The Ukulele in Celtic Music??

The Ukulele in Celtic Music??

I have been reading the octave mandolin posts here. I know that ukuleles are also manufactured with four courses of strings (GCEA, with the E and A courses using pairs of strings an octave apart). Aquila makes a related set of Nylgut (tm) strings for them. Aquila also manufactures a GDAE string set for ukuleles (which which are normally tuned to GCEA). I suppose this ukulele equipped with Aquila’s GDAE strings could provide an inexpensive practice instrument for a beginner who is not sure that he or she will stick with an Irish octave mandolin, until they reassure themselves that they will not give up. I am slowly becoming familiar with the ukulele in GCEA tuning with its chords and note positions relative to frets. Does anyone have any comments with regard to its usefulness in celtic music? Does anyone see any value in setting a ukulele up with GDAE tuning if one is used to GCEA tuning, or would it simply muddy the water in terms of learning to play the instrument well?

Ukuleles are commonly set up with a "low G" string tuned below middle C, in terms of extending range. My impression until now has been than mandolin tuning may have been designed to help those who play the violin play a stringed instrument that can be strummed without learning new note positions. I’ve avoided mandolin string sets and tuning because of this, and even tuned the simple violin I built last Christmas to GCEA, so I could use both instruments to reinforce what I know from playing the ukulele, just as a violinist might find a mandolin tuned to GDAE to be appealing.

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I was not aware that uke’s have 4 sets of double strings. That’s a new one on me.

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About as useful as the Uillean pipes in Hawaiian music.

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The more you play diddley tunes (or any music for that matter) on instruments that are physically different - not just strings tuned in different intervals but strings to wind etc. - the more you will get to understand the music from an aural perspective. It’s important to be able to move away from the psychological connection your brain makes between the patterns your fingers follow and the noise that comes out.

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Re: The Ukulele in Celtic Music??

A couple of thoughts:

First, I really love the uke in ragtime and early jazz styles. Lovely sound. It’s also a goofy self-deprecating instrument, sure to bring smiles.

But I have real misgivings about it’s place in Irish traditional dance music.

If you just want to put your toe in the water, learn some tunes, sure, go ahead and experiment. Tune it GDAE or whatever and have at it.

But do it at home. Do not expect to go to a sessions, as a beginner with your uke. In the hands of a master it might come across as traditional, or maybe not even then.

I’ve never actually seen an eight string uke though I’ve seen references to them. Are you sure you’re using “course” accurately? It usually means paired strings, usually tuned in unison or an octave. 6 stringed ukes are actually popular, with only the 1st and 3rd strings doubled, and usually on a larger uke body like a tenor or baritone. Great sound, almost like a charango, less chorus-y than a 12-string guitar. If you like strummed backing it might work. Here’s one:

http://elderly.com/new_instruments/items/HF600.htm

Good luck.

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I’m not convinced about the instrument in diddley music either. There’s a kind of weird thing about bringing in an instrument from outside the tradition. I can’t help asking why? And it also begs the question, is it diddley music you like, or is it the instrument? Though I know it’s been done before successfully, so I’m willing to keep an open mind.

Having said that, what an instrument in the right hands. I’ve been listening to Jake Shimabukuro recently. I heard him first off a Bela Fleck record. He’s bloody amazing. He gives the thing a lovely bell like quality and he certainly makes the thing sound capable of, if not the correct sounds for diddley music, certainly an array of articulations large enough to have a go. (better than a bloody banjo anyway)

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So the melody instruments I encounter in sessions with any regularity are:
fiddle
flute
whistle
accordion
pipes
banjo
mandolin

Quite a variety in terms of tonality, articulation, etc.

Now if I think about adding ukuleles to this list, does it seem radically out of place? I don’t think so. Not any stranger than banjo or mandolin.

And they aren’t even that loud, right? :-)

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harp, pipes, flute, whistle and fiddle are generally held to be the "traditional" instruments in ITM.

some people have learned ways of making "modern" banjos, accordions etc work in the idiom.

some people have yet to learn how to make their traditional fiddles or whatever work in the idiom.

moral: it’s more to do with how you play than what you play on. play your uke if you think you can get away with it,

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Re: The Ukulele in Celtic Music??

