There are many ways to learn ukulele, from doing self-study through books and instructional videos to signing up for private lessons or group classes at a nearby music studio. Each method has its own set of benefits and drawbacks – for example, studying on your own is often the cheapest way to go, but without a teacher around you probably won’t be able to tell if you’re doing something wrong, or which aspect of your playing needs to be improved.
This is why many aspiring ukulele players choose to take group music classes while others sign up for one-on-one lessons with an instructor. Individualised instruction is recommended if you want lessons to be tailored to your goals, needs and learning style, and if your schedule doesn’t allow you to attend group classes.
A lot of beginners choose to enrol in group music classes because the classroom-like setting and supportive environment motivates them to learn. Group classes are best for ‘social’ learners who absorb information and perform best when they’re learning with other people.
Group classes, in contrast to private lessons, are also more affordable to a majority of players and allow them to learn some skills they won’t get to practice when they’re studying solo (like playing in an ensemble).
If you’re also interested in learning to play the uke in a group, here’s what you can look forward to.
Inspiration and motivation from classmates
Different people have different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to learning ukulele. Some are better at memorising chords, some take a little more time to get strumming patterns right and so on. It can be hard for teachers to address the needs of individual students in a group setting, but often this is where the class comes together and helps each other out.
In a group setting, beginners learn from each other and in turn be inspired and motivated to keep practicing. Someone who’s lagging would be encouraged to do better, or someone who’s learned a neat chord memorisation trick would share it with the rest of the class.
If you sign up for group ukulele classes, you’ll find that people who play the ukulele are some of the kindest, most helpful folks in the world. You can even get recommendations on the best concert, soprano, baritone or tenor ukulele models when you upgrade from your starter instrument.
You can learn performance skills
If you already play a bit of ukulele and want to advance in your playing, a group class can help you gain new skills. Performance skills such as improvising and playing in an ensemble are just some of the things you can learn and practice in a group setting. A simple jamming session with classmates can lead to you finding people whose style of music jives with yours. Who knows, you can even form a band!
When you’re in a group and you’re doing the same thing, the experience can give you a sense of belonging. Mistakes that seem horrible when you’re sitting alone with an instructor can be easily laughed off when you’re learning ukulele with other beginners.
It may feel awkward at first but once you get to know your classmates, become comfortable with one another, start playing together and learn from each other’s mistakes, it’s going to be a fun and rewarding educational experience for you.
All in all, if you want to have fun while learning to play ukulele, sign up for group classes!
THE life of Cliff Edwards is as remarkable as it is tragic.
Born in 1895 in Hannibal, Missouri, the same town that informed Mark Twain’s youth and work, Edwards left school at 14 and moved to St Louis, where he got his start singing in saloons. As many of the venues didn’t have pianos, he bought a soprano uke to accompany his voice and was given the moniker ‘Ike’ by a waiter who couldn’t remember his name.
“Ukulele Ike” went to Chicago in 1917 and got his first big break performing a novelty song called Ja Da with its composer, Bob Carleton, at the Arsonia Café in 1918. On the back of the tune’s success, vaudeville headliner Joe Frisco hired Edwards and he was soon performing on Broadway in New York, first at the famed Palace Theatre and later with the Ziegfeld Follies.
The pioneer of a distinctive form of scat singing he called “effin”, Edwards made his recording debut in 1922 and quickly became popular. His version of Singin’ In The Rain was number one for three weeks in 1929, and he was the first person to perform the standard on screen in The Hollywood Revue Of 1929.
As Ike got more famous, so did the ukulele. Millions of instruments were sold in the 1920s and Tin Pan Alley publishers responded to the craze by printing ukulele chord diagrams on the sheet music of the day. Edwards always favoured Martin ukes and developed a unique roll stroke.
“Most people play the four-finger roll starting with the pinky finger and ending with the index finger or thumb,” says Ike expert Terry Chapman. “But Cliff Edwards played it differently; he started with the index and followed it with the other fingers, with the pinky last.”
