Friday, May 30, 2008

Stupid free service

Sometimes it takes me a long time to make a tutorial video or learn a song, and that's ok. It's to be expected. But sometimes I finish my part and YouTube won't take the video, or it takes me days to upload something.

I really can't complain about a free service, but I will use it's little foibles as an excuse for why I haven't had a video up in a while and as a heads up for other people relying on YouTube. Some things that annoy me about YouTube right now:

1) YouTube uploading goes down sometimes. In my area, it went down for two straight days.

2) It takes about 4 hours for me to upload an 8 minute clip and I have a fast connection. That would be fine, I guess, but sometimes the connection (on their end) dies at some point over those four hours and the upload is lost.

3) There is a YouTube help page that claims you can upload clips longer than 10 minutes if you have status as a "Director". I switched my status to Director, waited seven hours for my 14 minute clip to upload, and it now says "Rejected (length of video is too long)". So either the help page is bogus or the programming is messed up. Either way, it shouldn't need to upload the entire clip, waste a whole night of time, to tell me the clip is too long.

A smart program would be able to tell the length before the whole thing is uploaded and immediately let you know if it's too long so you can get on with your next idea.

aha! From wikipedia:

At one time, when you signed up for a Director account setting, you were offered to have unlimited video length, but that is no longer offered...

So now I have a tutorial video that's 14 minutes long and has no home. I feel kinda like this kid. I don't really want to re-record it, and I don't ever want to split it into two parts. I'll probably just have to pare it down, which is unfortunate but maybe for the better.

If anyone knows how to get longer videos up, or a better way to upload, please help!


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Better know a subscriber: bDiddy1111

The biggest part of Ukulala (for now) is probably the tutorial videos I put on YouTube. Without those, this blog wouldn't have much to offer the ukulele world. People come across the videos and watch them --and then some people "subscribe" to my "channel" (I'm still getting used to the "lingo").

The videos I put up have somewhat of a niche appeal. As far as I can tell if you enjoy them, you have to be:
a) learning ukulele and
interested in the same songs I am.

That seems like a small market to me. In fact, I believe only one person I know in real life could possibly fall under that category, and she is also part of Ukulala.

With such a narrow tutorial subject, I'm always pleasantly surprised when I see a new subscriber to my videos. There are others out there, I think to myself, and I imagine dudes who look like me --and women who look like me with a wig on-- carrying ukuleles and humming Love Fool. As of writing this right now, there are 62 of them.

But who are these people really? Sometimes I get curious (or excessively bored or whatever), and I click on their YouTube profiles and look at their channel with their videos, their favorites, and their comments on it. Then I immediately make rash judgments on everything about them-- who they are, what they like, and whether or not I like them.

I also make wild conjectures about their lives. In an effort to get to know some of the people in this "online community", and a further effort to rip off Stephen Colbert, this post is going to take you through my thought process while I get to know a ukulaladotcom subscriber!

A) Choose one subscriber at random.

Like most people, I make most of my random decisions by logging onto a website with a random number generator and inputting the number of choices. In this case, it's 62, one for each subscriber. It then chooses any integer between 1 and 62, in this case.... 35.

Then I find the 35th subscriber, and click on his/her profile. This subscriber's name is apparently bDiddy1111.

B) Take in their channel information.

Their current profile picture:

Joined: February 03, 2007
Last Login: 4 hours ago
Videos Watched: 1,352
Subscribers: 0
Channel Views: 53
Age: 28
Country: United States

C) Make a quick mental note of what's on their channel.

This I will demonstrate as a stream-of-consciousness:

This person is a 28 year-old American. The one video he has uploaded has some production quality to it. It is of four people (Justin Sun, Walter Chi, Brandon Rubin, and Geoffrey Qwak) playing on four violins at the San Marino Public Library Grand Opening. He's got a couple of other subscriptions, including collegehumor (and Flight of the Conchords) and another ukulele player, and an NBA channel. His favorites are mostly humor, random stuff, and a Baron Davis highlight reel.