I’m primarily interested in whether GCEA tuning is inferior to GDAE tuning given the octave leaps in ITM. The ukulele was primarily applied for strumming chords for much of its scant, 100 year history. Only recently has it been used for fingerstyle playing and developed a variant with a low G string (rather than re-entrant tuning to GCEA.) I may get a GDAE string set and install on one of my lesser ukuleles to see if there’s much of a difference in playing ITM in terms of ease of octave leaps without delays in time.

I had wondered if the Formby Society influence and Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain had caused some to try ukuleles with ITM. The instrument comes in many sizes, from the all too familiar soprano (that really begs for a button and a strap to stabilize it), through concert and tenor, up to baritone, so the tone can vary somewhat. As for volume, there are string sets out there that are meant to be rather loud, with some asserting that Aquila is one maker of such strings. Of course, as with most things, it depends on the instrument…

Thank you.

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I think you are talking about the tiple, an instrument that looks like a uke but has double courses. I’ve heard one in a session, it is not very loud and comes across like a mandolin mated to a small guitar.

You could use it, but no one would hear you. On the other hand, I just worked out "Lark in the Morning" on my soprano uke. :grin:

Mike Keyes
http://www.mikekeyes.com

Re: The Ukulele in Celtic Music??

Tony Cuffe used to play a tiple - very well, of course.

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If you’re worried about bringing one to a session, why not just ask the folks at your local session? They’re the ones it will matter to, not us.

As for tuning, given the keys that most tunes are in GDAE tuning is the easy way to go.

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Yeah I vote for GDAE too.

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"As for tuning, given the keys that most tunes are in GDAE tuning is the easy way to go."

…and given that the fiddle has been very stongly bound up in the last 200 years of this musical tradition, so many tunes fall most comfortably under the fingers in GDAE tuning. If they didn’t originally, then, over a couple fo centuries, fiddlers’ fingers will have gently kneaded them into more fiddle-friendly shapes.

Re: The Ukulele in Celtic Music??

Thanks for the responses. I am getting more interested in GDAE tuning, but I want to be fair to GCEA tuning when employed near the base of the fingerboard in terms of accomodating octave leaps.

If you go to the bottom of the advertisement at the link at bottom of this post, you will see that this instrument has eight strings in four courses. It is not a "tiple", but a ukulele. (I’m not the one selling it, nor do I know the party that is selling it.)

I do plan to piece together GDAE tuning with an 8 string ukulele set (low G string, E string down to D, lower of the two A strings, and high E string) and try converting a quick tune using a tablature generator to see how hard it would be to play. At my level, it’s all tablature to me anyhow until I become familiar with the tune, so the tuning isn’t that relevant. How much time it takes to transition between octaves is more relevant.

I’m offering the following as a specimen example of an 8 string ukulele. The top right picture at the bottom of the advertisement shows the four courses well. (I know nothing about this instrument, good or bad.)

http://cgi.ebay.com/MELE-CUTAWAY-KOA-8-string-TENOR-UKULELE-w-SPRUCE-TOP_W0QQitemZ170232892942QQcmdZViewItem?hash=item170232892942&_trksid=p3286.m14.l1318

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I vote for GDAE too - then you can treat it like a tiny tenor guitar. maybe I’ll get one too…

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please dont. some of us are trying to adjust to playing in bars without smoke in them, where we can breath and concentrate. this newly found clarity of mind need not be disturbed until the intake of alcohol increases accordingly.

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Re: The Ukulele in Celtic Music??

*you* know

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That vid was gruelling.

It gives the impression the uke might be at home in spoofs / comic numbers / sad acts aspiring to be one or the other, but not much else. Which isn’t to discourage someone from taking up the gauntlet. No doubt quite a few have tried to emancipate the uke from its stereotypical role.

Is it Hawaiian? It might be a good idea to hear what *they* do with it.

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sorry

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most people have only seen the toy ukeleles, but there some really beautiful instruments out there. you might like the slack key style of playing better than the nirvana style…
http://youtube.com/watch?v=kp4R44oUoYg

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wyogal’s link there was much classier than the one I saw earlier: it seems to indicate the uke could function as a poor man’s harp, if nothing else.

