The cover of Clawhammer ukulele by Aaron keim

Clawhammer Ukulele (Kindle)

A great book for anyone interested in learning Clawhammer Ukulele. Clawhammer is a banjo style that also works on the ukulele. It is from the Appalachian mountains of the US and is part of the old time string band tradition of music. It takes the complicated technique and with beautiful tabs and helpful videos you’ll soon be sounding like a pro. This book is currently only available in kindle format (see lowest price). If you don’t have a kindle you might be interested to know that Amazon provide free apps for PC, Mac and Android and IOS users to read kindle books on their devices so everyone can enjoy them 🙂

 

Review: James Hill The Old Silo

If you’re really into your Ukulele, you’ve probably heard of James Hill. He’s a very skilled musician (perhaps most famous for his version of Billy Jean) and also one of the greatest advocates for recognition of the Ukulele as a legitimate instrument and instruction with his work on “Ukulele in the classroom” and “the ukulele way”. However, he also writes and records his own music using the Ukulele. The latest is James Hill The Old Silo.

Cover art from the old silo by james hill

Basic Facts

The Old Silo is the 7th album from James Hill over a period of 12 years and his first since Man With a Love Song released in 2011. The Old Silo combines elements of traditional Folk, classic rock and modern indie with tracks that would feel at home on a Black keys, White Stripes or … album. The Old Silo isn’t just James with his Uke though, it also features Anne Jannelle on Cello, Bill Stevenson on Piano, Joe Murphy on Harmonica and James Hill also picks up the violin and Drums.

Top Tracks

New Moon

The opening track sets a tone of the album with a rootsy country ting. It’s uplifting and steady rhythm with a strong ukulele sound coming through.

Promenade

Promenade ads some celtic flare to the mix with great little embellishes across the fretboard, a foot stomping rhythm and chorus that makes you want to get up and find a partner to dance with.

She’s still got it

This track hints at Black keys influences with a rich distorted verse (yes that is a ukulele making that noise) and a chorus which shifts direction from the verses.

Tie one on

Tie one on carries on where She still got it left off…only several songs later. This is the perfect tune to make you want to pick up an electric ukulele. So you’ve been warned if you have issues with U.A.S (ukulele acquisition syndrome)

Overall review of James Hill The old Silo

Let’s ignore the fact that this is a Ukulele album (it’s always good to evaluate an album based on their own merits). If you like classic American roots and folk influenced music then you’ll probably like The Old Silo. If you are looking for loops, traditional singer songwriter or instrumental Ukulele then you’ll be disappointed. Overall I really like how the album is put together effortlessly moving between more agressive and upbeat songs to slower and more downbeat songs. It all fits together well.

Luckily, you can check the album out for yourself on James Hill’s site as he is streaming the whole thing and then make an informed decision whether or not to download it.

Get it from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk

The Top 6 Beginner Ukuleles for 2015

I went to the pub with a couple of colleagues from work last week. Somehow the conversation managed to get onto playing the ukulele (it’s strange how often that happens), it turns out that one of my other colleagues plays the ukulele but the others who were there don’t. A day or two passed and one of the others who had been there came up to me and revealed she had been thinking of taking up the ukulele since our chat in the pub. The only issue was finding a good ukulele to start out on.

Top 6 beginner ukuleles 2015 Uke university

She didn’t want to buy a dud nor did she want to spend lots of money for something she might not really get into. It’s a common problem as there are so many ukulele makes out there, some of them great and other plain bad or over expensive. I offered to take her to a local music shop and help her find a good Ukulele.

However, I can’t do that for you. If you are thinking of starting to play the ukulele then I’m going to do the next best thing. Take you to a virtual music shop and recommend a few Ukuleles that are great for beginners in 2015, 2016 (and beyond).

The following 6 beginner ukuleles (two for each of the main body types) will all be worth purchasing and will insure that you don’t pay over the odds or buying a poorly made budget ukulele. This is not to say that they are the only ukulele’s worth buying for a beginner, but that you won’t go wrong by picking up one of these ones. If you have bought an alternative ukulele and would like to recommend it then leave a comment with its details below.

Soprano

If you need help deciding between different size ukuleles then check out guide to the differences between different ukulele sizes. A quick summary is a Soprano is the smallest and therefore is going to be the cheapest starting ukulele.