In his only instructional booklet, 1927’s Ukulele Ike’s Complete Ukulele Method, Edwards describes his technique: “If you were to make a series of six consecutive strokes, in strict cadence, all down, in this order: index finger, second finger, third finger, fourth finger followed by the thumb then return up by the thumb, you will have laid the foundation for the very flashy roll stroke which very few amateurs know how to use.”
Throughout the 1930s, Ike appeared in Hollywood musicals and on radio, but his star began to fade as the public became enamoured with crooners such as Bing Crosby. Edwards’ last great role was as the voice of the infectiously happy Jiminy Cricket in the 1940 Disney feature Pinocchio, and his tender treatment of the song When You Wish Upon A Star made it an instant classic.
Sadly, massive alimony payments to three ex-wives and alcohol and drug problems plagued Ike’s latter years and he died penniless in a Hollywood nursing home in 1971. The Walt Disney Company paid for his grave marker.
Blessed with a three-octave vocal range and the ability to sell both comedy ditties and heartfelt ballads, Cliff “Ukulele Ike” Edwards sold an estimated 74 million records and appeared in more than 100 films. Aptly described by American movie expert Leonard Maltin as “probably the best known/least known performer in show business history”, he was a true original who deserves to be remembered.
This article originally appeared in Issue 2 of KAMUKE Ukulele Magazine, which is available in the Store
WILLIAM Preston Robertson (above left) is the writer and co-director of 2003 documentary Rock That Uke. Narrated by Oscar-winning actress Holly Hunter, the quirky film looks at the punk rock ukulele scene that emerged in America in the 1990s and includes interviews with local punk luminaries, such as Carmaig DeForest, as well as our Issue 7 cover girl Janet Klein.
RTU was heavily criticised at the time of its release, but to me – and many others around the world – it was nothing short of a revelation. When I finally met Bill in Sydney, Australia, I knew right away that we’d be friends. It was a great pleasure to reconnect with him for this episode. Happy listening!
A founding member of The Aliis, a group that performed with legendary Hawaiian entertainer Don Ho for decades, Benny Chong is one of the most respected and influential jazz ukulele players in the world today. Cameron Murray learns from a master.
What did you think of the uke when you were growing up in Hawaii?
I’ve always thought the ukulele was a unique instrument. The best part about it was its size, I could take it anywhere with me to practice. My uncles were professional musicians who played the ukulele as a secondary instrument, so I was fortunate to be exposed to it as a 10 year old. I was just a normal kid who learnt to play the ukulele by listening and asking my peers. It didn’t matter if they were younger or older; if they could play, I wanted to learn whatever they would teach me. Some of the first tunes I learnt were Crazy G, Stars and Stripes, Hilo March, Lady of Spain and Granada. Those were some of the songs that were commonplace among the players at that time.
Who were your ukulele idols when you were a kid?
During the 1950s, there weren’t that many albums I was aware of which featured the ukulele as a solo instrument. The ones I heard of and purchased were done by Harry ‘Mungo’ Kalahiki and Kiha Kinney, and I had a 45 single of Perry Botkins playing On The Beach At Waikiki. In actuality, my favourite ukulele players of that time were my uncles Dennis (‘Kuki’) and Alex Among. It was their style of playing that attracted me. They were the first uke players I heard play tunes in a style using mostly chords to play the melody. This contemporary style of playing always made the song sound full, rich and vibrant, so when you played a solo you didn’t need anyone to accompany you because the melody and the chords were sounded simultaneously. It was my uncles who introduced me to Lyle Ritz’s first album.
What did you hear in the playing of Lyle Ritz that you hadn’t heard before?
It is no secret among my friends and fans which uke player is my all-time favourite: Lyle Ritz, whose playing influenced many of Hawaii’s finest musicians. His style of playing brought the uke to a whole new level. Pure jazz on the uke had never been done before. Some of us still call him the ‘Godfather of Jazz Ukulele’. Besides his amazing technique, the most inspiring aspect of his playing is his creativity. Technique can always be learnt, developed and improved upon to accommodate a player’s style, but creativity cannot be taught. It comes from a passion that cannot be duplicated because we are all individuals who have different interpretations on what we create.
