I’m so excited that Orange is the New Black is back. As well as being fantastic, there’s often some ukulele tucked in there. There was Miss E’s Hummingbird in season three and O’Neill’s anti-nun banjolele song in season two. Season four features this ditty from superstar-progeny duo Folk Uke at the end of the first episode.
The song is just three chords and has easy strumming so it’s perfect for beginners.
You can use the old faithful strum almost all the way through:
d – d u – u d –
In the chorus and the solo: Play that pattern twice for the C chords at the end of the first and third lines. Play it once for everything else. So it sounds like this:
The only place that strum doesn’t work is in the outro. There switch to just down-strums. One for the G at the end of the line and two for everything else. For the very last line go back to the main strum for two chords then end on a down-strum on the C.
With a little octave shifting, the solo transfers neatly to ukulele:
First, it’s in saddest of all keys D minor. But my favourite part is the chromatic move down from Bb to A (chromatic means you move up or down one fret). That falling back feels so resigned and deflated. It’s perfect for the song.
This song makes great use of drones i.e. notes that stay the same through all the chords. And I made sure that carried through on the ukulele version by using an open tuning. So the C-string rings through the whole progression and the E-string for all but one chord.
Skinny Love also makes use of dissonance on the D7sus2. That chord has three notes close to each other: B, C and D. These clash to create an uncomfortable feeling that propels the progression forward. I wrote more about that in the best ukulele chords post.
This is my absolute favourite chord turnaround. It’s adapted from Bob Brozman’s guitar version. The first three chords combine drones on the g- and E-strings with chromatic notes on the C- and A-strings. But this time the notes are ascend chromatically. That creates the opposite effect and makes the song a lively, excited.
Another chord progression using drones. This time the notes on the E- and A-strings sound through the first three chords.
But the highlight of the progression is the use of Bb9 and Eb9. These are unsettled chords like the D7sus2 in Skinny Love. But they’re not discordant. They’re melancholy and restless. The song is in Bb and using a Bb9 means the progression doesn’t feel like it’s relaxed and complete. The chords keep cycling and never resolves.
The pre-chorus section of Life on Mars uses the ascending chromatic notes over chords trick and keeps doing it until your head is about to explode.
First there’s an Ab chord with ascending notes on the C-string. Then it moves to Db and ascends on the E-string (Note: I adjusted the chord names to make them more readable). This section is the perfect over-the-top build up for the contrast between the mundane life the mousey haired girl is living in the verse and grandiosity of what’s happening on the silver screen.
A few weeks ago I wrote about Prince’s favourite chord trick and it lead to an inevitable cavalcade of requests for Purple Rain. And why not? It has to be one of the best chord progressions ever written.
Here’s the slightly sparse strumming pattern I like to play:
I’m a sucker for a new gadget. The more useless and ridiculous the better (e.g. I’ve spent the last year trying to not buy an Apple Watch). So I couldn’t resist picking up the most ridiculous bit of ukulele kit: a spider capo.
What the Hell is a Spider Capo?
A standard capo frets all the strings on the fret you put it on. But a spider capo lets you choose which strings it frets and which are left open.
For example, in this photo I have the capo on the second fret with the levers on the g-, C- and E-strings down and the A-string left open. That means when you play all the strings you get a D chord.
They claim you get “hundreds of open string tunings”. But if you want to be picky – and I certainly do – I make it 15 possible combinations per fret (2^4 total combinations less one for none of the strings capoed). Being generous and saying it can fit on 12 frets that’s 180 combinations (181 if you count gCEA).
Why not just use an open tuning? The biggest reason is that all the chord shapes and scale patterns you know still work when you use a spider capo. E.g. if you tuned the ukulele to an open D chord an A chord is 0234 and C is 3213. But with a spider capo set up to a D chord an A chord is just the G shape (0232) and C is a Bb shape (3211).
The spider capo is also more adaptable than using open tunings. In the second piece in the video above I have the g- and A-strings fretted at the fifth fret. Making them higher than is practical through retuning.
The Good Stuff
Highly Adjustable: You can adjust the width of the entire spider capo and the distance between the levers a great deal. It’s fits on all my ukes from soprano to baritone without any problem.
Creates Unique Patterns: I had a lot of fun messing around and came up with things I wouldn’t have been able to play any other way. And it’s a fun trick to play below the capo as well as above it.
Quick Lever Switching: Flicking a lever on or off the string is lightening quick. Quick enough you could switch levers mid-song if the situation called for it.
Well Made: It feels like a sturdy and durable piece of kit.
The Not So Good Stuff
Fiddly to Attach: It’s certainly not like a standard capo that you can slap on in two seconds. Even once you have all the levers properly aligned for your uke it takes time to get it fixed properly. It’s a lot easier to attach the capo wonky than to attach it correctly. You have to be careful that the little ridges under the capo rest on the fretboard rather than on the frets or dangling in mid air. And they really seem to repel the fretboard at every opportunity. Trying to make it flush against the fret often means that the ridges at the back of the capo are over the fret behind it.
Holding Thin Strings: I found that quite often it would produce buzzes or mute high-g and A-strings. The levers are concave where they touch the strings and the middle isn’t low enough to fret properly. So you have to position the string on one side of the lever.
Here’s a video with the capo attached as well as I can get it but with the string in the middle of the lever:
Not All That Useful: I had fun playing around with with it but I’ve not thought, “A spider capo would be useful to play this.” I haven’t found much practical, day-to-day use for it.
I can’t recommend getting a spider capo mini to most ukers. There are few situations where they’d come in handy.
The only type of player I’d even reservedly recommend a spider capo for are people who like writing their own tunes and has plenty of time to spend attaching it. If you use one I’m sure it’d inspire a few tunes you wouldn’t have otherwise come up with.