Continuing my summer of Beatles songs, I’m working now on the ballad, “Till There Was You.”
“Till There Was You” was the only Broadway show tune the Beatles recorded; the song was written by Meredith Wilson for the 1957 musical The Music Man.
Paul said about this song, "I could never see the difference between a beautiful melody and a cool rock 'n' roll song. I learnt to love all the ballady stuff through my dad and relatives – Till There Was You, My Funny Valentine – I thought these were good tunes. The fact that we weren't ashamed of those leanings meant that the band could be a bit more varied. (As quoted from Paul McCartney / Anthology on the Beatles Bible website)
The tutorial below was made by the late Mike Lynch, aka Ukulele Mike, who had a sweet style of teaching and singing/playing. In the YouTube comments many people referred to him fondly as “grandpa.” As he said in the tutorial, this is a good song to work on if you are tired of playing the same ole chords and instead want to play some “delicious chords”—interesting diminished, minor, and augmented chords (none are difficult to play but they really do sound wonderful). He plays the song with a kind of a rolling strum using his thumb on down strum and index finger on up strum, which I’m still working on.
I’m continuing my summer Beatles theme by learning a fingerpicking version of “Let It Be” that I found on YouTube. Unlike some Beatles songs, “Let It Be” has easy chords and a slow, steady tempo, so it’s a good song for beginners.
"Let It Be” was written and performed by Paul McCartney. The lyrics refer to a dream McCartney had of his late mother in which she reassured him that everything would be ok and that he should just “let it be.” When I first heard the song in 1970, however, I figured Mother Mary was the Mary--the song does have somewhat religious overtones. But as McCartney says, listeners can interpret the song however they want.
Here’s the YouTube lesson from TenThumbs Productions. The fingerpicking isn’t difficult, and the riffs are fun, especially the last “walk down” that starts on the 12th/13th fret and moves down to the 1st fret. This is a good lesson—he goes step by step, repeats the tricky bits several times, counts out the rhythm, and so on.
I grew up on Beatles music and have many favorite Beatles songs. Yet I don’t go out of my way to play Beatles songs on the ukulele. Many of their songs are surprisingly tough to play—the chord changes are complicated and not typical. Lately, though, I’ve begun to appreciate the richness and harmonic complexity of their music.
I’m learning to play the song “Blackbird” from excellent YouTube video tutorials by Cynthia Lin (the tutorial is divided into three videos). This song isn’t easy and yet if you can play barre chords, you’ll be alright. There are no chords that twist your fingers into pretzels. She takes you step-by-step through the song, which has two fingerpicking patterns that are pretty straightforward.
You can download the chords and tab for fingerpicking from a link that’s with her video and donate what you want, or get it for free. (I donated $5 but it’s worth a lot more.) I am so impressed by what she’s put together. Not only does she give you the tab for the fingerpicking parts (and the counting patterns for the rhythm) but she also gives you the fingering for the chords (left hand), divides the songs into its various parts (intro, bridge, verses, etc.)
It turns out that “Blackbird” is based on a bit of Bach’s Bourrée in e minor. John and Paul liked to play this well-known Bach piece on the guitar to show off at parties. The lyrics were inspired by the civil rights struggles at the time in the US, and as Paul has said, it’s a song of empowerment: take these broken wings and learn to fly.
So in honor of the song’s fiftieth anniversary (written in 1968), I’m excited to tackle it on the uke.
I plan to revisit more Beatles songs this summer, but this one will keep me busy me for a while.
Last year, I wrote a post about a simple fingerstyle version of "Silent Night", but this year I’m working on a fingerpicking version of the carol. What the difference? I think of fingerpicking as an accompaniment to a song as you sing it, and fingerstyle generally as a solo instrumental version (though there aren’t hard and fast rules about this and sometimes the terms are used interchangeably).
Here is a fingerpicking pattern for "Silent Night" that’s not difficult, yet it sounds pretty. It’s an arpeggio pattern, which means the notes of a chord are played in succession rather than together, so you will pluck one string at a time. For each chord, you should play the pattern twice.
In ¾ time (3 beats per measure, counted 1+2+3+), the pattern is:
thumb (4th string)
index (3rd string)
middle (2nd string)
ring (1st string)
middle (2nd string)
index (3rd string)
The slash marks indicate when you should play the pattern:
/ / / /
Silent night, Holy night,
/ / / /
All is calm, All is bright
/ / / /
Round yon virgin mother and child.
/ / / /
Holy infant so tender and mild,
/ / / /
Sleep in heavenly peace.
G D7 G
/ / / /
Sleep in heavenly peace.
It's been a while since I posted here. I think I got into a bit of a rut with my playing and wasn't sure in which direction I should go. One thing that's helped me is teaching the ukulele to beginners. I realized that I've been focusing mainly on fingerstyle solo songs, but for beginners, I needed to teach the basics of strumming, find good songs to play along with, and so on.
