• Pro Tip: Triple Trouble

    By Cameron Murray

    The strumming technique I’m most often asked about is the triplet. I use it a lot in my own playing and it’s always well received. While it looks – and sounds – rather fancy, the mechanics are actually quite simple.

    As I tell my students, I can only explain the way I do it. Other players and teachers may have different ideas, which is fine – there’s usually more than one way to achieve the desired result.

    Unsurprisingly, the triplet is composed of three parts. It begins with a down stroke with the nail of the forefinger. Next, the pad (or fleshy part) of the thumb follows – also a down stroke. Finally, the nail of the thumb comes up. So, at its heart, it’s D-D-U. But there’s more to it than that. How you go about the movements is crucial to getting the sound you’re after.

    Let’s break it down even further. On the first down stroke, make sure you’re striking all four strings. Now, where is your thumb? If it’s hovering over the fretboard or, worse, below it, you’re going to have to move your entire hand back up for the second (thumb) down stroke. This will interrupt the flow of the strum and it just won’t feel right. So, how do you fix it? Simple. Just keep your thumb up and out of the way during the first down stroke. Maintain approximately a 7-10cm (3-4 inch) gap between your thumb and forefinger. Once your forefinger has completed the first stroke, your thumb should be ready to start the second.

    Onto the all-important up stroke. Many people advocate coming up with the forefinger, but I like to use the thumb. Reason being that the thumb is in the ideal position at the completion of the second down stoke to shoot back up the strings. This increases the speed and fluidity of the technique as a whole. If you go fast enough, the triplet becomes the ‘roll stroke’ with no beginning or end – a continuous motion that can add flavour to any chord progression.

    So there you have it, the triplet. No trouble at all!

    This article originally appeared in Issue 12 of KAMUKE, which is available in the Store

  • Cinematic Strumming: Blue Valentine

    BLUE VALENTINE (2010)

    Director: Derek Cianfrance

    Stars: Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams, Faith Wladyka

    WITH the mighty uke on the rise once again, it’s not surprising to see it popping up on the silver screen more frequently. However, it is somewhat surprising – and refreshing – to see the instrument featured in a gritty drama.

    A love story with a difference, Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine is a very good film. In fact, it’s basically two films in one. It opens in the present, where doting dad Dean (Gosling) is a part-time house painter and his wife Cindy (Williams) is an overworked resident at the local hospital. Their marriage is obviously strained, but Dean can’t seem to understand why. Rewind six years and we get to see the young couple falling madly in love, where it’s all hope, passion and, of course, ukulele serenades.  

    As the movie switches between the time periods, more about Dean and Cindy’s intense relationship is slowly revealed, and it becomes obvious that a physical and emotional boilover is on the cards.

    Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, who was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her work, both deliver powerful performances, but don’t expect a typical Hollywood ending. We should have known things were going to go downhill when Dean started singing and strumming the old Mills Brothers hit You Always Hurt The One You Love.  

    This article originally appeared in Issue 4 of KAMUKE Ukulele Magazine, which is available in the Store

  • Ukulele Stories: Rose Turtle Ertler

    Since she began performing with a uke in 2000, Rose has been a fixture on the Australian ukulele scene and has been instrumental – pun very much intended – in popularising the instrument Down Under. In 2004, she organised a concert called Ukulele Land on Sydney’s famous Bondi Beach, which turned out to be quite a pivotal event. 

  • Uke-In-Focus: Abbott Super De Luxe

    English ukulele-banjo enthusiast Richard Maingôt tells KAMUKE the story behind his beautiful, custom-made Abbott Super De Luxe.

    Photos: Alastair Murray

    TIME seems to have slipped by almost unobtrusively since my introduction to the ukulele some 65 years ago, when I heard George Formby on a Saturday night entertainment program on the radio.

    I was captivated, and motivated the next day to respond to an advertisement in the Daily Express by a firm called W. Davis offering a “genuine ukulele-banjo” for the sum of 18 shillings and sixpence, payable at three shillings and sixpence a month. By no stretch of imagination could this instrument be called a “genuine ukulele-banjo”. It was very basic, but to me it represented the real thing.

    My uke-banjo collection progressed over the years in direct proportion to my income; a Melody and whole stable of Dallas instruments. Most of my ukuleles were obtained from a little shop in Croydon, Surrey, where I lived. The owner of this musical emporium was a small, red-nosed alcoholic who always welcomed me because my purchases enabled him to shut up shop and retire to the sanctuary of the pub next door.

    In the early 1960s, my wife and I moved to a village just south of Manchester and it was there that I was introduced to Harold Fallows. Harold was an interesting man, who, through his work in the theatre, had got to know George Formby very well. Through Harold, I became a member of The George Formby Society. Some of the virtuosos I met there were nothing less than brilliant. Ray Bernard was such a player. He had a wonderful personality and was one of the most generous and helpful men I ever met. From Ray, I learnt to do the Formby ‘split stroke’ and some of his other excellent techniques.

    It was in Burslem, now part of Stoke-on-Trent, that I met Jack Abbott Jr and established a friendship with him which lasted until his death. In the mid-1970s, I commissioned Jack to make me the best ukulele-banjo he had ever made. This, I believe, he did.

  • Ukulele Stories: Charles Altmann

    While he’s not an international star, Charles Altmann is an integral part of the ukulele scene in Sydney, Australia. At the age of 91, he’s still extremely active and an inspiration to many. And he has a fascinating story to tell!

