Monday, April 21, 2008

Ask Ukulala Vol. 1: Mark Twain to John McCain

Welcome to the first ever "Ask Ukulala Anything" post!

I recognize that anyone learning the ukulele sometimes has questions, and this section of the blog is about answering those questions. Sometimes they are about ukuleles, sometimes they are about other stuff. It doesn't matter, this is the place to ask them. There's a little box over on the left hand side of the main page now.

Whatever the question, Ukulala has* the** answer***. It's like I always say: "You ask it, we ____ it!" Actually I can't think of a good rhyme there. Good slogan or no, let's jump right in with C-Dawg from Allston:

how do I get my hair to be like Mark Twain's?
C-Dawg - Allston

Well, I guess it depends on your age. If you're already really old, then it's just a matter of letting your hair grow out a bit.

However, based on your location (Allston, MA), I can put your age between 18-30 with a 95% degree of confidence. And because nobody has used the nickname "(Letter)-Dawg" in about a decade, I am going to also assume that you were in middle and high school throughout the 90s.

That puts your age... right in the late 20s. A very difficult age to have hair like Mark Twain.

If you can't wait 40 years, I recommend increasing the amount of stress in your daily life to speed the process along. Keep a running mental list of all the things you've done wrong this year, and then try to expand on it when you should be sleeping. Question each of your own decisions until you're sure it was wrong. Stress over exes: every one, every day. Think about your own death a lot.

And if that's still not fast enough, try a terrifying near-death experience.

why do you suck so much?
Rog - Semi Professional Rock Star -Boston, MA

I almost forgot to ask myself this question in the mirror this morning, thanks for bringing it back to my constant attention. Still no concrete answer, but every day I'm hearing all kinds of suggested reasons.

How do you tune that thing?
Rog- Urinal Cake Taste Tester - Allston, MA

I'm assuming you mean the ukulele. Some people can tune it by ear, but I think that's almost impossible. I use a computer program called AP Tuner, probably the best tuning program out there. It's precise to any note, so it's not instrument-specific.

The standard tuning for a ukulele is
starting at the top string and going down. These are the same notes (although not the same octaves) as a guitar if you were to put a capo on the fifth fret of the guitar and only play the bottom four strings, so as you learn the chords you will notice the finger positions are similar to guitar positions even though the chords themselves are different.

My ukulele has traditional tuning pegs, so they don't have an extra gear. Based on this description of the types of tuning pegs, I think that's called a "friction" peg. The lack of a gear makes tuning the ukulele more difficult for beginners (compared to a guitar), although you can find ones out there with the gear.

What's the difference between a ukelele and a guitar?
-Rog- Big Jerk- Boston, MA

The top 10 differences between a ukulele and a guitar:

10) A ukulele has four strings, a guitar has six.

9) A ukulele can probably fit inside a guitar.

8) The top string on a ukulele is higher in pitch than the one beneath it, whereas guitar strings go from lowest to highest.

7) Ukuleles have two "u"s in their name, guitars only have one (except in the UK, where it's spelled "ukelele" so they each have one u).

6) Ukuleles party with more girls in grass skirts.

5) The International Ukulele Council (IUC) has significantly less global influence than the Global Guitar Consortium (GGC), although both have a U.N Security Council vote.

4) Someone named "Tiny Tim" didn't actively destroy the public image of the guitar for three generations.

3) Ukuleles come in all kinds of crazy shapes.

2) Ukuleles can be used as hilarious tiny props to make someone look bigger. Bruddah Iz, for example, was actually only 170 pounds.

...and the number one way a ukulele is different than a guitar:

1) Hawaiians love ukuleles... but they hate guitars.

That's probably about it.

For now.

What's the difference between a ukelele and this?
Rog- Big Jerk- Boston, MA

I'm not sure there is a technical difference when it comes to classification. The video appears to just show some sort of hairy, living ukulele. It can be played similarly, but the sound it makes is... awful. The hissing and the screeching, it's just unpleasant.

do we ask you here, or at ukulala?
Aaron - Vagrant Stomper - Boston

I'm not sure where "here" is, but yeah, asking anywhere is fine. Probably the web site is best because then it will actually be recorded and sent to me.