You almost made an album with Lyle. Tell us about that.
About 1969, the manager of The Aliis heard me play the uke at a party and told me I should do a uke album. He asked me who I thought would be a good producer for the album and I suggested Lyle Ritz. Lyle lived in LA and I lived in Hawaii. There were no computers at that time and we were both full-time musicians. To make a long story short, it was difficult to correspond with cassette tapes when we both travelled. Things happen for a reason and maybe it wasn’t the right time. I could have followed up and pursued it, even though it may have taken a long time, but I made the mistake of not doing so. Big mistake! But at least I got to meet Lyle in person and we have performed together within the past eight to 10 years.
Technique can always be learnt, developed and improved upon to accommodate a player’s style, but creativity cannot be taught
Who are your favourite players right now?
I’m always asked who my favourite uke player today is. There are many good players out there. For me, it’s not the art of playing the uke upside-down, behind your head or while tap dancing, etc. It’s also not about styles or types of music being played or how great your technique is. It’s about pure music, passion and, mainly, creativity. You already know how I feel about Lyle, so here are some of my favourite players and the reasons why…
John King: In my opinion, he was the finest classical uke player in the world. Sadly, he died too young. You were fortunate if you saw him perform in person. His transcriptions for the uke of classical compositions were true to the structure and not watered down. You had to be very creative to transcribe some of these masterpieces to a four-string instrument. He used a re-entrant tuning and was the only person to play a true soprano-size uke.
Bill Tapia: I first met Bill about 2004 or 2005 through Byron Yasui, who called me one night when I was on my way home from work. When I arrived at the Moana Hotel, Bill was on stage singing, playing the uke and yelling out the chords to the band in between the lyrics of the song. After, we found a place in the hotel where we could play and not bother anyone. Two uke players jamming from 10pm until 1am. Bill loved jam sessions. His sense of rhythm, articulation and on-the-spot ad lib solos were exceptionally creative, even more so because he was 96 years old at the time. Bill played a tenor and used a non re-entrant tuning.
Dr Byron Yasui: Byron is a composer, classical guitarist, bassist, educator and ukulelist. When I first heard Byron play the uke, the style he played was similar to styles we all played when I first started. The difference with Byron was the form of the music and the melody and chords were always correct. When most of us learnt a song that had been passed on from one person to another, the form, melody or chords eventually got altered to a point of becoming musically incorrect. Through the past 10 years or so, Byron has developed a style of arranging that employs classical guitar right-hand technique and applications of contemporary art music concepts of harmony and counterpoint. It is truly a groundbreaking achievement that can change the way the uke is looked at as a solo instrument. His arrangements are at a level never before achieved and very difficult to play. You would be amazed to hear how beautiful the music sounds. Byron plays a tenor and uses a re-entrant tuning.
Abe Lagrimas: Abe is one of the most gifted and talented young musicians to emerge from Hawaii. He is a jazz drummer, mainly, but also plays the vibraphone and uke. I know he has released at least three uke CDs. He plays jazz uke with a creativity that puts him among the best instrumentalists in the world. I’ve had the pleasure of playing with Abe as a uke player and drummer and look forward to the day I get to play with him on the vibes. Abe plays a tenor and uses a re-entrant tuning.
Jake Shimabukuro: Jake, Byron, Gordon Mark and I toured the islands in 2000 in a tour put together by Jay Junker called The Art of Solo Ukulele. There could be no doubt of Jake’s passion for the uke. In those early years, his passion for music was expressed in part through his amazing technical abilities. Since then, he has developed into one of the most creative ukulelists. His arrangements, whether they are of standards or of new compositions, are created passionately and his feelings are expressed through his playing. He has great sensitivity for his music and has achieved a level of artistry that very few instrumentalists are able to reach. He will definitely take uke playing to higher levels. Jake plays a tenor and uses a re-entrant tuning.
These masters of the uke are serious advocates of treating the uke as a solo instrument. There are no gimmicks in their playing – just pure music. Their persistence and dedication show in their playing, yet it’s the fun of creating and the enjoyment of playing that remains on top for them.
