I just got back from Hood River, Oregon, home of the Gorge Uke Fest. (That’s “gorge” as in Columbia River Gorge. . . .not as in eating too much!) It was great catching up with old friends like James Hill, Anne Davison, Brook Adams, Ralph Shaw, Lil’ Rev, Zac Steimle (Oceana Ukuleles), and Victoria Vox, and even more fun making some new ones. I got a chance to see some of the performances on Saturday night and Moe Dixon’s 3-ukulele rendition of Hallelujah just knocked my socks off!
We had a little storefront at the festival and early in the day I noticed a couple of very savvy ladies picking up a supply of what I told them was all my “best” stuff. That got me to thinking why I said that. Then I realized it was the “stuff” I use all the time. In fact, I keep most of it right next to my desk, which is where I do most of my playing and practicing. (Aahhh…the joy of working from home). So, with that in mind, here, then, is a list of some of my “favorite” things (in addition to ”raindrops on roses…”):
Treasury of Ukulele Chords
Roy Sakuma’s Treasury of Ukulele Chords, with more than 800 chord diagrams, is the ultimate desk reference for ukulele chords. I refer to it all the time. It’s handy, of course, when you want to know, “What the heck is a G#add9?” But, the real value in this book is in the number of different ways it shows you how to create (and finger) each chord, with each chord position taking you further and further up the neck. (Don’t worry, you’ll also find the familar C, F, and G chords in there, as well.) Even if you have little or no interest in playing in that uncharted territory of your fret board, (though I once heard Byron Yasui say, “Your mama paid for all those frets, so why don’t you use them?”) moving them to a different position might actually make it easier to transition from chord to chord, because you can get your fingers somewhere in the vicinity of where they need to end up.
Another nice little feature in this book is his description of when and where to use different types of chords. Major chords (the ones we’re most familiar with) are “Bright and summery.” But minor chords are “sad and lonely.” A dominant 7b9 “could give you the Blues!” But a Major 9th is “very satisfying and relaxing.” He also gives a few tips on how to enhance your songs with a few simple chord substitions. (I.e. try replacing a plain major chord with a 6th or Major 7th.) And if that all sounds like Greek to you, it won’t when you see the way the material is presented.
Roy Sakuma, by the way, is Hawai’i's most esteemed instructor of the ukulele and is also the founder and director of the Annual Ukulele Festival in Waikiki. If there’s a record for the person who’s taught the most ukulele players in the world, it would probably be Roy Sakuma. A great book! $11.95
Roy Sakuma Chord Treasury $11.95
Chord Transposition Wheel
This, too, is either right on my desk or in my ukulele case. Let’s say your music is written in the key of C, but you’d like to play it in the key of G. You simply rotate the inner wheel so that the G on the inner circle lines up with the C on the outer circle. Now, every time your music calls for a C (outer circle), you play a G (inner circle). If your music calls for a G7 (outer circle), you play a D7 (inner circle), etc. You can also use it to transpose chords from the standard GCEA tuning to ADF#B and DGBE (baritone `ukulele). In addition to helping me transpose chords on the fly (that is change a song from one key to another) it also helps me find the I, IV, V chords (and more) in any key! Based on the “magical” Circle of Fifths, this handy little wheel also helps determine the major and minor chords in any given key, and the traditional Hawaiian vamp for any key. Measuring 4.5 by 5.25 inches, it was originally designed to work with the Kani Ka Pila Klip, but you can just as easily use it without the klip. $9.99 each.
Chord Wheel $9.99
Basic Chord Chart
Even if you own the Roy Sakuma Ukulele Chord Treasury, you’ll still want to have this handy little basic chord chart, with 84 of the most commonly used chords, in your ukulele case for “emergencies.” Measuring 4.25″ X 5/5″, it too can be used with or without the Kani Ka Pila Klip. $3.99
Basic Chord Chart $3.99
If you don’t already have at least one chromatic, clip-on tuner, I highly recommend this one by Oasis. I have tried several others and have found them lacking in one area or another. But this one seems to have everything “under control,” starting with the easy-to-use on/off switch. That may seem like a non-issue until you’ve wrestled with the hard-to-find and difficult to use on/off switches that are on some of the other other (and more expensive) tuners . The face on the Oasis is bright and easy-to-read and it lights up when you finally “get it.” It also has a visual metronome built right in. And if, for some reason, you don’t want to clip it on to your instrument, it also has a built-in mic so you can tune your uke acoustically. (You can also “sing” into it and see if you’re in tune, as well, but I would only recommend doing that if you’re home alone.) It’s really well thought-out: nice and compact and, attached to the headstock of your ‘ukulele, it can rotate in all directions making it easy to see. $19.95
Oasis Clip-on Tuner $19.95
’Ukulele Fret Stamp
This compact little self-inking fret stamp is really nifty. It’s small enough to fit in your pocket, but also has a little key chain so you attach it to the handle of your case or whatever. So, whenever you come accross a new chord, or need a little reminder, you just stamp the little fretboard onto your paper or music, fill in the dots, and keep on playing barely missing beat. The ink pad can be re-inked, but I’ve had mine for years and have never had to. $14.99
‘Ukulele Fret Stamp $14.99
‘Ukulele Wall Hanger
When I’m not playing it, my ukulele lives on the wall, right behind my desk, within arm’s reach. It’s really one of the safest places for it and guarantees I don’t have to go hunting for it every time I get the urge to play. This wall-mounted hanger has an adjustable yoke mounted on attractive hardwood that screws on to your wall. 9Easy to mount….I did it myself). The package includes everything you need to get your ‘ukulele up off the floor, with-in reach, and out of harm’s way. $13.99
Via Hand Exerciser
This is a great little instrument for not only improving manual dexterity, but strengthening those fingers on your left hand (especially the ring finger and pinky.) I keep one on my desk to use while I’m waiting for my computer to do something, and another in the car to use when I’m waiting at a traffic light. It’s available in two tensions: light (4lbs per finger), recommended for children over 12 years and seniors wanting to regain diminished dexterity; and medium (6lbs per finger), recommended for the average woman’s hand and men preferring more repetitions at lesser resistance. Give it a whirl, you’ll be astonished at how weak a couple of those fingers are. $11.99
Via Hand Exerciser (Light) $11.99
Via Hand Exerciser (Medium) $11.99
Neck Tie Uke Strap
Our brand new Neck Tie Uke Straps were clearly one of the hottest items at the Gorge Festival and this is all we have left for the time being. I’ve been using one for about 4 months and I can’t think of a single other thing that has done more to help improve my playing. Unlike the straps that hook into the sound board, this one actually supports the neck of the ukulele (the black ribbon at the bottom loops around the headstock, under the strings) so your left hand is free to move and make finger placements without having to hold up the uke at the same time. They are, for the most part, 100% silk, and feel soft and comfortable around your neck. They are fully adjustable and the width (about 1.5 inches) is more befitting a ukulele than a re-purposed guitar strap with lots of heavy leather. And each one is unique, so you have an opportunity to make a little fashion statement at the same time. They do require you get a strap button installed on your uke, but I can’t think of a better investment. This is all we have right now, but if you subscribe to the website (or “like” us on facebook) you’ll be the first to know when the new ones come out. (We’ll remove the ones from the list below if they are no longer available.) $29.00
Neck Tie Uke Strap $29.00