at the elbow. Nevertheless, he could sing and write songs. He started work at Hiller’s music shop in Pittsburgh, and around 1922 moved to work in New York’s Tin Pan Alley.  His talent earned him $100,000 in a few short years, married a beautiful woman, and things seemed rosy for  him.

Things didn’t stay that way. He had money so he lived fast — too fast for his wife who left him — and then cars, clothes and drink (far too much of it) left him broke. He died derelict and forgotten at the age of 35 in a charity ward of Chicago Hospital.

From the Pittsburgh Press (2 August 1932)

Published in: on August 14, 2011 at 6:46 pm  Comments (15)  
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