What are your thoughts on the current ukulele boom?
It is wonderful to see the uke grow internationally. For the majority of players, it’s not about how well you can play solos. It’s all about the gratification of playing an instrument, singing, getting together and just having fun. I have seen this in Japan, Australia, the United States and Hawaii, at uke festivals and gatherings. For these people, taking their playing ability to whatever level they want is achieving their goal. There is nothing wrong with that. The good thing is that, with so many uke players in the world, there will always be that small percentage of players who will take the instrument seriously; to explore, invent and use their imagination. The possibilities are endless.
It is wonderful to see the uke grow internationally
What’s the trickiest part about being an instrumentalist?
Probably the question most frequently asked of my uke playing is about the way I form some of the chords I play. Understanding how chords are formed from scales, knowledge of intervals between notes that form a chord and ear training are all part of music theory. Basically, it’s a matter of changing the pitches an octave up or down or changing the interval of the notes within the chord. It is the creation of playing the same chord with the harmony spread apart or close together. As a uke soloist, I find that the most challenging aspect is trying to imply chords with 5, 6, and 7 notes on four strings. Finding the right combination of notes to make the melody sound harmonically correct and interesting is always a challenge. It is the placement of a chord on a melody note that adds harmonic value and sense to a song.
You often perform with a double-bassist. What is it about the combination of uke and bass that you love so much?
My favourite instrument to play with is the double bass. Dr Byron Yasui is the bassist I work with the most in Hawaii. It is obvious that the more instruments in an ensemble, the easier it is to perform and the fuller it sounds. As a duo, it’s not about the uke or bass separately, but the two instruments creating music together. There is a lot of demand on creativity, which makes it challenging and fun. Byron and I have performed together for many years, in Hawaii, the US and Japan. We perform together mainly as a bass-and-uke duo, but also do uke duets. Most recently, we were featured with the Hawai’i Symphony Pops Orchestra, each of us as soloist, but also together as a uke duo. It was the second time for us with the Symphony and for me the biggest accomplishment of my instrumental career. The whole experience was beyond words.
Why do you prefer the baritone uke?
I play the baritone uke mainly because I have large hands and when playing chords above the twelfth fret, my fingers tend to cover two frets on the tenor or smaller ukes. I have grown to love the baritone because of the warmness of its tone.
Finally, what does the ukulele mean to you?
The majority of what I learnt on the ukulele was when I first started from 1953 to about 1959. From 1960 to 1970, I rarely played, except for one recording I did in 1965 with The Aliis on our first album. From mid-1970 to about the year 2000, I stopped completely. I never thought that the ukulele, being my first instrument, would make its way back into my life. It is as if it’s been looking for me to rekindle our relationship after all of these years. Well, it found me 12 years ago. Call it fate or whatever you want. It has given me new life as an instrumentalist and musician. Almost like being born again. There are endless bounds to what can be created on the ukulele for the soloist of today and the future.
This article first appeared in Issue 4 of KAMUKE, which is available in the Store
GRACIE Terzian is a ukulele-playing singer-songwriter and actor living in New York City. In 2015, she gained attention in the jazz world with the release of her debut EP Saints And Poets, and has just released a lovely Christmas album titled Bells & White Branches.
In our chat, we talk about the holidays, creativity and her preference for the unusual harp ukulele.
Thanks for listening to Ukulele Stories in 2019. I have some great interviews lined up for 2020, so please subscribe so you never miss an episode. Merry Christmas!
Yes, they’re the daughters of music legends Willie Nelson and Arlo Guthrie, but Amy Nelson and Cathy Guthrie, aka Folk Uke, are stars in their own right. Armed with a guitar and a ukulele, the talented duo travel the world singing hilarious original songs, such as Knock Me Up and Shit Makes The Flowers Grow. KAMUKE chats to the ladies about their famous dads, uke heroes and cheesy pick-up lines.
Why did you choose the ukulele, Cathy?
