Bob Brozman is a huge musical hero of mine. So when I noticed he was promoting his ukulele workshops in California, I leapt at the chance to throw a few questions his way.
Ukulele Spaghetti was the tune that made me realise what the ukulele was capable of. When did you first become aware of the ukulele? And when did you first realise what it was capable of?
I had been playing guitar since 1960, started uke when I was around 20 years old in the early 70s. First really became aware of uke via Ukulele Ike, collecting 78s in junk shops. As soon as I started playing it, I realized it has all the musical potential for virtuosity that all stringed instruments have!
You’re doing a series of ukulele workshops later this month. What can people expect to learn there?
I want to strengthen people’s uke skills in addition to teaching about how blues, jazz and swing tunes work. We will look at the various right hand techniques of strumming and picking, with a view towards getting more variety and contrast in the sound of your playing. Also we will quickly see how chords shapes relate to each other, and how to use chords to begin soloing and improvising. We will look at standard chord inversions, and also the “slack key” approach of using only 2 fingers to get all majors and minors in any key! Lots of playing in class, and I plan on observing everyone carefully to assure comfort and comprehension!
What are your top ukulele playing tips?
Getting maximum variety with a minimum of effort! Learn to play the same song several ways with different chord voicings and strum/pick patterns.
What are the biggest mistakes you see ukulele players make?
Not believing their own ears, most uke players are better than they think! Perhaps also, not looking hard enough for patterns and similarities all over the fingerboard.
You’ve described the charango as a “Bolivian super ukulele”. What makes it such a special instrument?
The charangos is a 5 course, ten-string cousin of the uke. The double stringing, the octave string pair, and the extra pair of strings provide all sorts of opportunities for expansion, especially if you already play uke. The volume and tone of these is incredible and exotic. Easy to transfer uke skills to charangos.
Many of your collaborations have been with musicians from islands: Papua New Guinea, Okinawa, Réunion and Hawaii. Is there something special that happens to music on islands?
Absolutely! Musical instruments and ideas, not always 100% perfectly expressed and understood, arrive on islands from distant places and cultures, percolate in isolation on the island, then emerge as new hybrid music. That plus the strength of nature so evident on islands makes for wonderful new music. Hawaii was one of the first “laboratories” for this phenomenon.
I’ve heard you talk about the exciting things that happen when a culture first comes into contact with fretted instruments. But it seems like the entrie world is singing Britney songs. Are there any parts of the world where exciting new music is being made right now?
Access to instruments in the third world can be very limited, so there are still places where music is being discovered, re-shaped and created. The poorer the country, the richer the music, in general, also the greater function music has in daily social life. Britney-type commercialism takes us far away from the original reasons for music, but it has not penetrated everywhere!
What can we expect to hear from you in the future?
More crazy music, more beautiful music, I don’t plan on quitting anytime soon!
Entirely selfish question. When doing a ukulele workshop in the UK?
Will be doing a guitar workshop in November 2009, but no uke plans at the moment, unless duty calls…..
Bob’s ukulele workshops will be taking place in Ben Lomond, CA on July 25th and 26th and August 1st and 2nd. You can find out more and register on his website. And you can contact him with a barrage of requests for ukulele workshops in the UK here.