Is it time to expand the sonic range with the ukulele?

I’m a massive fan of the ukulele as an instrument and especially as a songwriting tool and I set up the OUS platform a few years ago to bring together the best original ukulele musicians. The OUS FB page now has over 3100 members and on average we only approve one in 6 applications to join. One of the motivations for setting up OUS was that in my totally biased opinion a lot of what I saw and heard didn’t really inspire me. I admit that I am very picky about music and that probably comes from decades of playing and listening to some of the very best artists on planet earth.

One of the challenges for ukulele based artists is that the instrument itself has a specific sonic range. Yes, there are differences between soprano, concert, and baritone ukes, but even if we stretch beyond four strings there’s only so much of the same frequency that I can personally enjoy in one sitting! The instrument is a brilliant accompaniment for singers and artists like Eddie Vedder have really showcased how brilliant a ukulele set can be. I saw him perform his “Ukulele Songs” set in New York as well as the UK and it was a real masterclass in entertainment.

This is an exception of course and despite the superlatives bandied about online, few artists and songs are “awesome” “amazing” or “transcendental” to my ears. Those superlatives should, in my opinion, be reserved for the very few exceptional performances and songs. When almost everything is described in this way, we seriously run the danger of dumbing down music in an unhelpful manner. When everything is described as “awesome” nothing really is…

One of the best ways to expand the sonic range of material is to include other instruments and by “other instruments” I don’t mean just more ukuleles! There’s definitely a place for group strum alongs, but some of the most interesting material in my very biased opinion is where the uke is combined with instruments that make for a far more interesting and sonically diverse mix. James Hill is a good example of this and some of the bands on the artist page here also show what can be done. My first band “The Small Change Diaries” are not a typical ukulele based band and you probably won’t find us on the “ukulele circuit” as that’s not really our audience. My new band “the Caravan of Dreams” is even less uke based although I still write primarily on the uke.

A friend of mine who attended a well-known uke festival this year commented that for him it all got a bit dull hearing one solo artist after another mostly paying cover versions of songs. “Its all as Britain’s Got Talent” he commented. I reminded him that the public love that show but agreed that also in my personal opinion it would be nice to raise the bar for sonic exploration. Here is a wonderful example of how good the uke can be when incorporated with other instruments

 

2 Responses to Is it time to expand the sonic range with the ukulele?

  1. Roddy 22nd July 2018 at 8:27 pm #

    I agree completely with this. There are huge possibilities for combinations of ukulele and other instruments. I have been working on ukulele and piano duets for a few years and find the mellow sound of the piano compliments the ukulele very well. I’ve also done funk ukulele where drums can really enhance the rhythm generated by the ukulele. The classical guitar has had works written for guitar and orchestra, guitar and flute, guitar and piano, etc. The ukulele can easily match this. As Nick has mentioned on many post we just need to keep on writing and expanding the ukulele repertoire.

    • nick cody 22nd July 2018 at 8:37 pm #

      I admit to often being underwhelmed by what I see and hear. At one uke festival when one artist started singing in a cod Jamaican accent and another artist murder a classic song, I did think “beam me out of here!” Fortunately, there are some rays of hope out there and many of them are on OUS. I know it can ruffle some feathers in some quarters, but I think its healthy to explore something new as well as (not instead of) endlessly strumming the same cover versions. Thanks for the reply!

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