Cathy: It was almost 20 years ago when I was hanging out at Amy’s house and picked up her ukulele. I hadn’t really played a uke before, but she showed me a few chords and I decided I wanted one for myself. So Amy and I went down to the local music store and picked out a ukulele.
Do Willie or Arlo play uke?
Amy: My dad played my uke once and sounded great, but I don’t think he’d played one before.
Cathy: Yes, my dad actually has a ukulele I’m hoping to steal one day!
How have your dads influenced your music?
Amy: Do you mean how have we influenced their music?
Cathy: Haha! Good point, Amy! It probably goes both ways.
What’s your songwriting process?
Amy: Usually, one of us thinks of a song and takes it to the other and we both write it… months, sometimes years, later.
Cathy: Sometimes it just takes a few minutes.
What do you think of hardcore ukulele people (like us)?
Amy: We love them!
Cathy: I get a little nervous playing for ‘ukulele people’ because they might notice I’m really not very good!
Do you have any uke heroes?
Amy: James Hill, Jake Shimabukuro and Cathy Guthrie. I just listened to the new recording of Jake Shimabukuro playing with my dad. It’s beautiful.
Cathy: Oh, I want to hear that! [Ed: So do we!]
You’ve been to Australia a few times. You must like it…
Amy: We don’t like it. We love it!
What’s been your most memorable gig so far?
Amy: I used to have one, but now I can’t remember it.
Cathy: It’s usually the last one we played.
We love your latest album Starfucker, which features both Willie and Arlo. Do you have to twist your dads’ arms to play on your records or are they always up for it?
Amy: Yes and yes.
Cathy: They’ve been happy to play on our records… so far.
Have you encountered many starfuckers on your musical journey so far?
Cathy: And yes.
There are some super-cheesy pick-up lines on the track Sweet Talker. What’s the worst pick-up line you’ve ever heard?
Amy: The worst one I’ve ever heard was, ‘I’ve decided I’m going to have sex with you tonight.’
Cathy: One time, I was at a bar with my sister Annie and a guy walked up to her and said, ‘Do you wanna dance? I have a moustache.’ I still don’t know what that means, but I haven’t forgotten it.
Another great song on the album is All I Want For Christmas. What do you want for Christmas?
Amy: I want a re-do on the US presidential election.
Cathy: Yeah! What Amy said. I’m glad she got to answer these first.
Colour Amy: Purple Cathy: Teal
Animal Amy: Spider Cathy: Dog
Food Amy: Chocolate Cathy: Mexican
City Amy: Austin, San Diego, New York, Sydney, Melbourne, Amsterdam, Vancouver Cathy: All of Amy’s choices are great and I’d love to visit Paris sometime soon
As you read this, master luthier Jay Lichty
is probably in his workshop in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in
North Carolina, USA, creating something beautiful. A former home builder, Jay’s
been making custom ukes since 2008 and has garnered praise for his elegant
designs and his instruments’ exceptional tone.
The first instrument you ever built was a ukulele. What inspired that decision and where is it now?
I became infatuated with ukuleles about 10 minutes
after I opened the box containing my first factory-built baritone. I loved it
and the potential I saw in what could be played on it. I’d played five-string
banjo and mandolin for years and I saw the ukulele as a combination of the two.
So then I thought, “I wonder what a tenor with a high G would sound like?” A
week later, I had a tenor. Then I thought, “I wonder what a custom-made ukulele
would be like?” After a bit of dreaming about custom ukes, I decided I should
try and build one. The first one I built was a soprano from a kit. It now hangs
on a wall and is very playable.
What’s so special about a custom instrument?
A well-built custom instrument will typically look, play, feel and sound better than a factory-built instrument because they are put together with more direct thought and intention. They are typically more refined, so have better intonation and responsiveness. Add to that having a builder build that instrument specifically for you and your style of playing with the woods and ornamentation you helped select and you have magic. I’ve always had custom banjos and mandolins. My feelings were that if I was going to put all this effort into trying to play well, I wanted the resulting sound to be as good as I could produce. In other words, if it was going to sound bad, it was on me, not the instrument.
Do you have a favourite tonewood?
