'The Nation's Ukulele Orchestra'
BBC News, Radio 4, 23rd September 2014
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  • Why play the Ukulele?

    The ukulele is small, convenient and relatively inexpensive, and one can often quickly and easily learn the basics to a rewarding level. One can then undertake a world tour with only hand luggage. Some people go so far as to say that playing a tune on a ukulele is a way of identifying good music; if the composition is good, it sounds good on a ukulele; the very limitations of the instrument encourage thinking creatively about music.

  • How do I tune a Ukulele?

    One way is to buy a pitch pipe and twiddle the tuning pegs on your uke until the notes of the four strings sound at the the same pitch as those of the pitch pipe. The four strings of the ukulele are often tuned to the notes A D F# B or G C E A. (The string nearest your nose if you're right handed being A.) The relationship between the strings in each case is the same but the actual pitch is different. In the following, we're using G C E A as the default, but A D F# B is only one tone higher.
    Perhaps you don't know much about music. Try this: If you can find "middle C" on a piano, the notes to the right of it are these notes: D E F G A. The black note to the right of F is F# (F sharp). Tune the relevant strings to the appropriate notes.
    Haven't got a piano or a pitch pipe? Try this: Tune the "C" string to a note that isn't so high that the string is too tight, but not so low that the string is floppy and without pitch or projection. Then taking the note of the string as the first note of the tune "The Holly and the Ivy", tune the other strings like this: G (Ivy, first syllable) C (The Holly and) E (Ivy, second syllable) A (the). Maybe this is clearer:
    (C) The Holly and
    (A) the
    (G) I-
    (E) -vy
    Getting the hang of this means you can tune "by ear" without needing a pitch pipe. If you want to play with other fixed pitch instruments you'll need to have an accurate note to start from, but if you're solo, or with other tunable instruments you can tune to any notes as long as the pitch relationships between the strings are accurate, ie if you can play "The Holly and the Ivy" on them.
    As alternatives, you could use
    The (C) Camp (E) bells (A) are (G) Coming Hurrah Hurrah
    Put your (C) glad (E) rags (G) on and (C) join (E) me, (G) hon,
    We'll (C) have (E) some (G) fun (A) when the clock strikes one,
    English ukulele tuning is said to be adf#b, whereas American tuning is gcea. Another good tuning is Bb Eb G C. Baritone ukes tend to be tuned DGBe.

  • Where can I find a good Ukulele?

    You might find that your grandparents have got one in the attic anyway. There are many good ukulele makers all over the world. A guitar maker might make one for you, though a small guitar does not sound the same as a ukulele; the construction methods and materials are different. Members of the Ukulele Orchestra have obtained good ukuleles from: Marshall Stapleton, Pete Howlett and many other manufacturers including Hawaiian experts, but a relatively good one can be obtained from most music shops. The traditional wood for ukulele construction in Hawaii is Koa, though many ukuleles are made from other woods. In the UK, a reasonable uke can be found for around 25 UK pounds although one can find old collectable ukes or high quality instruments which cost thousands of pounds.

  • Arranging for Orchestras

    Ukes are tuned g' c' e' a' for soprano, and d g b e' for baritone.

    The easiest thing is to write for soprano (or concert or tenor: they all usually have the same tuning) in treble clef (assuming 12 frets on the instrument this gives a range from middle c upwards to a, an 8va and a 6th above).

    For baritone, write as though its a classical guitar with the two lowest strings removed (so that means assuming 12 frets, a range from d below middle c, up to e on the top space of the treble clef). Your players might have more frets available and if so could go higher.

    This means the baritone is a transposing instrument, for example, you write a "d" below the bottom line of the treble clef, and when the baritone reads and plays this, it sounds an octave lower than notated. As with guitar.

    "Normal" ukes are tuned in re-entrant fashion (g' c' e' a', rather than g c' e' a'). This enables "between the strings" melodic work (campanile), sustaining adjacently pitched notes on different strings, for a bell like effect. Its a bit idiomatic for some tastes so you might persuade your players to use a low g string (g below middle c, instead of g above middle c) which will give you a wider range on the soprano uke. Baritones are rarely tuned in re-entrant style.

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