Mar 14

“It’s Your Birthday” Wins Birthday Song Replacement Contest

Artwork by Greg Harrison

Last year the Free Music Archive (a project spearheaded by Ken Freedman of “The Mighty” WFMU fame) fired the salvo heard round the copyright world (OK, actually just the indie rock/intellectual-property-rights-reforming/99% of the world, but still): they challenged all indie artists to unseat a certain century-old song’s supremacy at birthday celebrations worldwide. Yes, folks, a call to arms for a Creative Commons replacement for the big kahuna: “Happy Birthday to You”!

The Free Music Archive wants to wish Creative Commons a Happy Birthday with a song. But there’s a problem. Although “Happy Birthday To You” is the most recognized song in the English language and its origins can be traced back to 1893, it remains under copyright protection in the United States until 2030. It can cost independent filmmakers $10,000 to clear the song for their films, and this is a major stumbling block hindering the creation of new works of art.

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Aug 13

Visual Chord Definition Editor Playground, Part 1

Resuming work on my oft promised, never delivered “visual chord definition editor” — a point-n-click way to generate ChordPro define tags for your custom chord shapes. Try it, just click around (hosted on JSFiddle):

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Aug 13

UkeGeeks Website Facelift

UkeGeeks Scriptasaurus Nerd Dino Playing Ukulele

After 3 years ’twas time for a change. Primarily it’s a move from static HTML to WordPress, where I’ve had some info for a while. I’ve now one less excuse for not updating documentation.

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Nov 12

“Chord Magic” – Unleash Your Fretboard with Four Chord Shapes

Following the break at Saturday’s Pluckin’ Strummers we got a quickie lesson that made my head spin by dint of its simple, power-packed awesomeness: namely, that you only need to learn four shapes to play every major chord!

I’d already experienced the fun of “moveable” (or “closed”) chord shapes and though I’d picked up some patterns they were mostly a random set of awkward finger poses. Now, however, they suddenly made sense!

Read this article: “Ukulele Chord Magic”!

(yes, it’s on a site for renting a Kauai vacation home, but isn’t that all the more reason to respect how well done the lesson is?)

Here’s your executive summary: Each chord “family” — Major, Minor, 7th, Augmented, whatever, it makes no difference — has only FOUR chord shapes!


Four major chord shapes. Four minor, etc. All you need to practice is moving them up and down the fretboard.

Spicing up a song with alternative chord “voicings” is suddenly easy.

(Note: If you don’t recognize a few of them (like your “G” major) remember that Major chords are, by definition, only three notes (the “why’s” and “how’s” of chord construction and theory are beyond me, and thankfully, irrelevant for playing them). This means that since the uke has four strings we’re doubling up on one note. Sometimes we’re lucky and can choose a simplified fingering, giving our fingers a break while still covering the three required notes. So we have options. That’s why the “G” chord shape is, to my original eyeballing, unrecognizable as being identical to the F#’s, but it is!)

Anyway, invest the fifteen minutes. Pour a coffee and settle into “Ukulele Chord Magic”!

(Note #2: Why begin with “seventh chords”? Because, while you might want to begin with the majors, the spacing on the seventh chords is clearer and better illustrates the technique and its simplicity. I discovered this while making the colorized diagrams shown above.)

(Last Note: the diagrams show the standard 12-frets found on soprano ukuleles — your tenor uke has substantially more, so you just keep repeating the patterns!)

Oct 12

Free Blank Ukulele Staff & Tablature Music Manuscript Paper

Part of the reason I’ve resumed work on the tablature conversion “software” (JavaScript is software? sure. why not?) is so I could learn to play a song’s melody– you know, music that sounds like “music” as opposed to just the chords (I cannot sing) — with people asking, “ummmm, what are you suppose to be playing now?”

However, in order to do this I needed blank manuscript paper, paper with the musical staff (just treble clef, of course) plus the tablature “bars”. Naturally, I made my own… because I’d never heard of this Google thing.

Download the Free Ukulele Staff & Tablature Music Manuscript Paper (79KB PDF)

Free Ukulele Staff & Tablature Manuscript Paper
The page has six staves, each containing the treble cleff musical staff plus G-C-E-A tablature lines (strings, actually I suppose).

Like I said, I failed to Google for the paper — had I, I would have found this really nice (and also free) uke paper these cats already have. Idiot.

I also need to thank Shirley Kaiser (SKDesigns) and Linkware Graphics Music Images for providing (free) vector music shapes — the treble clef symbol, for example.

Aug 12

Low G versus Standard “Reentrant” Ukulele Tuning


I think this really illustrates nicely the benefits and challenges of switching from a re-entrant tuned ukulele to one with a Low G string.

The pluses are:

  • a deeper sound (even if it’s just a little bit);
  • often your major chords have a fuller sound (still doubling a note, but an octave apart is possible);
  • a greater range — five extra notes’ worth!

On the other hand…

  • some easy picking patterns become more difficult (the low G really stands out);
  • most tabbed songs (for solo uke) assume a high g and you’ll need to do some on-the-fly thinkin’

At one point I would have included the string itself as a negative: until quite recently most low G strings were wrapped wire, just like a guitar string, and tended to wear out quickly. Not so now with Aquila’s reds or the Worth nylon low Gs.

All told I enjoy the sound my Low G (over reentrant tuning) adds to my mediocre playing.

Range Comparison, Part 1: low G v. high g Fretboard Mapped to Piano

A couple more visual aids on “Low G” versus ukulele’s standard reetrant (High G) tunings, here’s the ukulele strings mapped onto a piano keyboard, low and high G, illustrating the odd (but nice sounding) re-entrant tuning versus the more intuitive “do ray me fa” progression available with a low G string.

If you’ve ever wondered why sometimes you see the strings written gCEA, well, that’s a common way to indicate low g

(unless I just got that reveresed… hmmm, I should Google that) 

Range Comparison, Part 2: Range on Piano Keyboard


Range comparison, re-entrant ukulele tuning (high G) versus Low G for typical soprano ukulele. You can see that a low G string extends your range by five extra notes (G, Ab, A Bb, & B).

(Note: Range mapped onto a piano keyboard because, even if you don’t play, it’s nice to see relative positions laid out on physical objects — we’re visual critters after all. The black keys are the sharps and flats.)

(graphics from a never completed video I’d begun over a year ago. Sigh. Perhaps some day… )