Friday, August 28, 2009


My early posts to YouTube were just filmed using the built-in camera on my laptop. Nothing at all special. No editing. No enhancements. They barely had titles. And yet, my recording of "If My Nose Was Running Money" now has 801 views as of this writing. Hardly viral, but a pretty simple little piece. I know a few people who used it to learn the song -- But I think I just looked incredibly silly...

As I gave more thought to the potential of YouTube and the ukulele, I felt there were were two main purposes I could use the website for better then just trying to perform in front of a stationary camera:

1) Documenting events
2) Teaching beginner ukulele

To document, I mixed audio recording, still pictures, and limited video off my digital camera. The results were kinda fun, and were able (I hope) to capture the feelings of the event. The key, for me, was being able to use very talented artists who were attending and performing at the events. For Uke of the Irish, I was very fortunate to record some very good audio.

For teaching newcomers, my editing skill is an ongoing work in progress! But I have been able to put up a few tunes specifically to support our beginner workshops. Here are three, the simplest of them first...

And now we come to the big production number. Or should I say, Big Production Number! I think for many this is the fun of You Tube: To get on their and do something fun, silly, and entertaining to just about everyone who watches it.

Our Dallas Ukulele Headquarters video for Yankee Doodle Dandy is a case in point. My original concept was just to use the sheer mass of ukulele players I had at this party to show an ever increasing group. That might have been a pretty nice little video right there. however, the grand finale of the little two minute video was completely unexpected. I didn't know I'd have it available when the party began, and it was perfect because I think none of the viewers out there expect it either! Here's the video:

We were going to attempt to do a video for Chicken Dance yesterday, but we didn't have time. At the Brats, Beer and Beginner's Workshop, there was a lot of interest in our new projection system, and in fact we were going to use it as a giant teleprompter for the video. But when it came right down to it, our main purpose in gathering was to play, and that's what we did. And ate. The German food was wonderful. And drank.

Sweetie, Can you pour me a little more wine?

To finish out this blog, I received an interesting call from a local Senior Living Center, and they found us on YouTube. I haven't really thought about the full uses of this medium for Outreach to performance venues and to reach out to new members -- I've put the website in many of these videos, perhaps with the idea that new players would flock to us. But I've never had a venue find us this way.

Do you think the video that inspired the call was "If My Nose Was Running Money"?

(Thank you for reading Uke Plucks! My goal is to continually provide something interesting and of value to uke fans, uke players and uke group organizers.

Please see our official website, for more information, and DO sign up even if you are out of the area. That way you can see first hand what Dallas Ukulele Headquarters is doing.

Also, DO click on the FOLLOW BLOG button at the top of the page. This helps me to know who is reading and what topics to cover. Plus, it's a little stroke to my ego every time someone adds me.

And finally, DO leave a comment. Did you like this post? Not like it? What would you like to see me cover? Again, everything helps!

And remember: Without "U", it's just Kulele!)

Technology, Part Deux

Thursday night was the big night at Hula Hotties. It was our first visit to the tiny Hawaiian cafe and bakery, it was sold out, and it was also the debut of our big new concept: Using a projector for new music.

So, how did it go?

First of all, the venue is fantastic. The Hawaiian decor made the ukulele a very natural addition. Roger and Jill really opened the doors wide for us, and we stuffed more people in their then I could have imagined.

The Sound System Is Key To Any Open Mic Performance

Roger went all out setting up a sound system for us to use for open mic, and it really did a great job of making people heard. For those participating in the open mic, it was a very easy performance. Any mistakes made were solely the fault of the performer: No sound system snafus!

Food Is A Key Ingredient To A Jam Session Recipe: People Like To Eat!

Hula Hotties have a great menu, but more importantly it's different from the usual fare. Yes, you could get a burger, but it's not just a bacon cheeseburger and fries. No, your tastebuds were challenged by more tropical fare with extremely cool touches like little flowers in the salads. Great food!

And Finally: The Projector...

There were a few technical issues to work out. For this reason, I actually had only planned two songs using the projector tonight. And unfortunately, it almost didn't happen!

We had the equipment, but couldn't get the projector to speak to the computer. Fortunately, I had the extremely capable help of one of the group's strongest behind-the-scenes guys, Richard Muir, who came to the rescue. He got involved quickly, and wasn't going to give up until the thing worked!

