HOLIDAY 2018 GIFT GUIDE

Spicy? Sparkly? Plucky? Looking for something for the uke disciple, a gift-to-self,or  a show of affection or appreciation?I believe in gifting life skills, not landfill, sharing experiences over swapping expendable. If you are counting your blessings and scheming about giving, I have a few gift ideas for you. From FREE to fantasy, here are some priceless gifts you can give,and five of them are absolutely free!

GIVE AN EXPERIENCE Go to the source: take trip to Hawaii. Immerse yourself in old-style Hawaiian music and culture on the quiet island of Molokai. Daniel and I are thrilled to be sharing Uke Ohana at this intimate retreat at the Pu’u O Hoku Ranch and Halawa Valley, April 5-9. Every level, from beginner to advanced will share in the magic of the Island and the beauty of Aloha. This would be an extraordinary gift to share with a beloved, adult family members or to give as a gift to yourself.

GIVE A SONG Work up a tune, just one. Doesn’t have to be perfect or fancy.  Maybe make a card, letting them know the song is their gift. And sing it to them, in person, on Skype, over the phone: to a group- maybe your whole family! Sing it with them. Print out copies, share it with the world.  Free!  Priceless, really. (Mom, are you reading this? Now you know what I want!) A GIFT TO YOU from Daniel– a great song to learn and share! FREE! The first study in his Arpeggio Meditations book is available online with a tutorial from Ukulele Magazine!

GIVE AN INSTRUMENT Beginner? Child? You can’t go wrong with an Ohana SK-10. Solid durable, great intonation, a real instrument at a starter price. These are the instruments I requisition for schools and library programs. They come in some delightful colors, too. (with bag, strap, button and tuner,$79 at Mim’s)

Intermediate, or adult beginner? I love Ohana’s CK 50 WG.  I play mine almost every day.  Big bright voice, classy rope binding, highly figured wood, geared pegs. Get a cute tweedy case to go with it and it’s an instant classic.  String with either hi or low G, concert size is versatile and not too big. ($239 at Mim’s)

Missing your bass strings? KoAloha has a tenor sized 6 string guitalele.  It’s like a guitar with a capo on the fifth fret (tuned ADGCEA). If you have guitar a repertoire hiding in your past, this instrument gives you an opportunity to share with ukulele players. Great intonation, portable and sounds great. Daniel is digging his!( $748 at Mim’s )

GIVE BEAUTY AND UTILITY Beautiful sparkly UKULELE STRAPS.  Liz Olney is busy at her workbench making these beautiful straps. Lined with lambskin, studded with Swarovski crystals they are all the jewelry you will ever need to wear. Daniel and I have one for each of our “on stage” instruments. Liz just finished this lovely custom strap to go with this GORGEOUS Michael DaSilva ukulele. (Michael builds dreams. I don’t know a player who doesn’t lust for one of his instruments) Breath taking.  If bling is not your thing, she also makes them plain or with studs.($80-$150+shipping, custom straps may be more)

GIVE BOOKS and LESSONS

Arpeggio Meditations Book for all levels ($20) Video tutorials for Arpeggio Meditations($6.99) This has become a favorite for students of all levels.  The first piece is easy for beginners,Classes and groups LOVE playing this together! Later studies are challenging for advanced players. They are beautiful to listen to– especially when Daniel plays them! The Arpeggio Meditations Companion Mp3s are great background soundtrack to relax you in your day, and a good gift idea… FREE!

Color-Along Ukulele for children and adult beginners– be sure to download the FREE soundtrack!($15) They will make you laugh, contain tons of additional verses, will teach you the songs by ear, and are useful in a classroom. There is a section in the back of the book of tips for how to integrate the lessons into a kids class or club setting.

