Is it possible to play ukulele in a session?

Is it possible to play ukulele in a session?

If so, how would you tune the ukulele to play in a session? Are there any good examples out there of backing with a ukulele? I don’t want to tune it in 5ths and play it like a mandolin. I already have a mandolin. I’m talking about backing up with a ukulele. You don’t need to insult me if it’s totally wrong. Generally I play fiddle, or try to. But I play ukulele sometimes at my old-time jam when we don’t have a guitar player. I try to do my part to help out.

Re: Is it possible to play ukulele in a session?

Do you want to not just play fiddle in an Irish session, sb? Personally I consider accompaniment to be much more difficult than playing the tune when it’s a session playing single line melody. In our session we have two "backers" on ukulele. They alternate depending on who shows. One is a sensitive player who listens to the melody players.

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Re: Is it possible to play ukulele in a session?

As someone who has tried guitar and octave mandolin accompaniment, I’m not sure what one would do to accompany jigs and reels on ukelele. Now, admittedly, I am rather prejudiced—I don’t like the sound of the critters unless in certain settings. But to me the sound is sort of high-range and not supportive of the usual melody instruments (fiddle, flute, whistle, box), unless you got a very deep-voiced uke, which sort of gets you into the tenor guitar area. And I’m not sure the uke would blend well with banjo atall.
Maybe it would work if it was in an "open"tuning and you could use barre chords?

Re: Is it possible to play ukulele in a session?

Yes, it is possible.

Re: Is it possible to play ukulele in a session?

Its possible - just as it is possible to play chords on a mandolin at a session. In my opinion though it just doesn’t sound that great those high pitched chords shrill chords. Guitars and zouks can offer a nice bit of bottom end and a bit more complexity in how the chords are employed. As a long term accompanist and more lately tune player, I wouldn’t agree that accompaniment is "helping out" the tune players. They’ll be fine without us.

Re: Is it possible to play ukulele in a session?

no

Re: Is it possible to play ukulele in a session?

The less strummed chordal accompaniment the better for me but if someone feels they have to do it then at least the uke is relatively quiet ;-)

Re: Is it possible to play ukulele in a session?

There are ukuleles at one session I go to. I don’t like it - but as Loughcurra says - it’s relatively quiet - and less annoying than percussion players with no sense of rhythm!

Re: Is it possible to play ukulele in a session?

Maybe a big uke with GDAE tuning? I know you don’t want to do that but it seems the only option to me.

Re: Is it possible to play ukulele in a session?

As mentioned above, it is possible. I play ukulele, steel guitar and fiddle, but two things come to mind about this question. Firstly, in most rowdy situations, the ukulele will be lost amid the fuller sounding instruments. Secondly, can the ukulele’s sound contribute to the ambience of Irish traditional music? I think not, but a guitar thrashed like a bodhran is not all that charming either.

Re: Is it possible to play ukulele in a session?

You would need to be very careful when trying to bring a uke into a session. It won’t be welcomed in most sessions so you’d need to find one that’s very open and friendly to all instruments.

Re: Is it possible to play ukulele in a session?

The question should be "will a ukelele add anything to the session ?". As we say in Scotland, "Ah ha’e ma doots".

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Re: Is it possible to play ukulele in a session?

Use a bass ukelele with all of the strings tuned to the nearest bohdran.

Re: Is it possible to play ukulele in a session?

I find a lot of wonderful uses for the ukulele…beyond strumming a few three note chords (youtube is full of them). The uke may well be worth pursuing. So, of course you can play a ukulele in a session. There’s a great big "but" there. For all of the reasons already mentioned you probably ought not to. Just a thought. (Note: the bass I’ve been playing for the last 60 years isn’t all that welcome either so I live with it.)

Re: Is it possible to play ukulele in a session?