D) Conjecturin' time!

bDiddy1111's name is Brandon Rubin. He's a 28-year-old asian violin player from San Marino, California. He doesn't spend much time on his YouTube channel, but when he does it's for humor or music purposes. He has a good sense of humor, a strong interest in classical music, and a nostalgic interest (possibly even ironic) in mid-90's hip-hop. He was shocked that bDiddy and bDiddy1 were already taken. He likes basketball, but these playoffs seem boring after last year's magical Golden State run (his favorite team). He owns several instruments, is learning the ukulele, and has more musical skill than I could hope to develop in this decade.

Well, that was a bit more specific than I meant it to be. I was thinking it would just be stuff like "this guy likes watching fake japanese girls on youtube make funny noises."

Now I'll go let him know I posted this, so that if he doesn't like random websites guessing at his personal life, I'll take them guesses down!

Profiling subscribers is fun!

But maybe I'll do it by request in the future. Or maybe just a few more unsolicited, and then by request.

I could also do a better job of ripping off Colbert and do an interview--but that sounds like a lot of work. Profiling based on superficial information is easier. Or so I learned at the airport.

1 Comment:

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Ukulala Video Tutorials

To make it a bit easier to navigate through the ukulele tutorials on Ukulala, this page contains a list of all the current tutorial videos, organized alphabetically by artist. The three most recently added videos will have stars *** next to them.

More Than This by the 10000 Maniacs

Keep the Car Running by Arcade Fire

The Penalty by Beirut
Postcards From Italy by Beirut
Nantes by Beirut
Elephant Gun by Beirut

Boy with the Arab Strap by Belle and Sebastian

Lua by Bright Eyes

Holland, 1945 by Neutral Milk Hotel
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel

***Five Years Time by Noah and the Whale

***Sea of Love by Phil Phillips (or Cat Power)

Plenty More by the Squirrel Nut Zippers


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Ask Ukulala Vol. 2: Lurkers and Ukers

Welcome to Ask Ukulala Anything, Volume 2!

A lot has happened over the last few weeks. Ukulala did it's first collaboration with Ukehunt, I put out another few videos, and we got a few new instruments based on the results of the poll over on the right. If we ever figure out how to play and record them, there are even plans (described at the end of this post) for (apparently) a kazoo-heavy song!

Most importantly for this post, there have been a lot of great questions through the new question box over on the left. And some non-questions, and some questions that make me scared to answer them... but I will anyway! and Flora gets in on one too! So off we go, starting with Moollyjane from YouTube:

hello. do you think you could try to learn how to play "the Penalty" by Beirut on a ukulele, and make a how-to video for it? I don't know how, and your videos are really helpful.
Moollyjane, Portland, OR

Ah, Moollyjane, how did you know I love a good flattering? Great name, by the way. Sounds like something an old person would mutter under their breath about some whippersnapper named Jane.

And good call with The Penalty by Beirut. It's a great song and I will be doing a video of it in the not-too-distant future. After doing three Beirut songs, I decided to chill out a bit and do some others so I don't just become the one-band all-Beirut tutorial guy.

I'll send you a note when I eventually put it up.

Thanks for the tutorial and fro teh elephant gun one. I just had a few questions: What type of ukulele do you use a; concert soprano tenor one? Also, on my soprano when I play the C chord it is more of a harsh popping sound than an smooth velvety tone. Any suggestions? Thanks


I use a concert uke, so it's kind of in between. I wish I had more insight into what you are talking about with the different sounds your uke is making. Sopranos have a higher tone, but I also think the method of strumming has a lot to do with the noise you will get.

I suggest keeping your fingers very loose and experimenting with the effect. Also, I find I get completely different sounds depending on the length of my fingernails, with long nails being more harsh. ?
Famous ukulele player

Hmmmm, even with a question mark on the end, that's still not a question. But, I can forgive you, cause it's an awesome video where Joni Mitchell tells Tavis Smiley that her first real instrument was a ukulele.

