The big screen KaraUkey strum fest and sing along format is on at the Fox n Hounds Wongawallan on the first Saturday of the month, September 6. The synchronised chords and lyrics are projected on the big screen so you can sing and play along.
I happened on this song yesterday. They appear to be playing Ukulele chords with a capo on the fifth fret. I do a bit of that myself nowadays, I like the tinkly sound it makes on my steel string guitar. This is a great Ukulele song. The video has had over 370 million views. There is an MP4 KaraUkey version of it on the Videos page.
A long time since my last post, but better late than never.
Lots more things have developed in the last year or so. I was constantly being asked for KaraUkey versions of the songs that would play on iPads and MACS. This led to the discovery of Roni Music and his Sweet Midi Player which runs on iPads, iPods and iPhones, and though it is not free, it is not expensive either and does a good job. The Sweet Midi Player is also available for MACS and Windows PC's. The KaraUkey files needed to be reprogrammed to suit these platforms but they are now compatible and the new versions will play on all of the platforms. I still use the vanBasco player on my Windows Lap Top PC, and now also use Sweet Midi player on my iPad mini.
I also had requests for video versions of the songs to play with Windows Media Player, Classic Media Player and also on MACS, iPhones, iPads etc. After much investigation and experimenting, I settled on MP4's as the best way to achieve this. The videos are high quality with the backing music and the synchronised lyrics and chords, all in the one MP4 file. They will play on lots of different platforms including MP4 compatible DVD players and TV's. They are also a reasonable and practical size to download and to store. There are many different video formats, some of which create incredibly large hard-to-handle files. The MP4's are relatively compact and very suitable for the display and highlighting of synchronised words and lyrics.
It is now just a matter of steadily producing them and making them available on the website. They are available in sets of five songs and include a PDF book which has each of the five songs with the appropriate GCEA Ukulele chord charts on the same page as the lyrics.
The meetups continue to reinforce the notion that most people playing the ukulele are looking for ways and means to liven up their strumming. Which is great because this is the major difference between a guitar and a ukulele. Guitarists usually play with plectrums whereas you play a ukulele best without a plectrum. The Uke is smaller so it has a brighter sound even though it has nylon or nylgut strings, which you can play without a plectrum and still sound good.
I love the freedom of playing without a plectrum because of the many ways you can play the uke all in the same song. You can switch from picking to strumming at will, throw in some fan strums, or chucking and add various other effects to suit the song. That is one of the things that makes it such a great little instrument to play.
To help develop the strumming techniques I started looking for songs that use different strumming patterns and methods. In order to really "get" a new strum you need to be able to apply it in the right song and see the way it really fts in. I picked songs with reasonably simple chord structures. In fact I'm pretty much of the opinion that the fewer chords there are in a song, the harder you have to work on the strumming to make it sound good. There are lots and lots of really good 3 chord songs with distinctive strumming patterns that illustrate that, in all kinds of music including Blue Grass, Blues, Rock and Country and Western to name a few. In fact I remember reading somewhere that a Jazz players plays thousands of chords to a few people, while a blues player plays a few chords to thousands of people. The simpler chord structures also mean that you can concentrate more on the strumming.
So I started putting together the songs and the styles to create "Strum Class". This is an introduction to various strumming patterns and methods and then applying them to the appropriate song. The songs all include the lyrics, the chords and at least 6 individual instrumental tracks with some as many as 12 tracks. Using the player you can vary the tempo and you can also turn any or all of the individual backing tracks on or off. Lots of different strumming patterns and methods are covered. The songs are also great fun to play and fairly easy to learn. So they make a great set of songs for a jam session. As with the KaraUkey books, I opted for well known songs where royalties are payable so there is a cost, but it is still cheap. Strum Class has only been completed a little while but sales are happening, so I hope people enjoy working through it as much as I enjoyed putting it all together.
I remember my first Uke and the day I brought it home, in the U beaut case the man sold me, to keep it in. There it was in my study, sitting beside the old guitar. Wow, I picked it up and started playing it and have played it pretty much every day since, for hours and hours and hours. So small, so melodious and so much fun to play. I went miles to get to my first group session because there were no groups anywhere near me. I loved it, the happiness, the noise, the great vibe in the room, so I started my own group a bit closer to home.
I called us the Ukulelians. The www.meetup.com/ukulelians website was launched on January 5, 2012. The website is not free but has a lot of built in capabilites that make it well worth what it costs. I expected a mixture of experienced players and complete beginners, and had been down to see Michael at Gold Coast Ukuleles to get a couple of extra ukes for people who didn't have one yet. A Soprano and a Concert to go with my own Tenor.
The meetup system allows you to post a meetup date and time, and members of the group can RSVP to say they are coming. Of course the group was brand new so I was the only member. I set a date for our first meetup on February 19, then started adding pages to the files section of the meetup website to give new members something to download. Things like a QuickPlay uke method, Ukulele types, tuning and general hints on learning and playing.
I then got to work on the first Ukulelian song book. This was to be a PDF file of songs which included the chords and the lyrics. Each song only took up one page, that way I could connect a TV monitor to my Note Book PC and display the songs, so that members of the group could see them and play along. I used paint to draw the chord diagrams of the chords in each of the songs, then added those diagrams at the bottom of each page. The first book included 36 songs and took untill January 30 to complete. I tried to pick a mixture of songs ranging from easy through medium to challenging in a variety of keys, tempos and styles.
