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Ukulele Workshop: February 2020


More than 4 strings.


You want to get more from your instrument and your performance.

Some practical exercises-Some theory-Some advice.


  • I performance with the Blue Mugs Ukulele group: Also as a solo playing old-school Cigarbox Blues; and with assorted musicians as Duck n Cover using any kind of instrument with 2-3-4-6-8 or 12 strings.

  • I have been building and repairing Stringed instruments for over 30 years.

Build & repair.

As a Luthier I am often asked the same three Ukulele questions:

  1. Change strings – Professionals usually 3 months or when Dull (Stretch)

  2. Install a pickup – Preamp & Bridge – or Preamp & Disks – or Microphone. IRig ($90)

  3. Can I put Acoustic Guitar Steel strings – No

Your gear:

  • Instrument-Construction: Three critical points = Nut; Neck join-Saddle/Bridge.

  • Action- off the shelf is made for everyone. If you don’t like it after 30 seconds, try another.

  • Your Ukulele body is a drum. It provides the sound-voice-feel.

  • As a builder I can say “No two instruments are the same”.

  • Changing the hole size moves the primary resonance frequency a bit, which roughly may be described as "the smaller the hole, the lower the frequency". The shape also has some effect, but it should be a much smaller change in the response than the one achieved by changing the area of the hole.

  • Helmholtz theory of sound resonance. (Volume * Pi / 5)

  • Amplifier Leads. Thick is better – Wireless – Amp – Preamp on Uke or on your belt or on the floor.

  • Gig bag-tuner-batteries-strap- nut bags-strings-clothes pegs-gaffer tape-prepare the bag before stage-spare instrument

Practical (Lets play):

  • F & E7

  • Using the Tuner - Travel up the neck.

  • Group 1 (JFMA) Group 2 (MJJA) Group 3 (SOND)

Arranging a song:

  • Loop station: For 3 years I’ve use mine in most performances. Often asked “Can it be used for practice? Difficult to use / Master?”

  • First few nights were a disaster. Practiced timing. Watched others. Feet-Hands-Arrangements. Three parts: Pedal – Dial – Balance:

  • Red=Recording: Green/Red = Record & Playback: Green = Playback: Double = Stop.

  • Midnight hour: Practice Bass: Singing: Different strum styles.

  • My Warmup: Based on C-Major scale: Strum: Arpeggio: Bass: Highlight of E and A: Scale: Bass run.

  • 4 measures – Strum G6 (GDEB) as the root chord – Arpeggio of the 2nd Inversion of the G starting on DGE on 1 & 3 measure – Bass of G for missing Root to the Strum – Highlight on 2&4 – Ukulele Scale – Bass Scale – Bass run.

  • Musical theory - Chords Inversion – Arpeggios – Bass provides an invertible counterpoint.

  • From the Cmaj Scale each note is based on the Circle of 5th prior note.

  • I aim for whatever I think sounds good.

Approaching your performance:

  • Playing in public is practice: Busking: Open Mike:

  • Steve Poltz said to me - you are ready: JP Susan pre-performance routine & warmup, Mike McClellan said be prepared for anything to happen.

  • Playing in a group-Listen: Playing solo-Listen:

  • Preparing to perform-Listen: What can you see & what can you hear? Who is your audience?

  • Practice recovery


  • You practice your songs: Also practice your ad-lib banter:

  • Arrange your set. Open with a No-brainer. Decide on the flow and feel.

  • Know your timing. Songs & Banter. Have a clock / watch visible.

  • Know the start time to when you have to start your killer last song.

  • Using sheet music & Stand: Position:

  • Be prepared for anything

Over or under time:

  • Being prepared for either situation:

  • What to drop - know in advance:

  • Extra material - Have a no brainer up the sleeve

Theory *

Circle of fifths: According to Goldman's Harmony in Western Music, "the IV chord is actually, in the simplest mechanisms of diatonic relationships, at the greatest distance from the root I.

In terms of the [descending] circle of fifths, it leads away from I, rather than toward it.

Thus the progression I–ii–V–I (an authentic cadence) would feel more final or resolved than I–IV–I (a plagal cadence).

Goldman concurs with Nattiez, who argues that "the chord on the fourth degree appears long before the chord on II, and the subsequent final I, in the progression I–IV–viio–iii–vi–ii–V–I", and is farther from the tonic.

In this the use of upper-case Roman numerals indicate major triads while lower-case Roman numerals indicate minor triads.

I aim for whatever sounds good!

Reentrant tuning

In Hawaiian music and elsewhere the ukulele contributes often a high lilting voice, and the reentrant tuning means that down strums lead with a bright chiming tone just as up strums do.

The practical reason for reentrant tuning is to make it easier to play the chord voicings with simple chord forms (the way your fingers make the chords). Each chord voicing has a different sound and the high G string would make for a brighter sound with simple chord forms.

Group 1

F E7

A |-0---0---0---0--|-2---2---3---2---|

E |-1---1---3---1--|-0---0---0---0---|

C |-0---0---0---0--|-2---2---2---2---|

G |-2---2---2---2--|-1---1---1---1---|

Group 2

F E7

A |-5---5---5---5--|-4---4---4---4--|

E |-5---5---5---5--|-4---4---4---4--|

C |-5---5---5---5--|-4---4---4---4--|

G |-5---5---5---5--|-4---4---4---4--|

Group 3

C Maj Scale

A |----------------------2---3---5---7---8---7---5---3---2------------------------|

E |---------0---1---3-------------------------------------------3---1---0-----------|

C |-0---2--------------------------------------------------------------------2---0---|

G |-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------|

Practical Summary:

  • Practice Same chord is different positions up the neck. (Chord Inversions)

  • Try different strum patterns.

  • Try arranging new songs for different voiced instruments.

  • Take a known song and play it in a different mood. (Build me up Buttercup is not a Happy boppy song, it’s a sad blue song)

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