Ukulele Magazine subscription Lessons, articles, festival listings… A great way to be part of the ukulele community.  We love getting our copy in the mail, learning about other artists and innovations. Daniel and I are regular contributors, check out his lessons with videos that he creates for them! (On sale now! $20 for 1 year/4 issues)

Death By G-String by C.C. Harrison – murder mystery set in a ukulele club! Great fun read! Available in most bookstores or at Amazon

Sign someone up for a LIBRARY CARD. Many libraries now have ukulele to lend! Plus learning materials and fantastic events. I will be teaching ukulele at several libraries this spring- and it’s always FREE!

GIVE EL SABOR! Ok, mom, I lied. This is what I really want: CHENCHO’S CHIMAYO CHILE! The best red chile in New Mexico comes from the village of Chimayo, and as far as we know, the best chile in Chimayo comes from Crescencio Ochoa’s mule-plowed farm. Call him or text him at (505) 573-9801. He will grind your order the day he sends it priority mail and include an invoice written on a scrap of paper, you mail him back a check. Old school, pure (red) gold. ($30. a pound)

GIVE NOURISHMENT This year, our gift to you is Daniel’s Holiday Bean Recipe.  You might need to order some of Chencho’s red chile to make it authentic, but if that is not in range, look for powdered New Mexico Chile Molido in the grocery store where the Latin foods are sold. These are delicious any time of year, straight out of the pot, but if you want the best low-brow feast on earth, consider serving them as the chili in Frito Pie, as we did in Santa Fe at the Culinary Uke Fiesta this November.  That is, put some Fritos in your bowl, cover with a dipper of the beans, then top with your favorite condiments, including: shredded iceberg lettuce, chopped tomatoes, finely diced onions and shredded cheddar cheese. Now THAT’S a Holiday dinner!

DANIEL’S HOLIDAY BEANS

1 ½ Cup Dried Pinto beans

2-3 wedges Ibarra brand Chocolate (if unavailable, another Mexican Chocolate or  2 oz darkest chocolate)

1 Bay leaf

½ teaspoon Smoked Paprika

1 Tablespoon crushed Oregano

½ teaspoon Ground Cumin

1/4 Cup Chencho’s Chimayo Red Chile powder (or more according to taste)

3-4 turns of a pepper mill

2 whole cloves

heaping ½ teaspoon salt

5 Cups Water (or more)

1 Whole Orange (unpeeled)

Splash Olive Oil

Cook:

Approximately  5-6 hrs in a crock pot, on on stove, or 1 hour in an Instant Pot. open kettle and reduce liquid till saucy, or if dry, add liquid.

Squeeze juice out of orange and discard rind before serving

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Why I Uke

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Thank you, Ukulele Magazine, for asking me to write this article.  I love reading people’s comments about the friends they have made through ukulele, about playing for Alzheimer’s patients, about songs of childhood which still sing in their soul.

May 2016 bring us all more opportunities to share, to love and to connect.  Here’s to raising our voices together this sweet 16!

 

Loading the Mag

Way back in the day- wearing the tape roll belt in Thailand

Way back in the day- 1990? wearing the tape roll belt in Thailand

When I was a second-camera assistant I occasionally loaded mags- that is put the film in to the mickey mouse ears.  Ironically, film no longer exists on most film sets. Co-incidentally, neither do I. It is debatable if movies are the better for the shift from film, but as to my own personal happiness, I can tell you I am the better for shifting away from it.

But I have not left the magazine behind entirely- I now find myself loading up its uke homonym: Ukulele Magazine. Last year I was surprised to see my mug on the front cover, and this issue lands me in the contents again.  I really like how the magazine has grown, getting better with each issue- more pictures, sophisticated writing, clean editing and great lessons.  Just in time for the growing community it serves.

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I enjoyed a long conversation with writer and musician October Crifasi about kids and ukes, and lots of our chat is in her article, as well as a bunch of photos from a workshop I taught in Phoenix a few years back. The attendees were the beautiful people from Global Family Philanthropy, the folks Daniel and I went to Haiti with. Photogenic Junau who is from Haiti and now studying in the US takes up some prime real estate!