My main session-ing instrument is the BARITONE ukulele.
I have played them in sessions for about 20 years.
I am 90% a backer.
Tuned DGBE it functions as a small 4 string nylon strung guitar.
I find they have a harp like quality to their sound and sometimes, strangely, a piano like timbre.
For larger more raucous sessions I have a Gold Tone BARITONE BANJOLELE also tuned DGBE (nylon strings).
They are both easier to cart around on the tube than acoustic guitars (which are frightfully large pieces of wood esp. when in a hard case).
I have tried my tenors, trebles/ concerts and sopranissimos but I find, except in a duo or trio situation, far too quiet and ‘plunka plunka’.
My bass uke is only effective with an amp (along with all the solid body electric ukes).
The treble banjolele (á la George Formby) tends to be too shrill!
Recently I have added an Eddie Finn 8 string tenor.
This works well, very harp like, but in common with its kindred strummyfings continually transposing to play in a GCEA tuning takes some mental and muscle memory gymnastics at times! By the way, mainly due to its nylon stringing, it sounds quite different to a mandolin despite having a similar range and double coursed strings.
You can pick up a new baritone from China for less than £100. I have bought a couple (Clearview and Caramel) and they are fab value. As is Mahalo. Kala, Ashbury and Tanglewood are reliable brands.
I hope this information is of some use.

Re: Is it possible to play ukulele in a session?

I forgot to mention the Romanian factory Hora. They produce some cheap but excellent baritones.

Re: Is it possible to play ukulele in a session?

I have had the pleasure of hearing Yhaal House’s baritone uke, and it works in a session. Kind of sounded like a tenor guitar. Not so sure about the week ukes. It’s very high pitched and plunky plunky.

Re: Is it possible to play ukulele in a session?

Shtyle! Shtyle! Shtyle!
It all depends on learning the shtyle!
So, yes, I would gladly accept a ukulele in an ITM session if it was played with proper shtyle!

Re: Is it possible to play ukulele in a session?

In my honest opinion, I don’t really see ukulele as an instrument that you’d want to play at an ITM session.
I don’t think anybody will hear you if you’re playing in a session with more than five people, and all you’re doing is being an even quieter version of a mandolin player who plays backup all the time.

But if you’re still into a tiny fretted instrument that you can strum, stick with your mandolin. I often think of the mandolin as an overpowered uke, simply cause I can get a lot more volume out of a mandolin and do lots more with it. I also find playing backup, especially for Irish tunes, a lot easier on mandolin.

As for Old-Time jams, stick with the mandolin. It’s a better instrument.

Re: Is it possible to play ukulele in a session?

If it really can’t be heard, so that it’s neither adding to nor subtracting from the music, but you’re enjoying it, I can’t see why anyone would object, except on principle.

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Re: Is it possible to play ukulele in a session?

Aloha

I’ve heard a uke and a tin whistle play a few sets with a slack key guitar backing it up.

Yes, u might need a pickup as mentioned. I really prefer the contribution of a slack key Hawaiian guitar picking notes in a particular harping Irish style. Not easy to tune and do but I’ve heard it and it is beautiful.

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Re: Is it possible to play ukulele in a session?

Thank you for saying so Dr Emily!

Re: Is it possible to play ukulele in a session?

I was playing tunes with a harpist recently. The harp did not sound like anything like a ukulele.

Re: Is it possible to play ukulele in a session?

Possible yes. It is also theoretically possible to play a whistle by shoving it up your arse and farting. Having said that, the baritone uke sounds intriguing.

Re: Is it possible to play ukulele in a session?

Darth Piper = DP

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Re: Is it possible to play ukulele in a session?

I’ll give the same answer as oft times before. It all depends on the session.

Re: Is it possible to play ukulele in a session?

As with any instrument at all (incl the ‘normals’: fiddle, box, flute etc let alone uke, sitar, bugle as so forth!) it all depends on the player.

Re: Is it possible to play ukulele in a session?

A friend plays baritone ukulele in a 5-piece group I used to play in: she tends mainly to strum, while the other strings (guitar and banjo) are more likely to be picking, so the uke comes over quite well. OK, not a session, yes, it does have more sound than a few soprano ukes.

Re: Is it possible to play ukulele in a session?