Our hero, Richard Muir!

Plan B: Play the uke

So, while Richard worked with the equipment, I swithced to plan B. We hauled out the OLD technology, the songbo9oks, and we jammmed. Now this was really more about Open Mic, so we weren't jamming for hours, but people were there for a reason. Either to listen or to play. And just waiting wasn't accomplishing either of those things.

And people like playing. We were able to do some really fun things like having Roger accompany us on the saxaphone, and it keeps people engaged. For some, this is the only time they can squeeze in practice, so it's important to take advantage of the time available. Heck, I even got my wife, Kathy, up to sing with me.


Time marched on, and Richard kept armwrestling with the projector. The show must go on, as they say, and I had people signed up for open mic, so we moved on to The Main Event.

One of the highlights was getting to hear Roger play a few tunes. he's a songwriter as well as a musician, and can bear heard on Friday and Saturday nights at Hula Hotties. So, the set up was his home turf. We got to hear not just his ukulele play and melodic voice, but also the mixed in back up he had. Very professional sounding.

Now, I'm not saying that our own group wasn't professional sounding! But no one else had the back-up that Roger had. Instead, our own people, myself, Noel Tardy, Tim Hatcher, Katsu Nakayama, and Don Aspromonte did some new things. This is always a lot of fun, and as each person performed I found myself wishing I had the chart so I could learn the songs myself. For Don's songs, specifically focused on our beginner players, we will!

On a side note, I tried to video and tape each performer. If they came out well, it could be a nice gift back to the performer. Unfortunately, my little Zoom recorder sounded great on Roger, but didn't pick up anyone else well. And the video was a bit dark. Oh, well! Learning to get a good live recording is trial and error.

And finally: PROJECTOR!

Richard was successful at getting the projector going! And it did, in fact, prove to be a huge aid for people learning new music. It got everyone's eyes out of the sheet music, and got everyone focused on the same spot. I suggest a lot of white space, and very little in the way of backgrounds when using this technique. I put in a few small graphics, largely to differentiate when the screen changes.

We tried a beginner's song, a version of "Mama Don't Allow" with lots of simple three chord songs thrown in like "When the Saints Go Marching In" and "Froggie Went a Courtin'" -- The idea is to demonstrate how many songs can be played with just a handful of chords.

We also did a much more difficult song: Optimistic Voices from Wizard of Oz. This was a little more difficult to get through but not because of the projector technique: Just because of the more complex music.

So, What Did We Learn?

It was definitely worth the wait to try out the projector. I highly recommend it to any group. I'd say the two biggest immediate changes will be:

  • Throw in a page before we start playing that has just the chord charts. This is much more important for a complex song then a simple one, but it gives everyone a chance to see if they have the chord knowledge necessary before playing in rythm and singing.

  • Throw in an "end" page to signify the song is over instead of letting the powerpoint just go dark. It just looks better!

So, what do you think? Love to hear your thoughts and ideas! Especially before our next event:

(Thank you for reading Uke Plucks! My goal is to continually provide something interesting and of value to uke fans, uke players and uke group organizers.

Please see our official website, for more information, and DO sign up even if you are out of the area. That way you can see first hand what Dallas Ukulele Headquarters is doing.

Also, DO click on the FOLLOW BLOG button at the top of the page. This helps me to know who is reading and what topics to cover. Plus, it's a little stroke to my ego every time someone adds me.

And finally, DO leave a comment. Did you like this post? Not like it? What would you like to see me cover? Again, everything helps!

And remember: Without "U", it's just Kulele!)

Sunday, August 23, 2009


We are sold out for the Hula Hotties event on August 27th.

I know what you are thinking: Sold out? Wait a minute: How can you be sold out? You don't charge for these events, do you?

No, we don't charge for these events. Everyone is welcome. We encourage members to support our host establishments, but any donations are completely voluntary.

The thing is, Hula Hotties has 25 seats, and we have 25 reservations: Thus SOLD OUT!

So, what is it about Hula Hotties that has so captivated our members?

1) Hawaii -- Mostly we play Tin Pan Ally music, but Hawaii is an indelible part of ukulele music. And to have a Hawaiian Cafe open in Dallas is pretty much irrisistable. Isn't it?