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oh dear - and in this post-colonial age even

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With apologies to the Plectrum Posse, many of whom are certainly a credit to Irish traditional music… pipes, fiddle, whistle, and flute (considered by many to be the most traditionally Irish instruments) are capable of truly sustaining a note—not just striking it, and letting it ring. They can also add various ornaments that are just not possible with a plucked or percussive instrument.

In my (not over-educated) opinion, that ability to produce an unbroken series of sustained notes with ornamentation is one of the essential elements of Irish trad music. So a ukelele might be fun as a novelty—but that’s all. Just another version of the mandolin, if you will. Traditional in Hawaiian music, of course, but not in Irish music.

That said, here’s my favorite ukelele clip:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TKdhECF0-BU

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Oops, I forgot Carolan. But then, he’s more Italian baroque anyway, right? (Might as well add some more fuel to the fire.)

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O’Carolan - Italian? No wonder his name has so many vowels! And I thought he was my favorite Irish composer… Alas… (Or should I say "Malo! Malo!")

If you want to see a great Hawaiian slack key ukulele artist:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rRUfFAY2weo .


(He also builds them.)

I’m now converting a rather cra…. er, disappointing instrument that I constructed to a mandolin. (The finish is still drying on what I hope will be the good ones…) I’m changing the other cra… er, disappointing instrument to a low DGBE ukulele once the strings I just ordered arrive from Hawaii. Maybe it won’t sound so tinny then.

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Transplanted Hawai’ian weighing in….

If you’re gonna play the uke, play the uke!

If you’re gonna play the octave mandolin, play the octave mandolin.

They are very different, and they sound in different registers and lend themselves to different ideas. I don’t think you’ll get much mileage out of bringing the uke into the session setting.

That said, I have arranged a few trad tunes for Hawaiian slack key, and I’m a big Barry Flanagan fan!

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Jon Sanders http://www.jon-sanders.com picked up a ukulele while he was over here in New Zealand this year. He was playing polkas and jigs brilliantly on it within a couple of weeks (but he can do that on anything with strings!). He would be the best person to talk to about using ukes in Irish music because he has a vast background in the music.

BTW, most ukes we have here have only 4 strings (unpaired) but the traditional Tahitian ones have 4 sets of 2 like a mandolin. Don’t know about Hawaiian ukes!

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I regularly play the uke at ITM sessions. I have run into much ridicule and opposition here, on this forum, for what is seen as diss-ing the tradition but little, if any whilst actually doing it for real at sessions. I suppose it’s all to do with the difference between talking about it and actually doing it!
I’ve only been playing ITM for a couple of years (although I have a lifetime’s experience of playing allsorts of other genres on a variety of instruments).
I own and play the treble, the tenor and the baritone ukulele, however I find the only one wholly suitable for ITM backing is the baritone. But the treble is very handy to travel with and its inherent humour is a jolly good ice breaker!
The baritone is tuned GDBE (like the top strings of the six string devil (SSD)). These are nylon strings (or “Nylgut”- synthetic gut or real gut). This plus not using a plectrum means the instrument is rather more mellow sounding than the other strummy things (bouzouki/ octave mando’s and family / SSD und so weiter…). The tone of the baritone is rather more classical SSD than a uke plunka-plunka!
Having a D string at the bottom followed by a G is very handy for diddley of course and it doesn’t have the nasty bassy blur that the E & A strings of the SSD give.
ONCE YOU HAVE LEARNT A BUNCH OF TUNES the sound of the baritone can back most subtly evoking the off beat pulse of box basses, the twanging or clonking of droney fiddle strings, the occasional bit of unison with the tune, hammer away of the D along with the pipes, harpy arpeggios, banjo-ish pull offs and all at volume that is polite where often, especially in a small session the SSD is too strident. Of course you can spank the bastard and make it louder when necc!!!!

And, by the way, it all depends on who’s playing it.
As with all instruments, it’s the player and his ears listening to everyone else at the session that makes it work. You can’t just get a uke, turn up, plunk away and expect to be accepted!! I know!
OK!

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An alternative is to go for ‘D’ uke tuning instead of the standard ‘C’ tuning: ADF#B. It makes for very easy chords in the common session keys.

My experience suggests the ukulele is a great chording instrument but more limited for melody, so the GDAE tuning would certainly help there, but would it really still be a uke?