While preparing the ukulele lessons, I found that I really enjoyed singing again while playing--which I don't do that much with the fingerstyle solo songs in which I generally play the melody rather using the fingerpicking patterns as accompaniment. So I've been learning new fingerpicking patterns and having fun with this. It allows me to do something fancy while I'm playing and to sing the songs as well.
Today I downloaded Brett McQueen's 20 Beginner-Friendly Christmas Songs Fingerpicked ($19 normally, but it was on sale for $13) and am loving it. The chords are easy so you can concentrate on learning the fingerpicking patterns.
Here's a video of Brett McQueen fingerpicking one of my favorite Christmas carols, "Good King Wenceslas." The tab for this song, and a lesson that will teach you how to play it, are available for free on his site, Ukulele Tricks.
I first heard the song Moon River in the movie Breakfast at Tiffany's when I was a young child. I’ve loved it ever since. According to my mother, Breakfast at Tiffany’s was the first movie she took me to—I was four years old. An odd choice for a first movie—I think a Disney movie may have been my second one. But I imagine she really want to see it and didn’t have a babysitter or something. The movie was on TV the other night and I watched it again. I had forgotten that Audrey Hepburn sits on the fire escape and plays the song on the guitar. This inspired me to search for a ukulele version.
I found a nice ukulele version of Moon River (with tab) by Al Wood of Ukulele Hunt (a treasure trove website of ukulele news, resources, and so on). It’s an easy chord melody version. A video of him playing the song is below.
The lyrics to the song were written by Johnny Mercer (it was composed by Henry Mancini) and when I was visiting Savannah, Georgia, with my family we went to see the inlet near the city renamed Moon River in honor of him and the song. We happened to visit Moon River at night during a full moon, when moon's reflection created a band of light, "wider than a mile," across the river. I had an ah-ha moment—it was a moon river indeed. I live near a river, the Hudson River, and enjoy moon river evenings by this river as well.
"Silent Night" was composed by Franz Xaver Gruber, with lyrics by Joseph Mohr. The song was first performed on Christmas Eve in 1818 in a small church in the village of Oberndorf near Salzburg, Austria.
What I found interesting about this beautiful carol is that Mohr requested that his words by accompanied by guitar music and that was how it was first performed--not with an organ, or another typical church instrument. So in a way, it's a natural for the ukulele.
I like this easy solo version by Aaron Keim . The tab is available for free on his website The Quiet American.
Take Me Out to the Ball Game is one of those songs like "Happy Birthday" that you've heard so many times, it doesn't even really register. But I played a simple solo version that I found on Live Ukulele.com and the song does have a nice old-timey melody that works well on the ukulele. (Brad Bordessa of Ukulele Live has created lots of other free tabs/songs so you might want to browse through the rest of his site as well.) The song was written in 1908, the last year the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. So in honor of the Cubs' great season and hoping they make it into the World Series in 2016, why not sing the song--outside of a baseball stadium.
Here's a version of the song recorded in 1908. I was curious how long Cracker Jack have been around and found out on Wikipedia that the name was registered in 1896. It also says that Frito Lay is planning to remove the prizes from the boxes; the prizes will be replaced with a CR code (whatever that is), which can be used to download a baseball game. No prize in a Cracker Jack box? That's a bummer...
It is kind of amazing that we are still singing a pop song from a hundred years ago.
I've been working on Ken Middleton's ukulele version of "Simple Gifts," the Shaker song that's also known as "The Lord of the Dance." This song is often called a "Shaker hymn" but it isn't really a traditional hymn. It has only one verse and it's meant to be a dance song. The Shakers incorporated dance in their services and this song gives dance instructions. I think it should be somewhat lively:
'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain'd,
To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come 'round right.
You can hear Ken Middleton play the song in the video below. He does a fancy variation the third time through but the tab I'm working on seems a bit easier and more straightforward. I'm enjoying this version and it's not too difficult. I would advise learning it by playing the notes straight first without pull offs, hammer ons, and slides.
The tab is available online as a single arrangement (for only a few dollars) on his website.
It's cherry blossom season here in the US (Northeast). So here's a Japanese folk song, Sakura, Sakura (Cherry Blossoms, Cherry Blossoms) you can play to celebrate this beautiful time of spring. I sang this song a few years ago with Cantigas, the women's choir I belong to. We were accompanied by a traditional Japanese string instrument called a koto. It seemed like a perfect song for the uke and I found lots of versions online and in songbooks.
I like this simple arrangement by Joseph Todaro and I've adapted it a bit for myself (see tab below). The x's are strings that you shouldn't play. I just strum down or pluck the string with the thumb on my right hand. It's very easy. You can try his version of Sakura as well, available on his website Aukulele.
This is a good song to play whenever someone says the clichéd, "Oh, I love the ukulele because it's such a happy instrument!" This isn't a sad song exactly. But it captures the feeling of the cherry blossoms--they are so beautiful but before you know it, they're gone.
Playing fingerstyle ukulele, with information about the songs and where to find the ukulele tablature so that you can play these songs yourself.