Monday Exposure: Minor Constellations

Minor Constellations – Ending (MP3)
Minor Constellations – Cassette (MP3)
Minor Constellations – Why Tattoos Are Dangerous (MP3) via MySpace

Like any sane and right thinking person, I hate MySpace with every available sinew. But occasionally I come across something so good it makes me want to give Rupert Murdoch a big, sloppy kiss.

When I stumbled across Minor Constellations’ MySpace, I was knocked out by the quality of the songs.

Minor Constellations is 17 year old Dean Engle and I caught up with him to drill him for more information. One look at his top five songs will tell you why I love his stuff and why you will too.

How long have you been making music and how did you get into playing the ukulele?

I have been writing seriously writing songs for less than two years. One of my best friends and I used to have a band called The Delicate Delegates. I wrote the lyrics and he played acoustic guitar. Neither one of us was particularly adept in our respective fields and my complete ignorance of any instrument besides the alto saxophone (which I have played for seven years) led to underwhelming bland acoustic emo.

The guitar seemed like a necessary instrument to master if I was ever going to fully realize the songs I could hear in my head. After months of C chords and G chords that made my hands hurt, I had made some progress, but not enough to write songs the way I wanted to. Also, I could not sing and play at the same time, which made the situation entirely frustrating.

In January, I decided that for my 17th birthday I wanted a ukulele. My decision to play was mildly influenced by Jen Lekman’s use of the uke in some live videos I had seen, but other than that wonderful Swede, I did not know of any other musicians who played uke until after I began playing. I have cited divine intervention as the source of my uniting with the ukulele, but proving this has been difficult.

Within two weeks, I performed at a school talent show playing a song I wrote on the ukulele called “Ending.” People were instantly intrigued by the uke, and I finally had an instrument which would allow me to write songs and play them the way I wanted to. And they really liked the song, which was encouraging.

So, Minor Constellations has only been around since January 2008, which is admittedly sort of impressive, I guess.

Which acts are your biggest influences?

My biggest influence by far is John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats. Many of my first songs were colored by his rhythmic, lyrical, and vocal style. Now, I like to think I have broken away a bit and started to develop my own style, but my beloved MGs are a constant inspiration.

Also, straight up radio pop music is a huge influence. One of the best songs I have heard in a long time is “Leavin’” by Jesse McCartney. There’s nothing better than a good melody.

Music from the fifties and the early rock and roll era are also hugely inspirational. “Sea of Love” has one of the best chord progressions ever and it’s G, B, C, A. I read some famous musician say that simple songs are the hardest to write, but I don’t think that’s true at all. Playing a C and then an F still sounds nice, even if it’s been done before literally millions of times. Originality, for me, comes from the stories and lyrics, not necessarily the uke playing, although recently I have been experimenting more as my skills have steadily improved.

Which are your five favorite songs?

1. “Let Me Clear My Throat” – DJ Kool
2. “When a Man Loves a Woman” – Percy Sledge
3. “Oh Comely” – Neutral Milk Hotel
4. “Baboon” – The Mountain Goats
5. “The One Dollar Thought” – Jens Lekman

Music with SOUL. That power that comes from subtle perfection. I strive for that, always, and hopefully one day will come close. If you feel a little different after listening to a song, I think that’s a good indication of greatness. And if you want to go back and listen again, I think that’s even better.

How did you get so good at writing lyrics?

I’m a big writer, and I used to write short stories. Eventually the skills I learned from my varied attempts at fiction writing began to seep into my songs. Also, I re-work my lyrics dozens of times until I find exactly the right syllable patterns and adjectives and allusions and alliteration and all of those sorts of literary devices. Many of the songs are directly inspired by situations in my life (“Invitation” is a recent example), so adding personal detail is easy, because the stories are my own. So, basically, I try really, really hard, so I’m really, really glad you think they’re good!

How can we get our hands on your music?

My music is all available for free. I record on my MP3 player’s voice recorder, so the tracks are a little rough, but if people want to listen, then I always try to get them whatever they want. I only really sell CDs at shows. Each one is five dollars and I color all over them with Sharpie markers and each is completely unique. I don’t like the concept of selling my songs, but it makes sense to sell a CD, since it’s sort of like art and at least a tangible product (hopefully that makes sense). Anyone who wants files can just message me and I’ll send them anything and everything they could possibly desire.

What are your plans for the future of Minor Constellations?

The future and present and past purpose of MC is:

To get as many people to hear my songs as possible and hopefully make those people happy.

I don’t record to make money. I record because I like sharing my songs. I could write ten CDs full of music, but if no one ever heard it, there would be no point. Every once in awhile, I have a show at someone’s house or at Border’s bookstore and all of my friends come and listen to me play for forty five minutes and then we sit around and talk and enjoy one another’s company. I write songs because I like telling stories, and as long as people listen, I’ll keep whining away.