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I just know there are some Menehunes jiggin’ and a-reelin’ ‘round a volcano ukulele-style right now. ;-)

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I am fond of the ukulele, and not merely as half of a comedic routine. I can see the DGBE baritone ukulele tuning as being more acceptable in ITM, as it is a more guitar-like sound (bottom four strings of a guitar), and I doubt that too many fiddlers would complain about a fellow four stringed instrument player…unless given an opportunity.

There are many slack key "open" tunings available that are used in Hawaii, which are directly adaptable to ukuleles. I ordered a set of GHS ultra-light mandolin strings last night to try to avoid over-tensioning a ukulele’s un-reinforced neck, when I found that I could not adapt a set of 8 string ukulele strings due to the high E string limit. (Aquila sells that set I mentioned for GDAE tuning, but they have a minimum order limit and international mail can be slow.) I hope to see if one course of these mandolin strings "wakes up" this otherwise dreary sounding ukulele given the broader spectral range. (I suspect the polycrylic finish that I applied may have a sound dampening effect.)

I hope to see how the Hilo baritone ukulele strings work on the other, pure plywood model, which is extremely loud, but tinny sounding with higher pitched strings (even with Aquila nylgut strings). I’ve attempted jigs on a ukulele, but probably need to become more familiar with note positions at the base of the neck to avoid having to move my hand too far during octave leaps to keep up a decent pace when playing them. Perhaps GDAE tuning will help with that. If it doesn’t, the instrument I’m experimenting with will otherwise be a loss.

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Another thought for the baritone uke: Perhaps you could experiment with a partial DADGAD tuning, ie. DGAD (bass to treble). DADGAD is a very popular Irish guitar tuning that lends itself to backing these modal tunes.

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I would be happy to welcome a ukulele player. I think it would be interesting and fun to play with. I would require any uke player at our sessions to sing us "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" though.

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HA! I love it!

We got a seat waiting for ya in SW Florida, yhallhouse. I’ll rip out a ‘Tulip’ solo on the fiddle. ;-)

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Wow, Joe Burke co-composed that tune?

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SWFL Fiddler:
Thanks for the offer, I’d like to show up…
Funnily enough I’m flying to the American home planet on the 20th of this month from South London. BUT, we (the band) couldn’t be going further from Florida if we tried as we are going to Portland OR!!

Re: The Ukulele in Celtic Music??

DGAD tuning on a ukulele? Not a problem with a baritone string set. Just slack the B and E strings down two semi-tones from DGBE. You don’t even have to adjust the nut. (Slack key "taro patch" tuning with a baritone ukulele is actually DGBD. It’s GCEG with smaller ukulele.)

You can do anything with the resulting tuning that you can do with the bottom four strings of a guitar. The ukulele is quite versatile, particulalry with either baritone strings and tuning or "low G" strings and tuning.

With the "low G" string option the top string is tuned down to the G note below middle C, as with a mandolin, rather than tuning it re-entrantly with the top string at G in the octave of middle C. This extends the range below middle C, and gives you the same interval between strings as with DGBE tuning. (Not all tablature written for re-entrant tuning will sound good with a "low G" or baritone ukulele string set.)

Note that Aquila sells a string set that will let you tune smaller ukuleles to baritone tuning, but you may not care for the interaction of lower pitched strings and an instrument that may have been developed to resonate at higher frequencies. If you are used to re-entrant tuning, it may sound "flat" and might seem wanting in volume.

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yhaalhouse - if you’re coming to Portland you can bring the uke to my sessions! Where are you playing here?

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The Internet already has three books.

1) "Irish tunes for all ukulele"
56 tunes for all ukulele. In classical scales session. (D major, G major, E Dorian, etc. ..)
http://www.amazon.com/Irish-tunes-all-ukulele-Bariton/dp/1478246480

2) "20 Celtic fingerstyle Uke Tunes" Only 20 tunes for tuning C tuning.
http://www.melbay.com/samples.asp?productid=22129BCD&sampnum=2&category=&Heading=&catID=&head1=&head2=&sub=&sub1=&Author=&mode=&next=

3) "Irish Songs for Ukulele" 55 mainly songs, not tunes.
http://www.halleonard.com/product/viewproduct.do?itemid=103153&lid=137&seriesfeature=&menuid=522&subsiteid=7&