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Last week a crew from Ukulele Magazine came up to the West Coast Ukulele Retreat, one of the most fun and picturesque of uke events. Shutters were clicking and they even videotaped our dining hall flash mob.  Looking forward to seeing what lands in the next issue!

Shenanagans at West Coast Uke- we really need to loosen up!

Shenanagans at West Coast Uke- we really need to loosen up!

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El Kabonged!

This weekend I am heading east for Ashokan Ukulele Festival.  Join us if you can!  There are still spaces in the workshops, or you can attend just the concert Saturday night, with performances by all the instructors, including Paul Hemmings, Gerald Ross and Joel Ekhaus, Marcy Marxer… playing with the big kids! Click here for discounted advance tickets.

Looking further ahead on the schedule there are family classes scheduled in June at U-Space, free shows at libraries and parks in Los Angeles and the Rocky Mountain Ukulele Festival in July.

And a recording session for the coloring book and another new project in the works!  No rest for the wicked!

How Old (or Young) Should a Kid Be to Learn the Ukulele

Ready to play?

Ready to learn? Ready to play? Or both!

UPDATE: COLOR-ALONG UKULELE, our book for young people who want to learn uke is available at www.Danielward.net Be sure to download the FREE SOUNDTRACK!

Is my child old enough to learn ukulele?  At what age is a kid ready?
A friend with twins asked me this question in message.  I started to write. And kept writing.  A few hours later I realized I had written a blog post. This answer pertains not just to our  book, COLOR-ALONG UKULELE  but to all kinds of questions parents have about kids, music and ukulele.
      There is a Long Answer and a short one.
The short answer ….it all depends on the kid, approach and the expectations.
      Here it comes– brace yourself, pour a drink: The Long Answer.
      Kids learn through a feedback loop, and progress is determined by their developmental readiness in response to their environment and their temperament.  When children are given stimulus to emulate, especially stimulus  which relates to them and to which they can relate– they take off in the areas that engage them.  I am sure you have either experienced or heard from parents how much faster younger siblings walk, talk etc… than their older counterparts.  One reason is that they are surrounded by stimulus relating to them, showing them how to be a child.
      Music, like language, is learned initially through a feedback loop.  It is a rare youngster who, at 5, is ready to physically finger chords or is mentally able to sit and play for more than a few moments.  But that does not mean that they are not learning! They are learning all the time, and music is no exception.
      The illustrations in the book, the fun pictures and the chord diagrams, give a visual focal point for the youngest kids.  Many wee folk love to look at pictures.  The recordings create the feedback loop of sound.  Kids learn intervals, melodies, and lyrics with alacrity.  When we know a song a song by heart before we try to learn to play it on an instrument, the outcome can be pure joy (and less frustration).
      Having an instrument on hand which a child can play with, and eventually play, is a great thing at any age.  $50 models are well suited for this.  Instruments, not toys; nothing precious–if they get broken… meh. Here’s my favorite starter: Ohana sk-10 from MIM
Tune them as often as you can.  Write “G” “C” “E” and “A” on the tuning pegs and number the strings with a sharpie!  Put a sticker on the fretboard where a finger should be placed to make a C chord.  Let a kid put stickers on the body with impunity!  Draw a smiley face on the top/side of the instrument to re-enforce “this end up”. Encourage strumming with a steady beat and clap along, saying “one, two, three, four…one, two…”.
      On the whole, I see kids in 3rd and 4th grade  having the motor skills, ability and  developmental maturity to really learn.  That is when I can take a classroom of 30+ kids and, in the course of a few weeks,  get them to play songs with 4 chords.

Ready or not.... here she comes! AKA musician's kid having fun in a dressing room.

Ready or not…. here she comes! AKA musician’s kid having fun in a dressing room.