If you can play trad well on it and keep up with whomever is having the session without having any kind of negative impact or interfering with the flow of the music… sure.

Re: Is it possible to play ukulele in a session?

"Possible" - of course it is.
"Session" - What kind of a session ?
If all of the conditions described above by PB are met, there’s no problem, in any session.
But I don’t think it even needs that. All that is required is the consent or agreement of the other people playing in the session.

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Re: Is it possible to play ukulele in a session?

Is it feasible to play ukulele as an accompaniment instrument in ITM? Sure, I’ve seen it done, in a parlour concert, many years ago, by Manus Lunny, as I recall, who was strumming a nice tenor into one of those sample-and-delay-pedals like KT Tunstall uses, backing up Andy M. Stewart. In a sesh? You’ll probably get drowned out or annoy people and the purists ‘ll go mad either way. I respect purists, so should we all. I do play often in a couple of sessions which include saxophone and low whistles regularly (very well played) and also occasionally base fiddle, cello, and a funny sort of headless banjo struck with a stick. I think they call it a bow-run. All of which might excite purists, as might sessions themselves. Baritone ukulele, OTOH, is identical to tenor guitar save for the nylon strings. Some people tune them GDAE or GDAD like tenor manor/zook, a sort of zukeulele. But then, why not guitar or octave mando? Try it anyway and let us know, or have your next of kin let us know, how it worked. If anyone approaches you holding a Raleigh bicycle, run.

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Re: Is it possible to play ukulele in a session?

Nice video!

Re: Is it possible to play ukulele in a session?

Thank you all for your input. I am sorry I didn’t come by sooner to read all the responses but it got really busy at work and I had a lot of gigs after work this week, too.

Yhaal House thank you for sharing your experience as an actual uke player. My uke is a tiny one. I understand how the high pitch doesn’t quite add enough depth. I was playing today as an emergency back-up when nobody showed up with a guitar at our gig (American old time, not Irish). It was not low enough to really help that much, but it helped out a bit.

I don’t play the guitar. I like how guitar players do all that fancy stuff with their DADGAD tuning. I like what people do with Bouzouki’s. I kinda wonder if you can do the same stuff on a uke. How would you tune the uke? I only have a tiny uke that is tuned CGEA or DAF#B (which is actually what the old book it has says to tune it to.) I tried playing to some recordings but regular chords just don’t sound right with Irish music. How would you tune it to play in a more Irish-sounding way?

This uke is my mother’s. She bought it when she was 15 years old. She’s 78 years old now. She let me have it and I’m learning to play it. Even if I never brought it to an Irish session, it would be fun to learn to play like Irish guitar players do it.

Re: Is it possible to play ukulele in a session?

The video posted by Yhaal House is now added to the examples of ukulele virtuosity I mentioned earlier. I heard it at breakfast this morning and already it’s made my day. It’s beyond my imagination to think it wouldn’t be welcome anywhere.

Re: Is it possible to play ukulele in a session?

I’d like to turn the question inside out. If the number of ukelele players in your area is about 40:1 and you’re the only person playing trad, it might be interesting to see if the videos posted would engage the ukelele contingent enough to expand into a trad session.

Re: Is it possible to play ukulele in a session?

Regarding Callison’s thought experiment, I think a few of those 40 uke players might want to play chord backup in a session, but chances would be slim that any could play the melody. All the uke players I’ve known have been chord strummers, as in the George Harrison clip above.

There is a ukulele club in my small town, with at least 50 members based on a photo I saw on the club web site. They publish song books with titles like Beatles, Christmas Singalong, 1950’s, Cowboy, Tin Pan Alley, and Folk. The pages have song lyrics and chords, no Tab or dots for melody. I think that’s probably typical for most uke players. It isn’t taken seriously for playing instrumental melodies except by a few very accomplished players, like the videos posted above the Harrison one. It’s seen more commonly as a casual, fun instrument for playing chords behind singers. At least in my area.

More power to any uke player who does take that path to playing melody in an Irish session, but I think those would be few and far between.