2) Schedule -- Usually, our group gathers on Saturdays or Mondays. For this event, because of the restaurant's scheduling, Thursday was the date. You wouldn't think Thursday was such a hot outing night, but then we have some members who are stretched to attend our regular times. They may have flocked to this quickly, just because the day of the week is better. I think there's a scheduling lesson to be learned here.

3) Open Mic -- Not every jam session has an open microphone. We have a mix of performers, some who flock to center stage, and some who are shy. But for those who like to lead, the Open Microphone is not to be ignored. Meanwhile, we also have members who have less interest in playing and more interest in listening. For those, the more-polished songs of the Open Mic are good fun. We purposely don't make every jam have an Open Mic segment: We want it to be special, and for Hula Hotties that appears to be a contributing factor.

4)Food -- Oddly, although the focus of the group is ukulele play, the more varied the restaurant menu, the bigger the turnout. We actually have a Thai place scheduled in the near future. But the allure of Hawaiian food, just because it's different and new, undoubtedly plays a part. We have learned through trial and error that moving to different restaurants is very good for attendance. In the past, when we have settled on one particular venue for awhile, the attendance dwindles. It also means we have a wide rotation: We don't repeat a restaurant more then once every 6 months. We are fortunate to be in an area that has the highest number of restaurants per capita in the country!

5) Momentum -- I don't know how much this plays a factor, but we just finished a huge house concert with Bayless and Bernson ( ) -- The popularity of the concert may have spurned additional interest in this event. We also have Herb Ohta, Jr. coming in September -- ( ) -- This may have helped with Hula Hotties, too. Ride the wave. Gain enthusiasm. An object in motion tends to stay in motion.

Love to hear your thoughts on this phenomenon, too. Here's a link to the event so you can check it out -- Just don't plan on attending! (Although you can still be placed on the waiting list!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Technology and beginners....

Starting with our Hula Hotties jam on the 27th, we will begin testing some new technology.

Big special thank you to Mark "Spanky" Gutierrez and Kathy Levine for the great idea of using the computer projector for new music, and to Don Aspromonte for helping move the idea forward by bringing th projector and helping with the music...

What Mark does is use a computer projector to blow up music onto a wall where everyone can see it. This does a couple great things:

1) Everyone is looking up, where an audience would be, instead of buried in sheet music.
2) It cuts down on printing costs.
3) It saves all that hand out time -- "I need page two! I have two page ones!"

It amazes me how technology has changed with the ukulele. When I started playing, there wasn't much out there regarding chords, music, etc. Now, the technology allows key changing on the fly, huge collections of music, tips, chord bulding, printing software that doesn't have to be arm wrestled into a Word or Excel document, and recording equipment that is both inexpensive and fast. It's all been fabulous for the resurgence of the ukulele.

When I started, the only site out there, for the most part, was Now, there's a world of them -- There are now sites that just list other sites!

The uke is a very simple, basic instrument. I think the amazing fancy technology today is in part responsible for the resurgence and popularity of this little gem.

For me, I am happy to take advantage of everything I can to allow more people to enjoy the uke!

Not exactly viral, but....

The Dallas Ukulele Headquarters video from the 4th of July has now been viewed 500 times....

Give 'em The Finger!

One of the great things I have always noticed about the ukulele is the 1st position C chord: It’s made with one finger.

Now, the C chord is somewhat significant because of it’s simplicity and center in the music world. In truth, I suppose, it could be any other one finger chord: Am, Cm, and others.

In truth, “music” could be said to center almost anywhere. However, when you look at a piano, what note is in the center? The C. I rest my case.

Plus, when talking to beginners, it’s much better then saying something weird like “Except for jazz players from Chicago, who prefer 9th chords with a G root”. You want a strong, simple front for teaching.

I go about as overboard as I can when I talk about it: I want learning a handful of chords to be a watershed moment. I want it to be a door opening in someone’s life. I want people to feel phenomenal about learning the C chord.

After all, the ukulele changed my life. It gave me identity and focus and purpose. It gave me a mission and a theme. It colored my life. Hard not to get passionate about that when sharing with others.

And apparently, passion works. Passion teaches. Passion conveys meaning: Dallas Ukulele Headquarters has more people attending our beginner workshops then our regular jam sessions.

Glad to have them. Welcome aboard.

That’s the first thing I teach, and the first thing I share.