Now that is a tricky question. Each species of wood
has its own set of attributes, so my favourite depends on what my goal is. I
love working with Brazilian rosewood. The smell alone is addictive. Unfortunately,
that particular wood has become hard to get. Fortunately, there are a lot of
other choices that look and sound great. We use at least 18 different species.
I find most ukulele players want wood with some visual pizzazz. That is not
hard to do with the back and sides, since they are tonally speaking more like
the spice you add to a recipe. For those, I’m quite fond of cocobolo, ziricote
and granadilla. The top is the key tone-producing ingredient and for that I
prefer the sound of spruce. Of course, spruce doesn’t have the visual pizzazz
of curly koa, so lately I’ve been using a lot of bear claw sitka spruce because
it has a visual element as well as the great tone of spruce. I also love sinker
You don’t currently build sopranos. Do you think you might in the future?
I have only built that one kit uke that was a
soprano. Initially, I thought they were too small to get the type of sound I
was chasing. Let’s face it, I don’t build the typical Hawaiian-sounding
ukulele. My intention has always been to build ukuleles that play best as solo
instruments. The soprano is so small that I just didn’t pursue those builds as
I felt I couldn’t meet my goal. I have rethought that now and would be
delighted to build a custom soprano.
Your Baby Bard Archtop Ukulele looks and sounds incredible! Do you have any other non-standard models in the works?
Thank you. It rarely leaves my hands. Funny you
should ask about non-standard models. I have experimented with different scale
lengths for years and have found that adding one inch to the standard tenor or
concert scale really makes a huge positive difference. Additionally, I just
finished a baritone without a typical sound hole in the top. By having the
neck/body connection at the fifteenth fret instead of the typical fourteenth, I
was able to locate the bridge in a more optimum place. I used my Baby Bard body
style and placed the sound ports in the cutaway areas. It looks pretty cool and
sounds amazing. The notes are clearer and the sustain is about 20% longer than
my typical model. I sent it to Kimo Hussey for his evaluation. This is a
project we are working on together and it’s great to have someone to bounce
ideas off. We are like two kids in a science lab trying to cook up fun
projects. I want to do a tenor-size one soon. You can see the Modified Baritone
on our website.
As well as being a great luthier, you’re a talented musician. What’s your favourite type of music to play on ukulele?
Thank you for that. I am not one of the gymnast
ukulele players whose right hands are so amazingly fast and nimble, but I love
to hear the notes. I compose a lot of tunes, mostly instrumental based around
melody. I like playing Beetles music, as well as other popular music because
these songs lend themselves so well to ukulele.
How many ukes do you own?
Had to ask, eh? You do realise some of them are
research? Well, they are all research. I have a dozen ukuleles, including those
first two factory instruments. Thanks for not asking about guitars.
You also teach workshops. What’s the first lesson in building a ukulele?
The very first lesson is to get in the right head
space for the task. You are getting ready to create something magical and alive
out of a pile of seemingly inert objects. That build is going to be directly
influenced by what and how you’re thinking. If you are building with
trepidation and fear, then you will have a confused ukulele. If you are
building with love and good intention (and actually communicate this either
internally or externally to the uke as you build) then you will produce a
are getting ready to create something magical and alive out of a pile of
seemingly inert objects”
The Blue Ridge Mountains are famous for music. Do your surroundings influence your work?
There is no doubt about that. I get inspiration just
looking around at these mountains and nature. A hike around here is like taking
an air hose and blowing the cobwebs out of my brain. Musically, my ukuleles are
a combination of the sounds I’ve heard listening to banjos and mandolins. I
love that throaty sound of a great Lloyd Loar mandolin or the deep timber of
Earl Scruggs’ Gibson banjo. Those are some of the sounds I have incorporated
into my builds.
Stars such as Bonnie Raitt and Kimo Hussey play your instruments. Are there any other famous artists you’d love to see holding a Lichty uke?
Wow, great question! I have not really given that
much thought. Do you reckon Tommy Emmanuel plays uke? [ED: He does!]
BASED in the beautiful coastal town of Byron Bay in southeastern Australia, Bobby Alu is as friendly and laidback as his tropical-flavoured music.