Highlight: at 1:12, she describes how a teenage Joni went into a store, mouth full of bloody sutures, and bought a ukulele with the $36 she saved after her mom refused to buy her a guitar.


do you have a myspace i can lurk? i think i might be in love...or something.
Roxanne, Los Angeles

Let's not get ahead of ourselves: it's probably not love.


It goes lurking, creeping, stalking, then kissing in a tree and then love. And then marriage, and then a baby in a baby carriage.

Right now, Ukulala does not officially have a Myspace page, since we haven't made any real songs yet. And I (Paz) like to make it somewhat difficult for just anybody to find my personal info online, so my personal myspace probably isn't ever going to be directly linked from Ukulala.

...but... since this is a blog... and since people go to blogs to get "insider track" information.... I guess it does make sense to let a select few in on stuff even if it's still in progress. So yeah, if any of you stalkers and lurkers out there are highly motivated, I've included a link to the current myspace page on a single random letter hidden somewhere in this post
. I think there are some cool photos up and some fun little musical ditties we've worked on.

Someday when we actually have some songs, you motivated few can be all like
"omg! i was totally in on the ground floor, back before Paz and Flora from Ukulala were bigger than God!"

"huh? what the hell is ukulala and why would i care?"

Can you start including more photoshopped pictures of ukuleles in ridiculous situations?

Porkpie, atop the head of a gentleman

Photoshopped!? If you mean this and this from previous posts, I can assure you those are not photoshopped. I own the world's premiere collection of classic ukulele and turn-of-the-century photographs, and I'm sure I will be sharing more of them with the world as time passes.

My collection is... quite extensive. Why, I believe I've even found a photograph of you, based on the name and location you provided:

Good day, sir.

Hello there Thanks for your videos, i love beirut's song and as i am a beginner in ukulele this sis really helpful. Hard, really hard but thanks again. By the way as a beginner i still have problems with the strumming and i am not really sure of where to place my right hand and my strummed finger. I would apreciate a little comment about that or maybe a video. Same thought about the E chord who is for me really too difficult. How can i put my fingers ? Thanks man for your blog, it is really cool.
Aruno, Paris

Mmm delicious flattery, I eats it up. There are a few serious questions in there though.

1) Strumming.
Strumming is not easy. I've been trying to learn ukulele for six months, and before that guitar for over a year, and I have so far to go in my strumming. It takes time, it takes relentless practice, and I would be lying to you if I said I was in a position to give you real advice about technique. I'm basically still a beginner, and I don't really know any advanced strumming techniques (and there are some I'd love to learn).

Having said that, I can tell you what I feel like I've learned so far. In terms of which finger or fingers to use: it doesn't matter. Each way you do it will get a different sound, and it just depends what kind of sound you are going for.

If you use one finger, you'll hear each string a bit separately, and you'll get a softer, more clear sound. If you have long fingernails, it will be sharper and louder. If you use all your fingers at once it will be a more full, louder noise. If you strum slowly you'll hear each note, like a harp. Keep your fingers loose, unless you're trying to play it hard and loud.

The most important thing is to experiment! Try it every way you can think of, and practice it until it actually feels comfortable. At first your fingers will get caught in the strings, and it will feel awkward and clumsy and you'll think 'what the hell!? this sucks and it sounds terrible!'. And it will be true.

But that will pass, after many many hours. Eventually your fingers will glide over the strings at just the right amount of pressure, and if you have been practicing all the different ways you can think of, you'll be able to get some very different, very cool sounds from just changing your strumming technique.

I may do a video about this still, if I can compose these thoughts into something teachable.

2) The E Chord. Ok, you've got a few options for doing the E chord, and yes, it is a pain the ass.

If you ever want to see ALL your options for a chord, check out this awesome tool, and don't forget to change the tuning to C over on the right before you go searching for your chord. Really, I use this site all the time: just click on the same chord multiple times and it will loop through every possible way to play that chord on a ukulele. Very very useful.