Re: Is it possible to play ukulele in a session?

I have been doing the chord strumming thing at my old time jam. But those kinds of chords do not sound right with Irish music. All I was wondering is if you can tune it some way that lets you play it like bouzouki or guitar players do, get that kind of sound that they do where there are a lot of drones and the chords are ambiguous. Already the chord shapes are like the right half of a regularly-tuned guitar. But I don’t think I could tune it DGAD. I could tune it GDGD or GDAD, maybe that would be similar enough to get a similar effect. I guess nobody does this because even trying to describe it several times nobody has understood what I’m asking or provided any examples of it.

Re: Is it possible to play ukulele in a session?

A friend had her uke modified and restrung in GDAE like a mandolin, specifically for playing tunes.

Re: Is it possible to play ukulele in a session?

Baritone uke can be tuned like tenor guitar/ banjo useing standard nylon guitar strings and the soprano like a mandolin with special strings

Re: Is it possible to play ukulele in a session?

"The video posted by Yhaal House is now added to the examples of ukulele virtuosity I mentioned earlier. I heard it at breakfast this morning and already it’s made my day. It’s beyond my imagination to think it wouldn’t be welcome anywhere."

But the OP was asking whether ukes are suitable for sessions, not whether traditional tunes can be played, however beautifully, on the instrument. It’s difficult to imagine that a fingerpicked tune on the uke could be heard, or played at full tilt speed. The clips above are great. But in a session?

Re: Is it possible to play ukulele in a session?

I’m chilling on this 1st Monday just soaking in the beginning of October so I don’t know where my post will go.
Happy October!

First off I want to thank sbhikes for this thread. Also to encourage you to enjoy your grandmother’s uke & explore all the possibilities. If you keep an open mind you may just find a good way to ‘play ukulele in a session’.
If it never happens then members who ha’e doots will be right.

But I want to go to tuning, the James Hill clip & strumming vs melody, on uke…in a session.
Since Michael Eskin mentioned a player in his session uses GDAE you might want to try it though if you need to change any of the strings or make any modifications that may impact your playing ukulele in the old-time jam.

Now, to James Hill. My friend who teaches ukulele in Chico uses his methods. That alone makes me think he is someone who can help make this work; where others ha’e doots. She’s good! I assume it’s no accident she chose James’ tutorials.

I’ll wrap it up for now (even though I have more to say, maybe later). Strumming has picked up a bad name on this board. It’s a half-truth, lowest common denominator, stereotypical approach to plectrum instruments.
I want to encourage members to consider the other half. Not all strumming is bad in a session.

That’s all. Except to say Long live Iris Nevins! & check out James Hill’s instructional videos on YouTube.
"Chord-Melody Crash Course (standard uke tuning)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Se5w7Kio2w


Ha’e a good October,
Ben

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Re: Is it possible to play ukulele in a session?

Just to add, that there appears to be a lot of assumptions out there that the original post was about a ITM session. In an East Anglian Session ( EATM) - I just made that acronym up, I think - you would be accompanying dulcimers and concertinas of various hues. So yes it would work. I sometimes play a nylon strung plectrum banjo which is the same as a baritone banjolele, recently, I have replaced the D string with a uke style reentrant string an octave higher, so a real baritone uke with the drone in. If that makes sense.

Re: Is it possible to play ukulele in a session?

Kev Winks:
"…assumptions out there that the original post was about a ITM session."

sbhikes:
"I tried playing to some recordings but regular chords just don’t sound right with Irish music.
How would you tune it to play in a more Irish-sounding way?"

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Re: Is it possible to play ukulele in a session?

The assumption is that I want to play the melody like a mandolin. I want to play the chord progressions like a bouzouki or guitar, not the melody like a mandolin.

Someone at last night’s session said they sometimes tune their octave mando to GDAD. I think I can tune my uke that way. I’m going to see if I can figure out chords. I doubt I will ever take this to a session but I find learning about the chords interesting. And the way it’s done in Irish music is interesting.