Monday, January 11, 2010

UE #20 Dare to Start a Ukulele Club

Question: What activity is: more fun with 2 or more people involved, completely free, usually done indoors but can be done anywhere and at the end leaves the participants slightly breathless and with big smiles?
Answer: Playing music in your very own ukulele club! This week I’ll tell you all about how to start and run such a club.

I never thought of myself as either a leader or a follower. When someone says, "Follow me" my instinct is to walk the other way. If a movement is popular I don't want any part of it. In fact the ukulele attracted me because I saw nobody else playing it.

It looks as if the ever growing popularity of the ukulele should leave me in a paradox. You probably think, 'If the ukulele continues to be in then Ralph will have to find a new, obscure activity to partake in.'

Not so. I have always upheld the view that the ukulele is truly democratic. It is a means by which anyone with a modicum of musical talent can exhibit their individual self expression. A ukulele club is a way that many individuals can show off this uniqueness, together, as a group.
Stay with me on this I know where I'm going.

Being part of a ukulele club is quite different from supporting any of the abstract human inventions that have arisen for profit and/or power. These include: countries, major sports teams, and the hollywood movie and pop music industries.

We are constantly being told that those things are real and important: but from my aeroplane window I don't see the border lines that divide countries. I just see the faces of my fellow passengers. Hey and if they happen to all be ukulele players then I know everything is going to be OK!

Visiting Britain's Yorkshire Ukulele Circle in 1996 I witnessed the ebullient joy that arises from a getting together of ukulele enthusiasts.

In the summer of 2000 I mentioned this to a friend. She spontaneously offered to pay for the newspaper ad if I would run a similar club. I agreed.
The Vancouver Ukulele Circle is now in its 10th year and meets on the 3rd Tuesday of every month.

If you don't live in a place that already has a ukulele club you may want to start your own. Its not hard. Here's how...

1) Let people know. Newspaper ads are good but the free way to do it would be to advertise online. You can use craigslist or social networking sites to bring people in. Put a notice in your local music store. Someone in your club may create a website. Here is ours: Wendy runs it by putting up information and pictures. I contribute by writing a short blog after every meeting.

2) You'll need a venue. We began with 9 of us in the common room of my apartment complex. You can use a community or church hall, local pub or coffee house (ask first)! If you only have 5 members then do it in someone's home. If you live in a warm country then play outside: You are sure to bring smiles to the faces of passers by.

3) You'll need a musical leader. In our case this was me but you don't need to be an 'expert' to lead a song. You just need to establish the beginnings and ends of songs and decide the route that songs will take (repeats, instrumental breaks etc.) The leader should practice songs at home first to develop some proficiency.

If strong musicianship is lacking you can try playing along with Youtube performances. Find written music with the correct chord changes and set up a computer to lead you. My Ukulele Playalong DVD was also created for individuals or groups to use for this purpose. The DVD and songs from it can be found on my website:

4) Format. In my club close to 70 strummers now meet once a month. Starting at 7:30 we play together for about an hour. We take a break to socalize and then come back for performance time. This is a chance for individuals to show off 1 song. We used to allow 2 songs but had to cut back as performers became more proficient and keen! We finish by playing songs together until 10pm. You can pick certain songs to begin and close every meeting.

5) Repertoire. In the early days members would bring copies of songs to share. For convenience we eventually compiled 100 songs into one book. Music sheets show the lyrics and chord changes. The songs must be fairly generally known but repertoire can come from any era. Have fun discovering which songs work for you.

6) Objectives. Some clubs turn into proficient performing groups. However this format necessitates exclusion of weaker players. The Vancouver Uke Circle has no goals other than to play music and have fun. It doesn't even have to sound good, but if it does... Hey Bonus! Together you can decide what objectives you want your group to fulfill.

7) Other things to do. You don't have to fill the whole time playing music. Get inspiration from watching video clips of great players. Bring in guest musicians. Have a teaching component taught by one of your better players. Some groups even tell me that they sit and learn something from one of my DVDs as part of their sessions.

These ideas are a basic framework to which you can add and change anything you want.

Interestingly I find that
as its popularity increases I am indeed drifting away from the little four stringed fellow that we hold so dear.
Here's why: Stan in my uke club gave me a thrift store Baritone ukulele last year. I can't keep my hands off it! Thus I find myself in a sub-group of a sub-group of music and happily back on the fringes of society once again!

"I don't know how to solve the problems of the world but I have a feeling it has something to do with the ukulele."
Marianne Brogan - Organiser Portland Ukulele Festival

©Ralph Shaw 2010

1 comment:

  1. Some great ideas there Ralph, I will have a think about some for incorporating into the Edinburgh Monday Ukearist which has now been going for a year.

    I can highly recommend starting a uke club, they're great fun to run and attend and those who come really enjoy it.

    Your ethos for uke clubs exactly embodies that which I have tried to engender with the Edinburgh Monday Ukearist - that they should be fun, accessible, non-pressured and free.