“After years of ‘pot bashing’, it is time to learn an actual instrument to enhance our summer raft ups.” announced Nicci’s email.
I wasn’t offended – anyway, our pot bashing she speaks of would have to be the most melodic kind of pot bashing you have ever heard… but regardless, I was happy to move on to a more sophisticated instrument.
Nicci’s musical kids Logan & Olivia were volunteering to be our teachers, and we were asked to BYO Ukulele and tuner to our first lesson, to be followed by a steak and drinks at the local pub afterwards.
All I needed was a ukulele…
It was a frosty morning and I stood shivering on the footpath next to a bedraggled homeless man and his dog sleeping in the doorway. I quietly stepped over him and pressed up against the window waiting for the shop to open.
“Can I help you?” said the friendly shop assistant who opened the door, looking somewhat surprised to see such an enthusiastic person waiting to be let in 10 minutes before their advertised opening time.
“Yes please!” I replied “I need a ukulele to play on my yacht, my friends and I are all going to learn together” I love getting help from shop assistants.
His eyes twinkled. “Ahhh he said, I think the ukulele would be the perfect instrument for taking out on a boat and playing with friends” he gazed up in to the corner of the room and sighed. There was quite a long pause… I looked up in to the corner of the room as well but couldn’t see anything. I think he was imagining himself on the back of a yacht playing a ukulele.
Suddenly he snapped back to the present moment and proceeded to give me the pro’s and cons of each brand, he said don’t buy any cheap crappy one, he suggested that the Makala brand was a good entry level, and they also produce more serious versions – called the Kala brand – for when we are experts. He said white strings were better than clear strings and I ended up choosing a white ‘shark‘ one. Seth already had a blue ‘dolphin‘ one. Andrew ended up buying a dark brown Mahalo.
They cost about NZD$59.00 and I added a tuner for $20.00, and a carry bag for $20.00 – to protect it when going to and from the boat. (Tuners are little clip on things that tell you when you are in tune – or not…)
As I strummed my fingers across the strings, I started gazing up in to the corner of the room like the shop assistant had done before. The tune instantly transported me to a tropical island, palm trees hula girls and people singing along. … Ah yes I think I am going to enjoy learning to play this instrument!
The great things about ukuleles on boats is that they are small, light, relatively cheap, won’t warp or rust and they can also be used as a paddle if absolutely necessary. (Thanks Brian for that tip!)
My friend Brian went on to say “There are loads of songbooks on the internet from ukulele clubs. You will be surprised how many songs you can play with just 3 chords (C, F, G7 are good ones to start with). Most of all enjoy it. It is all about fun and not taking it to seriously, but strum with gusto. Also the beauty of the Uke is you can develop the playing to a more serious level, picking melodies etc…”
Brian was not wrong – by just learning 4 simple chords you can literally play heaps of songs! Check this out:
Brian also suggested a book called Kiwi Ukulele which I promptly went on line and purchased.
Well Brian was right – there literally are heaps of different websites offering free music sheets (tabs) for you to print off and start playing. There are also lots of different YouTube Channels showing you exactly how to play each chord and then different songs as well.
The other cool thing is that you don’t have to know how to read music as the chords are usually just written as letters. Get yourself a folder and print off your favourite songs that you want to learn. Put them in order of when you learn them so you aren’t constantly flipping backwards and forwards like I was for a while.
Check these out:
- UkuTabs – heaps of great music to download
- Ukulele-Tabs – more music
- The Ukulele Teacher – great YouTube videos and get his app too!
Before you start playing you will need to tune your ukulele. Ask the music shop people to show you how to use your tuner (tip: make sure it is set to ukulele mode…), and you can also get a tuning app on your phone.
The strings should be tuned (from top to bottom) GCEA – “Goats Can Eat Anything” is a good way of remembering the GCEA.
I am not even going to get all technical and start explaining frets and strings and all those kinds of things, because all the dedicated ukulele websites will do a much better job of doing that – and of course I am just a beginner too and don’t really know what I am talking about.
OK so you have now got:
- Your ukulele
- A tuner (or an app that you can use to tune it with)
- A sturdy bag to protect it when you are carting it around on the boat or to and from lessons
- A folder to keep all your music in
- A whole lot of songs printed out in your folder
- A teacher – optional – heaps easier to learn but if you can’t get a teacher then YouTube is your friend
- A boat to play on
- Some spare strings just in case you break one
What’s missing? Friends!! I have found that my ukulele playing and singing is MUCH better when surrounded by a group of other ukuleles. So try and talk your sailing mates in to learning as well (like we are doing over winter when its too dark to go sailing on Wednesday nights). We have been having heaps of fun learning together and encouraging one another.
You can even add a few more basic instruments like a tambourine, perhaps a bongo drum or some maracas for other non-ukulele playing visitors that drop by while you are jamming’.
So in just a few lessons, learning a handful of chords and strumming techniques and a bit of practise, you can quickly master some of your favourite songs!
This weekend I managed to get out on a boat to give the ukulele’ing on the water a go. It was middle of winter, just above freezing, and my fingers were having trouble working while the other girls were busy reeling in fish. We got also got video footage, even with a seal swimming past in the background, but Seth reckons I sound terrible… so perhaps I need to practice some more before I put that on the blog. 😉
Looking forward to some great sing-a-longs on board this summer.