You can visit Minor Constellations on MySpace, download the EP Some Songs I Know You Like here and, if you ask nicely, he’ll send you a batch more songs.

Will Smith and Stefan Raab – Men in Black

The video of Will Smith singing Men in Black with Stefan Raab on the ukulele has been knocking around the net for quite a while, but there’s been a spate of people posting about it. No doubt one of the big boys posted about Men in Black on the ukulele and all the two-bit bloggers without a single original thought drifting around the cacophonous wasteland that they seem to think constitutes a brain decide to do a post about Men in Black on the ukulele. So here’s my post about Men in Black on the ukulele.

There are only two chords in it: C#m7 and F#7. When you’re strumming, keep a constant up, down rhythm but hold and release the chords to get some short chord strums along with plenty of funky clicking.

Requested by edi.

Ukulele Ike, Ben Lerman: UkeTube

Cliff ‘Ukulele ‘Jiminy Cricket’ Ike’ Edwards – I’m a Bear in a Lady’s Boudoir

Ben Lerman – Unsahven

Shannel Pabalan – Why Should I

UKISOCIETY – Doctor Who Theme

Freak478625 – Squirrel Picking

Takashi Nakamura – Take the A-Train

Ichimaru91 – Pinalapupu

Eleukes, KoAlohas

On eBay UK right now there’s a seller with a number of Bugsgear EleUkes up for sale. The strange thing is, the ‘Buy It Now’ price for each size is exactly the same. So you can pick up a Tenor TC100-PHP for £199.99 (it’s £139.50 at the Ukulele Shop) and a Tenor TC100-MHP for £159.99 (£175 at the Ukulele Shop).

You wait ages for a KoAloha Sceptre of come along and two arrive at once: Tenor, Concert.

It’s a shame there aren’t some decent photos of this 8 string Kamaka Lili’u. From what you can see, it looks intriguing.

Speaking of photos, hello, sailor. Or, if you’re one of those insane girls who judges guys by their shoes, you’ll find this pair much more handsome. If you’re in to sailors, ukes and shoes, this might be the clip for you.

Wii Ukulele

For everyone who’s been desperately awaiting Ukulele Hero, there’s a new ad for a ukulele Wii game (thanks Wes).

Mark Kailana Nelson has posted his tab for Moloka’i Waltz on Uker Tabs. You can buy a bunch more of his arrangements of Hawaiian tunes here (and there’s a free pdf of Hawaiian turnarounds there too) and, of course, his Fingerstyle Solos for Ukulele (highly recommended).

The ukulele owned by Georges Formby and Harrison which sold for £45,000 has been donated to the Beatles Story museum in Liverpool. But the George Formby Society are suggesting that Formby never actually owned it.

In other George news, ilovefizzypop has the chords for When I’m Cleaning Windows. And I intend to steal this joke at the earliest opportunity (via Ukulazy.

If you’re ready to start having fun, Roy Sakuma is ready for you.

Coverville has a podcast of ukulele covers and das klienicum has tracks from the upcoming entertainmentforthebraindead record.

Ukulele Evangelist discusses how to get the most out of your strings.

New Snake Suspenderz “rehearsal tapes”

Blue Oyster Cult – Don’t Fear the Reaper

For the next couple of weeks or so, I’ll be putting up the next batch in the ever popular series of Guitar Riffs for Ukulele. For those not familiar with it, the idea of these isn’t to play the full song, but throw the riffs in to give yourself or your audience a bit of a giggle at an hearing something they never expected to hear coming from a ukulele. Most of them are not written in the original key but the key that suits the ukulele the best.

ukulele tab riffs


MP3

I probably should have featured this one a long time ago. Although now the song is as famous for cowbell as much as for the riff.

To play the riff, you need to shift down from the fourth fret to the second. Make sure you remember to do it between the third and fourth notes of the riff or you’ll be stranded.

More guitar riffs for ukulele.

Ukulele Harmonics

Harmonics are a big part of Hawaiian lap steel playing where they’re referred to as ‘chimes’ because of their bright ping sound (hence tunes such as Maui Chimes). Unfortunately, because of the short scale length, they’re much harder to produce on the ukulele.

Natural Harmonics

You produce a harmonic by touching the string only very lightly. So that if you moved your finger a tiny amount, you wouldn’t be touching the string at all. Like this:

ukulele harmonic

The easiest place to play a harmonic is at the 12th fret. You have to position your finger directly over the fret bar itself rather than between the frets as you’d usually do. Pluck that harmonic and listen to what you hear. If you’ve got everything right, you should hear a bright ping that rings out and it should have the pitch of the string played at the 12th fret. If you hear a dull click, you’re pressing down too hard. If you hear just an open string, you’re not touching the string. If you hear something out of tune that dies away quickly, you’re not directly over the fret.

