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Tricky Uke Tricks


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Once, early on in our ukedom, my cousin and I were strumming our way through The Beatles Songbook. It was a few days after Christmas. She’d recently acquired her first ukulele and mastered more chords in those few days than I had in the few months I’d been playing. But, I’d learned from a master of Tin Pan Alley and Vaudeville tunes, and I figured, given the opportunity, I could maybe compensate with a few fancy uke tricks. We'd just struggled through the first verse of Revolution, and arrived at “when you talk about destruction,” and we both, simultaneously, decided that a bit of rhythm was required. We attempted to make the thumping a seamless addition to the rest of the song, as we awkwardly tried to hit our ukuleles mid-strum. Demonstrating my sure —footed savvy, I loudly commanded her to, “Spank it!”

Her husband, sitting in the next room, glanced up at us, and we were reduced to a laughing-till-we-couldn’t-breathe heap on the living room sofa.

It seems that other folks have a hair more talent and creativity when it comes to trying fancy tricks on the uke. For the record, I have yet to master uke spanking, but, if I can possibly muster the coordination, I aim to make that a winter goal.

Of course the master of ukulele fanciness is Roy Smeck. I don’t even know how to describe all of the fancy tricks that guy could do with a ukulele. Actions speak louder than words.

The ukulele flip is another standard uke trick. It takes some practice and a bit of bravery to attempt this trick, but I’m told it’s not that hard to do. I think the trick within the trick is to be able to flip the uke mid-strum and not even miss beat. Don’t wait for me to do that the next time you catch an Alice Chalmers ATSACIYJB show, though. I’m going to have to work up to this trick

Here’s Li’l Rev, demonstrating the famous uke flip:

Sometimes, like me and my failed uke spanking, people attempt outlandish uke tricks as a way to draw attention to their other talents and away from the fact that they might not play the ukulele as well say, Roy Smeck,or something. For the past several years, Bushman Ukuleles in Nashville, Indiana has held a video contest, called the Bushman World Ukulele Contest. The winner gets a free Bushman Ukulele, and a bit of attention from the Ukulele world. There are always plenty of great videos posted, and I am sure it’s often pretty hard to pick a winner. Some folks, who might be a little short in the unbridled talent area, go to great lengths to win that coveted Busham uke. Here’s one guy juggling while playing his ukulele:

Here’s another guy doing wacky stuff in the hopes of winning a Bushman ukulele:

Then, there are folks who simply choose to play their ukuleles in odd and unexpected places just because they want to. Like this guy uking on the trampoline.

I've never thought of playing my ukulele on a roller coaster, but this adorable pair did. Well sort of. But the better trick is actually the truly excellent uke playing this duo can do.

Then there's Driving While Playing the Ukulele. I don’t recommend it. I am pretty sure it qualifies as Distracted Driving—but sometimes a person can’t help it. And, really, if you’re stuck in bumper to bumper traffic and you’re over taken by the urge to uke, really, what’s to stop you?

I am told that the lovely and talented Victoria Vox has a habit of uking and driving. Here she is caught in the act. It’s a good thing her knees know how to steer.

When all else fails, treat your uke like a percussion instrument. It makes a great bongo, as this guy demonstrates. By the way, Spencer has discovered that the molded plastic back of his new FLEA makes is a great drum.

Uke happenings around Indy

You need to know about some great ukulele stuff coming up at the Blue Stone Folk School this fall.

First, the next meeting of the Blue Stone Folk School Ukulele Society is Thursday, October 14, from 7-9 PM, at the Judge Stone House in Noblesville. Bring a uke, a friend and a song, and be prepared for a really great evening of music and fun. The Folk School requests a $1 donation.

Geoff Davis will be teaching a Soprano Cigar Box Ukulele Construction Workshop, starting October 19. The class takes place on four or five Tuesday s, from 7-9 PM. There’s limited enrollment, and the class costs $200, plus $98 for materials—a really great deal, when you consider that you will leave with a well-made, one of a kind playable instrument at the end of the session.

Another Beginning and Intermediate Ukulele Workshop will begin on Wednesday, October 20.

I just finished the first session, and I am ready to start the next. It’s a great place for beginners to learn confidence, but the format of the class is also amazing for intermediate players who want to learn more about chord structure, music theory, strumming and performance techniques—even flipping and spanking, if you ask nicely. There’s a limit of eight students for this class—it’s well worth it, too. $60 for six weeks. You can’t beat it.

If you don’t already receive the Blue Stone Folk School e-newsletter, you need to visit and sign up NOW.


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