The best option, I think, is to put your pointer finger on the second fret, bottom string, then put your ring finger over the fourth fret and let the whole curved joint push down the top three strings, like so:

You gotta push down pretty hard, but at least on the uke you can do 75% of the strings with one finger. It might take a while to get used to, and it won't sound as tight, but it's a lot faster and better than some of your other options (I think).

The other big option, that I use a lot actually, is a retuning of the ukulele. If you tune the entire ukulele on half-note down (so G-C-E-A becomes F#-B-D#-G#), then all your chords are shifted (or "transposed") down by one half-note as well. This may sound a bit advanced, but if you get comfortable with the idea of changing the key with a capo or by retuning, chords will really become demystified to some degree. So if you transpose your ukulele down one half-note, then what was once your F chord (easy) is now your E chord (easy!).

All your other chords are different now too, so the best time to do this trick is when you have a song that has E along with the other chords that creates, like B which is also normally hard. A LOT of blues songs (and Johnny Cash) use E, B, and A, which are a hard combo with normal tuning but become the easier F, C, and A# positions if you tune the uke down a half-note.

If that doesn't make sense and anyone has more questions about that, I can go into more detail in another question.

Who is Flora?

Paz: Take it away, Flora!

You know, I am not sure, but I hear she is a mermaid with Alzheimer's. She plays the ukulele but only on 32nd of every month when the tide is low. So not very often.

She could also be known as Paz's little sister. Hope that answers everything for you.

I am having a really hard time learning how to do the hit down chord in Nantes. any suggestions? Also your videos are great. definitely helping my ukulele skills improve!

First off, thank you for the kind words.

Yes, that "hit" is one part I try to talk a little bit about in my videos but I haven't done anything definitive on yet. It's something that I've worked on now, first on guitar and now on uke, for over a year now.

I think the best way I can describe starting out is to do a fast strum with your index finger pretty hard, then finish the strum by pushing down on the strings (muting them) with your palm. It's a bit difficult to describe, and it's hard to feel comfortable with at first. Your fingers will feel awkward and maybe get caught in the strings a bit, and the hit won't be a clear and distinct noise for a long time. But don't let that discourage you, it will sound awesome eventually!

This might be worth a video on. It's no easy move because it takes a balance of hitting the strings and hitting the body of the ukulele. If you get it right though, it opens up a whole world of extra rhythm with a snare kind of noise, great for rock beats or harder songs.

awesome. i really want to get a ukelele. how much would a decently cheap one be?
JMo93 , US

Ukuleles are one of those instruments you can spend any amount of money on, from $25 on up to thousands.

My plan was to get one that looked and felt good (so I wanted to pick it up), would stay in tune, and had a pleasant tone. Mine was a couple hundred dollars, but you can definitely get them for cheaper. Mine is the concert Hamano H-100C, and Flora's is the Soprano Hamano H-100 (both shown here), mainly because I loved the mahogany look and the sizes and tone when we tried them in the store.

The most important thing is that you like it, for whatever reason. Maybe you like it more if you get a deal at a garage sale for $20, or if it's shaped like a cool triangle, or if it's made of a really nice wood, it doesn't matter why.

Anything to help motivate you to pick it up and play, and if you have to spend a bit more to get one that you really like the look and feel of, I say go for it. It's a one-time investment and if it helps you play more often I guarantee it's worth it.

How did you learn to play the uke and do you play other instruments?
Kate, Detroit

I've never been able to play another instrument. I tried half-heartedly on the piano, but it went terribly and nearly ruined my high school GPA.

I'm still learning how to play the uke, and I have a loooooong way to go. I can't finger-pick, I have trouble with complicated rhythms, I can't switch chords quickly, and I haven't memorized enough chords to switch without thinking about it.

What I've learned I've basically put on this blog and on youtube, but there was a period of time before I got the uke (as I call it, B.U.) when I was trying to learn guitar. I mostly just messed around with strumming on the guitar and tried to get some cool drum-like rhythm out of it.

One of the reasons this site exists is because of the void I found while trying to learn. I thought I would be able to go online and find videos of how to play all the songs I loved, but instead I just found hundreds of billions upon billions of covers--which were fun, but they didn't really help much beyond trying to watch their fingers moving around and trying to discern a pattern from the blur of their strumming hand.