      I have known a few kids- very few- who are really ready to play at 5 or 6.  Often they are kids of musicians who have grown up in households filled with music and experimentation, rehearsing; who have watched their parents sweat and rejoice the same way they do. Kids who are driven to practice, and know how to do it. It is pretty rare. (In fact, just as many musician’s kids are apathetic towards the idea of playing or performing)
      I do know that young kids who learn along side their parents learn better.  Children learn through watching us model behavior far more readily that they do through instruction. Some parents who feel insecure about their musical abilities worry about modeling effectively.  I don’t.  I think kids “ears”  grow irrespective of an adult’s shortcomings in pitch or rhythm.  To see a parent try, struggle, unafraid of failure… that is big. Perhaps even bigger than learning ukulele. Also, kids value what we value, and if they see music is important to you, it will be important to them.
      In private lessons or small groups I see kids at 6-8 able to focus and enjoy their achievements.  I have taught  private lessons for families in their homes.  A parent or two, and a couple of siblings, together sitting on the floor.  Rarely will a child of 5 or younger participate for more than 5 minutes.  Older kids may hang in for 15 or more. The parent will finish up the allotted time …and then some.  When I return the following week, I will often hear that the little kid was singing the song we covered and messing around with their instruments the next day.
      So- for the experience of making music, your kid is ready, regardless of age. They do it every day. Having an instrument to experiment on will give them tools they may be craving. They learn songs by ear fast- and never forget them!
The first 3 songs (in our book)  can be played by very young kids, 3 and up. They are strumming on the open strings of the ukulele, learning basic rhythm. Great developmentally appropriate goal!
But to really be able to play the instrument… probably 7-9 years is a realistic expectation.
They are NEVER too young to see and hear YOU learn to play!
What are you waiting for?!

Kids, Hospitals and Ukes

What a great idea!  Kids in hospitals being given ukuleles under the guidance of music therapists!

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Got Fleas?

 

On Monday I talked with Corey Bergman by phone as he walked the beach in Floridian. The man who founded the Ukulele Kids Club Inc with his wife Edda in January 2014 with the mission of donating ukuleles to children’s hospitals nationwide for music therapy programs is as enthusiastic as he is energetic. I have a feeling he never sits still.  He thought COLOR-ALONG Ukulele would be a great tool for the therapists working with the kids. A nice stack of books will be heading their way thanks to the generosity of Kickstarter supporters who have chosen the donation rewards.

Check out his website, read the article in the issue of Ukulele Magazine with Jake Shimummicantpronounceit on the cover. It will make you happy. I am doubly happy that we will be sending him some books!

We have 7 days left of our Kickstarter campaign, which ends 4/1/15.

If you would like to send books their way you can specify in your pledge and I will be sure the books are sent their way and happily double the number of books per-pledge sent. Click here to visit the Kickstarter page.

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Coming soon to a library near you!

All for uke and uke for ALL!

As you may know I am a BIG fan of music’s magical power to bring people together.  The songs we know connect us to people and places far and near.  Starting with the bond of lullaby and ending with the bagpipe’s requiem, music is with us all our lives.  I could go on and on… in fact, I do!

Family style!

Family style!  Photo by Jill Richards

I did just the other day to October Crifasi, who is writing an article for Ukulele Magazine about ukulele for kids (that’s the same magazine which had me on their cover last spring!).  We talked, among other things, about family music- how great it is to teach parents and kids together.  The bond it creates within the family, the service it does for both parent and child.  You can read about it in Ukulele Magazine’s next issue (unless they decide to not print it- you never know).

Or you can come and live the experience!  I have two series classes for families starting up:  A four-Saturday session starting February 28th at 10:30 am at Uspace– the new downtown LA ukulele shop-school-venue-cafe located in the Japanese American Cultural Center.  (I am also working on a week long kid’s ukulele summer camp there. More on that soon)

And a 3-Saturday 10:30 am series at McCabes in Santa Monica starting March 28th.

I am also hard at work on a book! If you have taken a class with me before you have probably taken home at least one of my handouts.  I have been illustrating my lessons, and when I teach an all-ages class I always have Art Stix  or crayons on hand to give the kids who get antsy mid lesson.  They can do some coloring while the adults keep playing.  They make their own songbooks, and by the end of a semester or session they have.. a bunch of sheets of paper that all get lost.