His Samoan mother taught him to play the ukulele early on and he then dedicated himself to mastering traditional Samoan log drums, which led to an opportunity to perform with Xavier Rudd for five years.
I caught up with Bobby shortly before he set off on an international tour and we chatted about ukes, the challenges of the modern music business and trying to find your flow in every day.
Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Rob Schneider, Sean Astin, Blake Clark
THIS sweet romantic comedy
sees funnyman Adam Sandler playing Henry Roth, a Lothario Hawaiian vet who only
dates tourists because he doesn’t want to get tied down.
Everything changes for
Henry when he spots a beautiful blonde local named Lucy (Barrymore) at a cafe.
The pair flirt and enjoy breakfast together, but when he goes back the next
morning, she doesn’t remember him at all. It turns out Lucy was
in a terrible car accident and lost her short-term memory. Her brain resets
while she sleeps and her dad (Clark) and brother (Astin) go to extraordinary
lengths to ensure she believes every day is the day of the crash.
Henry has the opposite problem. Try as he might, he can’t forget Lucy and sets out to make her fall in love with him every 24 hours. In one scene, he plays her a cute song called Forgetful Lucy on the beach. Oddly, while Sandler’s pictured holding a baritone on the movie poster, he actually strums what looks like a six-string tenor in the film. There are plenty of tutorials online if you’d like to give the song a go.
The jokes don’t always hit the mark, but 50 First Dates has plenty of laughs and while the premise might be slightly far-fetched, the solid central performances elevate it. Sandler and Barrymore have amazing chemistry.
This article originally appeared in Issue 12 of KAMUKE Ukulele Magazine, which is available in the Store
No ukulele hall of fame is complete without the inimitable Roy Smeck, a.k.a. The Wizard Of The Strings.
Born in Reading, Pennsylvania,
USA, on February 6, 1900, Smeck’s musical talent was obvious early on and it
was fostered when he started working at a music shop in Binghamton, New York.
Part of his job was demonstrating a wide range of stringed instruments,
“At the store, I
practiced eight to 10 hours a day until I had a nervous breakdown,” reveals Smeck
in Vincent Cortese’s 2004 biography Roy
Smeck: The Wizard Of The Strings In His Life And Times. “My father went to
the basement and chopped up my instruments with an axe.”
Inspired by vaudeville
star Johnny Marvin to improve his uke skills, Roy invented a mind-boggling
array of strums and was playing professionally by the early 1920s.
Smeck’s big break came
when Harry Warner of Warner Bros. offered him $350 to appear in a seven-minute movie
to showcase a new sound-on-disc system called Vitaphone. The film, entitled His Pastimes, premiered on August 6,
1926 in New York City and Roy became a celebrity literally overnight.
As a vaudeville
headliner, Smeck earned a whopping $550 per week and made more money on the
side through endorsements, the most lucrative of which was with the Harmony Company
of Chicago. In 1926, Harmony introduced the Roy Smeck Vita-Uke, an unusual instrument
with sound holes in the shape of seals that proved extremely popular with the ukulele-obsessed
Despite his inability
to read music, Smeck’s name soon appeared on a number of instructional books in
various languages and, in January 1929, he presented 15-minute uke lessons on
New York radio.
Smeck performed for US
President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933 and England’s King George VI in 1937,
as well as for American troops during World War II and the Korean War.
However, with the advent
of television, the entertainment industry had changed entirely by the
“When I returned home [from Korea], many theatres had closed and vaudeville had virtually disappeared,” Smeck recalls in Cortese’s book. “With vaudeville gone, I wondered what I was going to do. So I spent four, five, even six hours a day teaching myself to read music. Then I started instructing students.”
Smeck taught ukulele, as well as banjo, guitar, steel guitar and mandolin until shortly before his death on April 4, 1994. The Wizard Of The Strings may be gone, but his frenetic, energetic, innovative music lives on to inspire ukulele players for generations to come.
This article originally appeared in Issue 5 of KAMUKE Ukulele Magazine, which is available in the Store