Dear Paz, How big (or small) can a ukulele get before it can no longer be considered a ukulele?
Shotgun O'Douls - Enchilada Washer - Augusta, ME

Ukuleles come in all shapes and sizes, but there is of course a limit to how big they can get and still be called a ukulele. To wit:

Does that Noah and the Whale band have any albums released in the US?
JPS - Boston

They do not appear to.

They seem to be part of the Young and Lost Club, a British Indie record label without any clear album releases. They have a single coming out May 4th, available if you can pay for it in POUNDS (socialist).

I guess us Americans can just keep watching this awesome video (and learning how to play it, of course) and going to their Myspace for free samples.

Where's my hat?
Who are you?

What are you doing to my dog?

Are you going to clean that up?

Sir, you sound old and confus---oh, wait a minute I recognize these questions. Senator McCain--for the LAST TIME, I have NO IDEA where your hat is, or where you are, or what you think is happening with any of your dogs right now.

Also, please take my phone number off your cell phone. I think I speak for every phone number in there when I say we're sick of getting those angry 5am phone calls with your voice asking "why won't this remote turn the TV on", and "which button makes the bed tilt back up?"

Dear Paz,

Good soda, huh?
Jimmo - Little Rock, AR

Fuck. You.

Does you sister play the Ukulele too? What other instruments do you play? How about your sister?
Raya on Phuket, Thailand

Flora and I both started playing the ukulele at the beginning of this year. Before that I had been trying to learn guitar off and on for a couple years, and she had messed around on the piano.

I have almost no ear for music, so I try to make up for it by playing a lot and by learning theory. My sister, on the other hand, seems to be somewhat of a natural so far. She can hear notes, add melody, and figure out songs in a way that seems strange and mysterious to me.

Do you take requests? (if so, i might have some, although you already play a lot of the songs i love) What do you like about Mareva? Have you noticed ALL HER VIDEOS ARE THE SAME?! It's a little disoncerting.
R. - Eutaw, Alabama

The short answer is no, I don't do requests. But I am very interested in introductions. If you have music that--based on what you've seen in the ukulala repertoire--you think I might like, then please tell me and direct me to it.

If I really really like it (and that is very rare), then I'll try to learn it and put a video up. It's unlikely, but it is exactly what happened with the Noah and Whale song Five Years Time.

And yeah, I'm not that crazy about Mareva's music or videos. It's kind of repetitive and pop-boring. She is very cute and French though, and she does at least sometimes hold a ukulele. I think those qualifications alone are enough for a shout-out from a ukulele blog run by a guy.

If you have a cute picture of yourself holding a ukulele, I bet you could get a mention here too!

Have you ever heard the wolf cry to the blue corn moon?
Related: Or asked the grinning bobcat why he grins?

Follow up: Can you sing with all the voices of the mountains?

Final Question: Can You Paint with all the Colors of the Wind?

Anonymous -

No, all I have left in my set is cool breeze blue.

From whence did come this strange harpsichord known as "ukulele"? From the yonder savage land of Xanadu I presume?
How do I tie an ascot?

Cadwallader P. F. Wiffleplotz IV, Esq. - Lord of Commons - 18th century England

Again, Mr. McCain? Nice try, but your boyhood playmate Cadwallader has been dead for 130 years.

But since your questions (sort of) made sense this time, I'll do my best to answer them.

Ukuleles were created in Hawaii in the 19th century (~your midlife crisis), apparently rising from a Portuguese stringed-instrument influence. The name roughly translates to "jumping flea", which makes sense because ukuleles are... also known to... jump onto and live off the blood of mammals and birds? Ok, so I don't know what the etymology of that is, maybe I'll find out if anyone asks.

And if you really need to tie that ascot right, follow this carefully. Although I wouldn't recommend using the word "ascot" on the campaign trail--for any number of reasons.

Peace out!

*may have
**one possible
***meaningless remark


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