So- I decided it’s time to get it together!  Our current project is a ukulele method book with illustrations and companion recordings.  Copies will be available to pre-order through Kickstarter soon.  You will be hearing all about that once the campaign is launched!  The art by El Rey is FANTASTIC!  here is a sneak peek at the cover-

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So much going on! So many festivals coming up, concerts for families… I have not had a chance to post photos from all the great things that have just happened- like the trip to Mexico…. AMAZING!  If I can get the time together to make it back to the computer I will be popping some pictures up here as well as updating our schedule for the spring.  So many great opportunities to share music!  How lucky are we?

NEW Workshops at Wine Country

 

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Last year Wine Country Ukulele Festival was a wild and busy experience!  I was filling in for Andy Andrews as MC who was helping his son Eli recover from a terrible car crash. This year we have something to celebrate- their incredible success!  Eli is now back in his life surrounded by love in full bloom, love made stronger and richer by the ordeal and trials it passed through.

Between teaching classes, performing, doing a kid’s show and introducing all the incredible performers I met the lovely folks from UKULELE MAGAZINE who did a short interview with me and took a few pictures.  I was VERY surprised to see my face on the cover of the magazine four months later!  It’s like the cover of the Rolling Stone for uke players!

I am very happy to be returning this year as just a teacher and performer.  Andy’s shoes were a little too big for me, and I am relieved to be handing them back!

I will be teaching a bunch of new workshops and am working on my materials now, with Daniel’s help.  Yes, not only can he play, he can TRANSCRIBE!  Daniel’s got an all new curriculum as well.  I have copied the class descriptions below to give you an idea of what  you can sign up for- and I urge you to do it soon!  Some of the workshops are filling up already.  I must admit that I am particularly excited about the lyrical improv class, “Me and my Big Mouth”!  That one doesn’t even require you to play a uke!

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Learn to Play in a Day

Heidi Swedberg LOVES to teach absolute beginners. The more absolute, the better.  And by the end of one session, she guarantees you will be singing and playing songs on your uke and  laughing a heck of a lot.  While anyone, of any age, is welcome to attend this workshop, we ask that kids under 8 be accompanied by a participating adult.

 

Me and My Big Mouth

There’s a knack to thinking on your feet with your uke in your hand and being the life of the party. And one of the sure fire ways to make sure you, and your uke are invited back, is with this  little repertoire of fun songs  that allow you to make up the lyrics as you go along and throw in a punchline or two. Under the direction (and whacky inspiration) of Heidi Swedberg, who is a master of lyrical improvisation, you will learn how to use a couple of classic tunes to be as bawdy (or not) as you wish. It’s a terrific way to connect with your audience in a timely fashion and bring a smile to more faces than just your own. If you’ve ever seen Heidi in action and wondered “how does she do it?” come to this workshop and find out.

 

If You Had a Hammer

If you had a hammer, you’d probably hammer in the morning…..and all over this land.  But first you’d need to know how to swing it, and that’s what this workshop is all about. Here, Heidi Swedberg will work with you on a couple of popular tunes that you probably already know, but, with the addition of a few simple left-hand techniques, known as  hammers and pull-offs, you will be able to add  “grace” or melody notes  that will add piles of pizzazz to these, otherwise, very simple tunes. Not only that, you’ll come away with some fun songs to practice with, that will  help your left hand move confidently and powerfully across each of the strings and along the entire fretboard.

Freight Train, Freight Train

You, too, will be “going so fast,” once you have learned a few second-position chords and the simple, Travis picking pattern offered in this workshop by Heidi Swedberg. And what better song to practice it on than Elizabeth Cotton’s iconic song, Freight Train, Freight Train, a tune written more than 100 years ago and a great song to have in your quiver.  Plus, once you get this technique down, you’ll realize there are more tunes in your repertoire you can use this classic picking pattern with.  All aboard for the ride of your life!