  • HALL OF FAME: TINY TIM

    HE WASN’T the greatest player by a long shot, but Tiny Tim is as important in the history of the ukulele as anyone else who ever picked up the instrument.

    Born Herbert Khaury in New York City on April 12, 1932, he was fascinated with music from an early age. Herbie absorbed popular tunes from the 1890s to the 1930s like a sponge and, after dropping out of high school, turned his attention to becoming a star.

    In the 1950s, American media personality Arthur Godfrey championed the ukulele, and like nine million others Herbie bought himself a plastic Maccaferri Islander after Godfrey gave it a ringing endorsement on the air. It was the second uke Herbie owned, but it wouldn’t be the last. For most of his career, he played a Martin soprano, although towards the end of his life he also strummed a concert resonator that was given to him by his third wife on his 64th birthday.

    Following a lot of ups and downs (mostly downs) in the ’50s, the artist now known as Tiny Tim started to make an impact in the thriving Greenwich Village music scene of the early ’60s. Towards the end of the decade, everything was going right for Tiny. In 1968, he released God Bless Tiny Tim, the album that included his biggest hit, Tip-Toe Thru’ The Tulips With Me, and he played a once-in-a-lifetime show at London’s Royal Albert Hall. On December 17, 1969, Tiny married Victoria Budinger aka Miss Vicki on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in front of 40 million viewers, cementing him as one of the best-known men in the world.

    Over the succeeding decades, Tiny’s fame waned and society’s perception of him changed. Still craving the spotlight, he was happy to be thought of as nothing more than an oddity – anything to keep him in the public consciousness.

    With the Third Wave of Uke came fresh opportunities for Tiny. He started appearing at festivals, but his health was on the decline. At the Ukulele Hall of Fame Museum’s Ukulele Expo ’96 in Massachusetts, Tiny had a minor heart attack and collapsed on stage. On November 30, 1996, following a gig at The Woman’s Club of Minneapolis and still holding his Martin, he suffered a massive heart attack and died.

    From the late 1960s to the early 1990s, the name Tiny Tim was synonymous with the ukulele, much in the way George Formby had been in the 1940s and Jake Shimabukuro is now. At a time when the instrument was taking a back seat to the guitar and electronic music, Tiny was proudly flying the four-string flag. No matter what you think of his music, he was the bridge between the Second and Third Waves, and for that KAMUKE thanks him. God bless Tiny Tim.

  • Hall Of Fame: George Formby

    BORN George Hoy Booth on May 26, 1904 in Wigan, England, one of the greatest ukulele players who ever lived almost didn’t pick up the instrument.

    The son of an Edwardian music hall star who never wanted any of his family to enter show business, George was forced to become an apprentice jockey at age seven and rode in his first professional race when he was 10.

    Following his father’s unexpected death in 1921, George was encouraged by his mother to perform his dad’s old material, so he took to the stage. Spectacularly unsuccessful at first, he bought a banjo-ukulele from a fellow actor and accepted a bet that he wouldn’t play it in his act. Naturally, the audience loved the uke and George was soon topping the bill all over the country.

    By 1932, he had adopted his father’s stage name of ‘Formby’ and had his first hit record with a funny song called Chinese Laundry Blues. In 1934, George starred in a high-grossing comedy called Boots! Boots! and subsequently signed a contract worth an incredible £100,000 to make a further 11 films with Associated Talking Pictures. He later agreed to make another seven movies for US studio Columbia for the mind-blowing sum of £500,000.

    With the help of his shrewd wife Beryl, George Formby became the top comedian in Britain between 1934 and 1945, and also found considerable fame in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. In 1946, he received an OBE (Order of the British Empire) for his tireless work entertaining Allied forces in Europe and North Africa during World War II. In fact, he was one of the first entertainers to enter Normandy after the D-Day invasion, where he was personally invited by General Montgomery to play for the frontline troops.

    In 1951, while starring in a critically acclaimed West End musical called Zip Goes a Million, Formby suffered a heart attack and was forced to leave the show. He went back to work 18 months later, but it didn’t last as long as it should have. After another heart attack, George Formby died on March 6, 1961, aged 56.

    But even though the great man is gone, he’ll never be forgotten. Songs such as Leaning On A Lamp Post and The Window Cleaner have become timeless classics, and ukulele players everywhere have been trying to emulate his legendary ‘split stroke’ for more than 70 years. To quote his much-loved catchphrase, “It’s turned out nice again!”

  • The NAMM Show 2019

    Every year, people in the music industry gather at the Anaheim Convention Center in California, USA, for The NAMM Show. Over the past few years, the ukulele presence has grown and grown. This year, I was lucky enough to be invited by Romero Creations to play at their booth. I met a lot of old friends, such as jazz uke legend Benny Chong, and made many new ones, such as Hawaiian uke and slack-key guitar artist Garrett Probst. Special thanks to Pepe Romero Jr and Daniel Ho for their friendship and inspiration…

  • KAMUKE PRESENTS UKULELE STORIES

    Welcome to a brand-new podcast in which I plan to investigate people’s connections with the ukulele. You should know from the outset that this is not a podcast that will teach you how to play the ukulele and nor is it a podcast that will teach you about the ukulele. This project is about people and about music and the intersection at which they meet.