I soon discovered that the TV monitor really was better sitting on its side so that it could display a 90 degree rotated PDF image on the screen, making it larger and more readable. So I made a little stand to mount the monitor on sideways. Then there was lots of messing with fonts to finally get the most readable font that would actually fit on the screen.
By February 19, 2012 about a dozen people had signed on. I had experimented with my TV and PDF files and was confident that it would be fine for around that number. In fact, lots more people showed up on the day, so not everyone could see my TV monitor, but some folks had printed out the PDF song book I had uploaded so could use them. Great to see so many people, but my TV was obviously not the solution to getting everyone playing together with easy access to the lyrics and chords. My tiny little portable amplifier and speaker were also not going to cope with leading the singing.
The meetup site invites members to rate and comment on the meetup. One of those comments suggested a big screen projector. Hire rates seemed a bit prohibitive and the nearest hirer was miles away. So, after much serious consideration I started looking around for a second hand one. These projectors do come in some very expensive varieties, even the second hand ones were expensive, so new was a better alternative. As always it is a question of cost versus performance, but I bit the bullet and bought a decent piece of equipment with a long life lamp, high lumens and very good magnification. I also purchased a respectable 12 channel mixer, speakers and mikes. Once you start plugging things in you need public liability insurance for performances so that was next. Costs had now been incurred so I put a $5.00 fee on players attending the meetups to help pay for it.
The PDF images projected by the digital projector did not like the font I had used for the PDF files on the TV monitor. So it was back to trial and error to get the best clarity and size but to keep a font that would allow a whole song to be projected on the screen at once. Then distances from the screen, aspect ratio and zoom came into it to get the best result. There is always some compromise, but the decisions were made and I started redoing the song book fonts, line breaks and chords to suit the new system.
Five PDF song books then followed and were uploaded to the website from May through August. It was always a rush to try and put them together and upload them ahead of the next monthly meetup so that members could download them with a bit of time left to practice the songs. They were all done in the same format that had been established to best suit all of the requirements. The chords appeared in [square] brackets in with the lyrics. It suited the projector best for the chords to be in either a dark blue or a bright red.
The meetups now featured the projected PDF images on a screen and the whole group singing or playing or both. Provided you did not lose your place in the middle of the song, and you sat close enough to read them, the PDF's worked very well. A whole room full of Ukuleles playing, sounds pretty good but having played with lots of bands over the years, I did miss the nice steady beat of a drummer and the sweet sounds of a Bass, in the mix, keeping us all in time. Especially since in the early days I had a bit of a tendency to slow down a little if I saw people struggling to keep up with the chord changes.
I did not want to start a whole band with drums and the like, so I started fiddling with on line metronomes that I could play on my lap top via my sound system without interfering with the display of the PDF files through the projector. It would be better if you could do both at once. Eventually that led to my discovery of software based karaoke players and the Van Basco player in particular. So neat and capable and yet totally free to download from www.vanbasco.com
The player plays MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) files. These are basically a set of instructions in the form of a computer program which instructs your sound card to play the music. You could play the MIDI file while following the PDF file to read the lyrics and chords, however, MIDI files can also include lyrics. Now as I was a computer programmer in one of my past lives this really tweaked my interest.
Apart from providing the backing tracks and timing, the Karaoke player does not need to display all the lyrics at once, so thay are much larger and easier to read. All it needed now was for the chords to be included with the lyrics in the display. I found it really good fun playing along with the backing tracks. I could play a bit of rhythm add a few breaks and pick up some nice new strumming patterns to suit the song.
I started working on what was needed to include the chords with the lyrics, in the right key of course so that it was possible to read the lyric and the chords at the same time in a moving Karaoke type format. That also meant adding the chords for the intros and instrumental breaks in the songs, because unlike the singing, the music needs to keep going through the whole song. I started calling it KaraUkey. Lots of different methods later I started producing the KaraUkey songs.
Just playing with them convinced me that it is a great way to learn and play at your own pace on your own PC. Especially since you can change the tempo of the song as you learn it. It actually takes hours to do the songs, but once they are done they are downloadable digital files that anyone with a PC and a free vanBasco karaoke player installed, can play.
I looked into what was needed to make the KaraUkey songs available to other people. Songs are the intellectual property of the people who wrote them. If I wrote a song and lots of people started playing it, I would expect to be rewarded for my efforts. A licence to distribute the songs legally as downloads or on data CDs was the only way to make the finished KaraUkey songs avaialble to all and sundry.
The licence comes with a fee, royalties payable on songs and the responsibility of annual reports on sales, to ensure that the various owners of the songs are paid for their work. So they are not free, but they are not expensive either, compared to the normal cost of song books or of karaoke tracks. The player being free to download is a major bonus.
The members of the group have been great in supporting the effort, with purchases of the books, and since I added a more automated download process, people have started buying them from overseas as well, which is fantastic. There are now also some serious affiliate enquiries.
The work of expanding the KaraUkey library is ongoing. There are currently two Bumper Books and a few Tenner Books. This week some of my other chores went better than expected and I was able to add another half dozen songs or so to the collection. I learn to play each song in the process and that is a lot of fun. There are lots of different styles represented here including Country & Western, Hawaiian, jazz and blues.
This is in fact the first birthday for the group. A meetup on Sunday Feb 24 is just a few days over a year from the first meetup.