 

Makala Dolphin Sopranos

Makala dolphine Ukulele light blueMakala are the budget brand of Kala ukuleles (also a great choice). This is probably the cheapest ukulele I’d recommend without getting my hands on it first. They are made of plastic which might put you off straight away but the build quality is good and they can produce an okay sound. Obviously a more expensive solid wood ukulele will sound better but this is a beginners ukulele.

Makala Dolphins also come in a variety of snazzy colours. (US buyers can find them in Surf green, Mako blue, Red sea, Yellow coral, Great White, Pink Shell, and Black)  Overall this is a great choice for a kid. [UK link]

Lanikai LU-21 Soprano

Lanikai LU-21 Soprano UkuleleUnlike the Makala the lanikai is a ukulele made out of wood. So if plastic puts you off too much then you might want to check out the Lanikai. 

[Extra options to consider: Kala Mahogany Soprano Ukulele and the slightly more expensive Cordoba Mahogany Soprano Ukulele with a natural satin finish )

Concert

A concert ukulele is the goldilocks of the ukulele world. Not as small as the Soprano nor as big as the tenor.

Kala Mahogany Concert

Kala KA-C Concert MahoganyI have a soft spot for Kala ukuleles. My first Ukulele was a Kala and it has lasted well. This concert size ukulele is made of solid wood, has a few more frets than the soprano offerings and comes with a nice bag, polish and other useful things. [UK link]

Lanikai CKCGC Concert Ukulele

lanikai concert ukulele koaLanikai make great ukuleles, some Lanikai concert ukulele come in Koa wood (pretty much the Hawaiian wood, and good looking too). This is more expensive than some of their other models using cheaper woods but could be worth the extra money (in my opinion) if that choice of wood is available (if you get the chance, try comparing them and see what you think). [UK link]

Tenor

Tenor ukuleles are the biggest common size ukuleles (yes there are Baritones but they are much rarer and more akin to a guitar). Tenors can be strung with a low g-string for a deeper sound if you prefer that.

Lanikai Tenor

Lanikai LU-21TE Electro Tenor UkuleleAnother Lanikai, this time one which is cheaper than my previous suggestion even though it is bigger. Don’t let that put you off, it is a good solid Ukulele made of Eastern Mahogony. Lanikai do offer more expensive Tenor Ukulele’s but I wanted to show you a cheaper tenor option, especially considering the next Ukulele I’m going to show you. [UK link]

Kala Koa Cutaway Tenor

kala koa tenor cutaway electro ukuleleIf you are planning on playing live then you will probably want to plugin your Ukulele and boost it’s volume. Luckily this Kala tenor Ukulele comes with a built in pickup so that you can play loud and live. It’s also made of Koa and has great build quality but it does come at a price. This is the most expensive Ukulele on my list and I’d only recommend it for someone who knows they are going to play and play a lot. I do own a Kala cutaway tenor with plugin and I can testify to it’s great quality.  [UK link]

Try one in a store

Although any of these six would be a fine choice for a ukulele, it would probably be a good idea to try one in a store if you can. That will let you get a feel and find the right size for you as well as compare the different sounds of the ukuleles (the choice of wood makes a huge difference).

What Ukulele do you recommend for a beginner?

Ukulele for Dummies (For Dummies, 2011)

If you’re like me then you probably check out the “For Dummies” series when you want to learn a new skill. They are written by experts, are easy to understand and cover a lot of material. Ukulele for Dummies is no exception to this pattern. It is written by Alistair Wood who runs the great site Ukulele Hunt and knows a thing or two about clearly explaining how to play the ukulele. Unlike some teach yourself ukulele books, it won’t run out quickly. It will really take you up to intermediate at least.

This book is so good that my mum leant it the headmaster of my old primary school, he taught himself ukulele with it, and then started teaching the ukulele to pupils there. I can think of no higher praise for a book that it can make you want to (and be able) to teach the skill you set out to learn.

It’s also a great book to keep around as a reference book, so if you come across a technique, style or musical phrase that you don’t know or can’t really do then just look it up in the book and you’ll be on your way, especially as it is priced at around $20 (see lowest price). Perhaps one of the most useful parts of the book is the section on buying and taking care of your ukulele. It’s great to have advice from someone who you know isn’t just trying to get you to buy their product but is offering impartial advice.

I know that with all the resources available online for learning an instrument, it can seem silly to buy an old fashioned book to work through. However, there is something useful about having a paper book (they’ve been shown to be more memorable than reading information from a webpage) which you can work your way through.

I’ve bought a couple of copies over time (as they often get given away) and I can think of no better book for someone who wants to learn how to play the ukulele.

Buy Ukulele for Dummies