Heart and Soul

No need to lose control, though, because Heidi Swedberg will guide you every step of the way as you navigate the Circle of Fifths, exploring the lovely chord progression in this great American standard.  And, as a bonus, you’ll learn the bridge!  (Nobody knows the bridge!)  Not only that, this workshop will open up a whole new world of musical insight that will carry over into just about every tune you’ll ever play on your ‘ukulele. Believe me; we all need a little heart and soul.

DANIEL”S WORKSHOPS

The Old Switcheroo

One of the biggest challenges facing any beginning player (and a number of more advanced players, as well) is switching the fingers on your left hand from one chord to another in a seamless and timely fashion. It’s hard!  But, it doesn’t have to be. In this workshop Daniel Ward will show you how to make those changes with little, or no, effort at all through a series of easy exercises and some expert advice that will let you relax and enjoy the music, without any pain or frustration.

Ethno-Ukeology

Take one tune and put it through several different style changes with your right hand and what have you got?  Ethno-ukeolgy.  From the friendly Travis pick to the more complex strums of  Latin America and the Caribbean, Daniel Ward will teach you how to  “cook” on the strings with some tasty spices, including (but not limited to) calypso, salsa, reggae, and country! Slow practice in class will make sure that you get it all under your skin before trying this at home, and handouts will make sure you get it right. Sounds like a hoot and necessary information to have under your belt. Plus you can have a little fun with it.   How about “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” with a calypso beat?

Stormy Weekend Part 1

Actually, the title of the song is “Stormy Monday,” the blues classic that will serve as the foundation for this 2-part workshop by Daniel Ward. Learning to play the blues provides such a solid foundation for any player’s repertoire, that we recommend you take at least one of our blues workshops, even if you don’t take anything else.  In this one, developed for more experienced players, Daniel will cover both familiar and advanced chord shapes in time with the changes, as well as the pentatonic and blues scales in major and minor for soloing.  You can count on some good right hand attention too, exploring the strengths of finger-style, strumming, and using a pick.  By the end of the second workshop you will be “trading chords and solos” as partners and come away with a whole set of new skills to help tackle any blues song on your own. Part 1 is highly recommended if you want to take Part 2.

Stormy Weekend Part 2

This is an extension, primarily for more advanced players of Stormy Weekend, Part 1, focusing on the more advanced chord shapes and right hand technique, including  finger-style, strumming, and using a pick.  The blues classic “Stormy Monday” will serve as the foundation.  By the end of this workshop you will be “trading chords and solos” as partners and come away with a whole set of new skills to help tackle any blues song on your own. To get the most out of this workshop, you should take Stormy Weekend, Part 1.

All of Me!

Why not take all of me?  It’s a wonderful opportunity to explore and learn this iconic tune with Daniel Ward and discover all its lovely jazz changes without getting lost! And, since the tune itself travels through several different keys, you’ll start to get a feel for how the dominant chord can take you places you didn’t know you wanted to go!  And you’ll be learning some basic jazz strumming techniques at the same time. By the end of the session, you’ll not only have a new tune under your belt, you’ll also have a pocketful of tricks to apply to other songs of the genre. Can’t you see?  You’re no good without this.

Do the Fandango!

  1. 1. a lively Spanish dance for two people, typically accompanied by castanets or tambourine, or 2. a foolish or useless act or thing. For our purposes, we’ll go with the first definition, a 12-count rhythm that requires some thumb work and fancy strumming, with temolo,  scales, and rageuados for the right hand, to get that traditional flamenco sound. And who better to give it to you than Daniel Ward, a professional flamenco guitarist for the past 30 years? With a traditional flamenco fandango under your belt, you’ll be set to play on your own for hours and sound simply amazing…not a foolish or useless thing at all. A low G is a plus if you have one, but skills and techniques learned here will work well with re-entrant tuning, as well.

(Heidi and Daniel don’t always refer to themselves in the third person, but when Heidi and Daniel do….  Thanks, Elaine DeMann for writing up such lively course descriptions!  Too good not to steal!)