So this site, and my youtube tutorials, are an attempt to fill that void for other people starting out on this fun adventure, like I am.

thank you, brother

Arromblorlete, USA

This is hardly a question, but dammit, brother, I like it! You are welcome.

I had no idea my brother was even interested in the ukulele. Or that he goes by "Arromblorlete" any more.

Hi there. I have no musical talent and have never played an instrument in my life. But lately I've been interested in trying to play the ukulele, and your little blog here has sort of inspired me to just go for it. However, I don't have many (any?) ukulele stores where I live, so I'll probably have to get one online. And I don't know jack about what I should be looking for. So, can you recommend a somewhat inexpensive uke to start with? Thanks,
Sean McDonald, Student

Ah, see, you are exactly who I am hoping to reach with this site, as I mentioned in the answer to Kate's question above. You are like me a few years ago, completely unable to play an instrument and worried I might not have any talent for it. I thought I may have missed the formative years of my musical life and I was doomed to listen to other people play the music I loved while I plucked out off-key cacophony every time I picked something up.

Then I dug in and decided that was NOT my fate. I still have no ear for it, but I made up for it by learning theory and practicing a lot. Some people can HEAR when chords go together (I'm looking at you, little sis), but I can't. Now if someone gives me a key for a song, I know which chords I can play to sound good along with it. My strengths are not music by ear, but that doesn't mean I can't learn how to play the songs I love! And the ukulele is an amazing, versatile, portable tool to help dudes and dudettes like us learn.

As for which ukulele to get, I think I kind of described my theory on that above in answering Jmo93's question. To summarize: the key is finding one you like and one you'll play. Whatever your methodology for deciding is, that's what's most important.

If you like to check out reviews and other such informational forums, there are lots of good resources out there. Here are a few to get started:

Cheap vs. Expensive ukes
Some instrument reviews and discussion here and here and here
Some tips for buying

Also: You took the initiative to include your email address in the question, and I think that was a great idea. As soon as I add this post I'm going to alert you with an email to let you know your question has been answered (or at least, attempted). Thanks to you, I am also going to add a new section in the "Ask Ukulala Anything" where people can put in their email address if they want to be alerted when I put an answer up.

I will NOT use the emails for anything except to let you know the answer is up, they will never show up on this site, and it will still be completely anonymous. It's just for your own personal knowledge, so you don't forget you ever asked a question and never see the answer.....


Well, if you made it reading this far, congratulations! You are one of maybe two people. If you are left wanting more, more, more--like the sick, salivating dogs that you are--then for God's sake send in a question.

In the meantime, keep on ukeing, ukeheads, crackheads, porkpies, alcoholics, people from France, kazoo marketers, and everyone else too drunk to press the back button on your browser!

Peace out!
-and also Flora

1 Comment:

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Poll #1: Buncha Alcoholics

As I mentioned in a previous post, I've added a weekly poll to get a better feel for who it is that stumble across this site and stay long enough to click a radio button.

So the results of the first poll are in, and it ain't pretty:

What's your favorite thing to do on a Friday night?
Get drunk and party!: 53%
Get drunk and watch TV: 23%
Drink and go to sleep early: 15%
I'm homeless: 7%

This data suggests that a whopping 93% of ukulala visitors list "drinking" as part of their favorite things to do on a Friday night. I'm not one to judge, but that might not be a sign of sobriety. At least the majority (53%) like to party while they're drunk.

38% of all ukulala visitors favorite thing to do on a friday night is to drink and go to sleep early or watch TV. That's not a healthy lifestyle.

Perhaps even more worrisome is that 7% of the people who end up on ukulala are homeless. That is really very sad. I'm sorry. I have no idea how you're getting internet access, but homeless people: if you are reading this, you are in the wrong place. Nothing here will help you--I recommend you find a local concerned community organization, or a shelter to help you through this difficult time.