Playing all the strings in succession should sound like this:


MP3

You can also play this by barring across at the 12th fret and touching the string with the side of your finger.

harmonics on ukulele

As well as playing harmonics at the 12th, they can also be found at the seventh fret (where they sound 19 frets higher than the open string).


MP3

And at the fifth fret (where they’re 24 frets/2 octaves higher than the open string).


MP3

As you can tell from my rather dodgy attempt, these harmonics are very hard to get right on the uke.

Harmonics in Tab

Natural harmonics are tabbed by having a little diamond next to the fret number.

tab harmonics

Artificial Harmonics

I know what you’re thinking, “Easy peasy, lemon squeezey. Give me a challenge.” Fair enough.

With artificial harmonics you fret a note as usual and play a harmonic. To do this, you have to produce a harmonic by pointing with your index finger and picking the note.

artificial harmonic

I like to pick with my ring finger, but the middle finger or thumb work just as well.

You fret the note and play the harmonic 12 frets above it (or 5 or 7).


MP3

In this sequence I play the open C string with the harmonic at the 12th fret. Then fret at the 2nd fret and play the harmonic at the 14th fret. Then finger the fourth fret and play the harmonic at the sixteenth.

artificial harmonics tab

Artificial harmonics are tabbed by showing the fret played and the note produced underneath the tab. All these are have harmonics 12 frets higher than the fretted notes.

You can use this build up entire chords with harmonics.


MP3

Again, with all these you play the harmonic 12 frets higher than the fretted note.

Once you’ve got the hang of all these and have a load of time on your hands, you can work out how to play tunes using harmonics. Here’s my attempt:


Silent Night (MP3)

And if you want tab for that, you’ll have to wait until Christmas.

hellogoodbye – The Thoughts That Give Me The Creeps


hellogoodbye – The Thoughts That Give Me The Creeps (Chords)

I was very excited when this video cropped up on the YouTube feed on Sunday. hellogoodbye are currently slaving away in the studio and have put up a ukulele demo of a song tentatively titled ‘The Thoughts That Give Me The Creeps’. And rather lovely it is too. Obviously, I immediately picked up my uke and started working it out.

The song is in D-tuning. So start twiddling the knobs or slap a capo on the second fret.

The main strumming pattern is down, down, up, up, down.

The lyrics on the sheet are testament to why I usually just copy and paste lyrics from elsewhere on the net. I’m sure all the real lyrics actually make sense.

I wholeheartedly concur on the tightness of Yo Gabba Gabba!, if only for bringing the joys of Biz Markie to a new generation. Keep it old school, kids.

No indication when this track will be released, but there’s plenty of other hellogoodbye stuff for you to buy here and visit them on MySpace.

Voodoo Marmalade

Voodoo Marmalade – Kiss (MP3)
Voodoo Marmalade – Faith/Ring of Fire (MP3)
Voodoo Marmalade – Ya Rayah/Mariachi
Voodoo Marmalade – Boi de Haxixe/Tahi (MP3) via hi5

It’s a familiar formula:

Step 1: Get a bunch of ukulele players.
Step 2: Play some cover songs.
Step 3: Have a good time.

Voodoo Marmalade – who declare themselves to be, “the first Portuguese ukulele band to exist,” play a number of songs that would fit into any ukulele orchestra/ensemble (Ring of Fire, Hit Me Baby…). What marks them out as something a bit more interesting is the way they throw in more recondite choices such as Zeca Baleiro’s Boi de Haxixe (best known, to me atleast, for Por Onde Andará Stephen Fry and Rachid Taha’s Ya Rayah. What do you mean you’ve heard Barra Barra?

Visit VoodooMarmalade.com and their MySpace.

Happy Days Theme Tune


Happy Days Theme (Chords)

I thought this one would be completely straightforward, but it presented a few problems. I’m still not really sure about the ending.

In the chord sheet this one, you’ll notice a few letters in brackets. They’re not chords but single notes. So where it says “(A Ab)” you play just those notes on the G string.

When you have to change quickly from Bb or B to C, it’s easier to use the Bb chord shape moved up two frets rather than the open C chord.

I had to cheat the solo a little bit to get it to fit on the uke. I’ve tabbed it like this:

happy days ukulele tab

But I had shift each note in bar 3 up one notch on the major scale as there’s a Bb in the original. If you’re playing on a low-G uke, you could play it like this:

low-G ukulele tab

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