Poll #1 Analysis: Basically, the results of the first poll suggest ukulala visitors up to this point might just be a room of people at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting logging on to pass the time before their next drink.

The next poll ("What's your FAVORITE instrument?" over on the right or wayyyy at the bottom in IE) will help me determine the musical tastes of this mysterious room full of recovering and current homeless alcoholics.

Since we're (and I say "we" because ukulala is Paz and Flora) learning how to make music as an exercise, we will also make a small song based on the poll results. The song will be instrumental, with each instrument used in the proportion it appears in the final results of the poll. It will be a bit more complicated than that because the ukulele will be throughout the song by default, and the last option ("I hate ukuleles") will remove the ukulele by that percentage from the song.

i.e. if the final poll this week says 95% tambourine and 5% drums, the song will be 100% ukulele with 95% tambourine and just a tiny 5% drums. Does that make sense? No? Well, sober up and read it again.

Still no? Whatever, that's how it's gonna work.

ALSO: I've got some good questions so far from the Ask Ukulala Anything box over on the left (and several bad ones which I will answer now: no, I don't have any booze i can send you), so I'm getting ready to post another set of answers. If you want your question in this volume, now's the time to ask it.


Monday, May 5, 2008

How to play Boy with the Arab Strap by Belle and Sebastian

Update: has the chords and lyrics up for this song here. We decided to collaborate on an area where our musical tastes collide, and I hope we do again. As he makes note of at the link, Woodshed at also figured out an interesting addition: by playing Cmaj7 and D6 instead of just D and C, this song has a sustained B note in every chord, which is apparently what the piano does in the original version. Cool.

This is one of the most rockin'est songs Belle and Sebastian songs ever made. It's not as mellow as their other stuff, but his Scotsman voice sounds great over a rock beat and a good bassline. I love the clap as part of the beat.

It's a simple song to learn, at least in terms of chords. It has just G, C, and D and the chord switches are slow. This song is all aboot rhythm. Unfortunately I don't have a good source for the chords yet, because everywhere online has incomplete chords.

The good people over at figured out that the missing chord in the online chord list was a "D", so if they put up a version of this song I will post a link.

My tutorial video:

Video breakdown:
0:00 - Intro
0:12 - Tuning (GCEA)
0:25 - Chords (G,C,D)
1:05 - Strumming pattern (details below)
2:55 - Chord switch timing
3:21 - Demonstration (slow to faster w/ lyrics)

The difficult part here is the strumming pattern. Using my normal way of describing it as beats, where each beat is an up or a down strum, there are two "sections" of the strumming, which look like this:

Section 1:
1) down
2) up
3) hit
4) up

Section 2:
5) miss
6) up
7) hit
8) up

Then, once you can do those sections individually, the entire pattern loops like this:

Strumming pattern:
1) Section 1
2) Section 2
3) Section 2
4) Section 2
(Repeat twice then switch chords)

That was kind of hard to explain, but hopefully it made sense especially if it goes along with the video. If not, please let me know in the comments and I will try to fix it.


Friday, May 2, 2008

Now with weekly poll! (and a cowboy on a ukulele)

In an effort to get to know the people who stumble across ukulala after misspelling 'ukulele' in their google search (the ukulala "base", as I call them), I am adding a weekly poll question to the site.

It's over on the right for most people, way at the bottom if your browser is IE (why? I have no idea).

The use of non-scientific polls with tiny tiny sample sizes will let me make broad sweeping generalizations of who you are. Also, the more I know the more I can cater my posts perfectly to YOU (...Henry!).

And I've made it easier to ask a question in the Ask Ukulala Anything box (only the question field is required now), because my super-sophisticated web-based traffic tracker says several people tried to ask a question and failed because they didn't fill in all the required fields. And that's a waste.

In the last post I promised this post would be about ukuleles, so just as a little history lesson, here's a classic historical shot of the early days of the ukulele:

Can you tell why they called this the "Wild West" period in ukulele evolution?

It's cause of the tuning pegs. Before they were regulated by federal law in 1907, they could be any shape. Those were truly different days.