Trouble at Siege

E7#, what now !?!

We have all been there, we’re playing a new song and suddenly there is a chord which looks more like a set of coordinates on a map.  The E7#9 chord is an extreme version and really isn’t that common unless you’re a certain Mr Hendrix.  In fact, the E7#9 is often referred to as the Hendrix chord, it’s used on his song Purple Haze. 

Perhaps a more common chord we might see is the Major 7 or minor 7 chord.  The problem is, how do I play these chords if I don’t want to get tangled up in the theory and just don’t know the shape on the ukulele?    

The answer is simple: we don’t play all of the extra bits of the chord so a Cmaj7 chord can be played as a simple C.  An Amin7 chord can be played as a simple Am chord. 

But what, I hear you ask about the Hendrix chord and others like it, D7#11 anyone?

These chords are what we call altered chords, essentially they have extra notes added which are then altered, so raised (#) or lowered (b) so A7b13.   These chords present a unique problem on the ukulele as the previous chords Maj7 and Minor 7 are 4 note chords and so are possible to play on the ukulele.  However, a E7#9 is technically a 5 note chord, fine if you’re a piano player with 10 fingers or a guitarist with 6 strings but not so easy on a ukulele with 4 strings. 

On the ukulele there really is only one solution and that is to simplify the chord.  An E7#9 is just an E7 chord with some garnish added for some extra colour. So if you know an E7 chord play that, if not you can just play the E chord.  This works because at their heart all chords are just triads (three note chords), this means we can boil down all these exotic sounding chords to just the basic chords we can already play.  Doing this does mean we might not get some of the interesting colours but we can still hear the song.  

So how do we play an E7#9 chord on the ukulele? The answer is, you don’t. You boil it down to a simple E7 or an even easier E triad.  In this article I have outlined a way of simplifying these chords. If however you did want to play the ‘proper’ chord you can check out our 10 second chord series on YouTube, which will cover these chords.

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Improvisation – Composition in the moment.

Improviation - Composition in the moment

Improvisation is the art of playing music without it having been written down or memorised. In many ways, it is one of the most creative aspects of music as it allows for direct expression through an instrument.

When we think of improvisation, it conjures up the image of a jazz club with a saxophone wailing over a set of complex chords.  Many people have only played music from the written page and seldom need to improvise, this can cause anxiety when they have to, or if they want to incorporate improvisation into their teaching.

You improvise everyday.

We are all excellent improvisers and we do it every day – when speaking.  We think of what we want to say and then we use our system of language to express it.  Within these spoken words are vocabulary, grammatical rules and other language concepts.  What is interesting and where the creativity lies, is that each person has their own unique way of expressing themselves verbally.  Try this experiment; how many ways can you think of to to say that you are hungry or to answer the question ‘where will you be in five years time?’ As you respond to this you are improvising.

Baby steps

Improvisation, just like language, should begin with imitation. We are always asking our students to clap rhythms, or play pitches.  Early improvisation can just be selecting which learnt rhythm to play.  Consider this exercise; students learn three rhythmical patterns, which can be used as an answer to a musical question.  Each student can answer the question using one of the three rhythms.  This simple choice is a valid form of improvisation.

We can now add pitches to these rhythms from a small pool of notes (even 2 notes gives a vast number of variations). This allows each student to play their own unique music.  The next step is to vary these three rhythms. We use a simple three part rule when teaching improvisation.

  • Remove a note – in other words adding a rest.
  • Add a note – eg. making a crotchet into two quavers.
  • Move a note – leave the rhythm as it is, but change the pitch of one note.

This early improvisation is key to building confidence when composing melodies.  Who knows, with enough encouragement, you could have the next John Coltrane in your classroom…

What some more ideas?

Here is a video lesson from us, showing three quick ideas you could use in your own lessons to help teach improvisation.

This is just a short introduction to teaching improvisation, we are working on more in-depth materials on improvisation in the classroom and would love to hear your ideas.

Please feel free to comment below, subscribe and comment on youtube, or join our facebook page or group for further discussion.

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Why Tab isn’t the Devil!!!

It's not as good as standard notation

You’re right, Tab is just not as good as standard notation.  Tab doesn’t easily convey pitch, unlike the standard stave.  Rhythm in Tab is often not there either, especially if its sourced from the internet.  Tab is also not as transferable to other instruments –  Tab is like a strange island dialect which only one particular tribe can speak, the lonely Tablonians wandering around unable to communicate using the wonderful standard notation, which all the ‘civilised’ musicians use. And yet…

Early lute music used a type of Tab and classical guitar music often tells you which position, string and finger to use due to the complex nature of the instrument  (guitar sight reading is really hard).  Maybe for another post……

But they won't be learning properly

Tab, like any form of notation is just a way of writing out a set of instructions.  The recorder is often taught using numbers for fingering, coloured boomwhackers or coloured glockenspiel and xylophones. Tab seems to get a lot more flack as its not seen as proper notation.  Where Tab really comes into its own is the classroom setting, where the students only play once a week and don’t practice in between (unlike your dedicated private and small group pupils…)  Most of these pupils aren’t really reading standard notation, they’re remembering the three notes which they have been taught and working the pitch out top, middle or bottom.  

Tab is simple to understand (yes I know some students find it confusing) but there really isn’t one way to suit all students. Tab removes the confusion between multiple positions for the same note, or the fact we have a high C and low C.  Tab allows more notes to be learned and more students able to play them, meaning more music can be played, which at the end of the day is what any classroom music teacher should be concerned about. 

It's already here.......

Tab has been around for many years and really is not going anywhere soon.  This though is a great opportunity for the teacher.  How many other instruments can you send the pupil away with just a website that gives access to any song they want to play?  Now I know that the transcriptions are of differing accuracy ranging from perfect to ‘that’s not even the same song’.  Hopefully you’ll be teaching the listening skills so the pupil can correct it themselves. Our full year course here at The Ukulele School uses a mix of tab, rhythmic notation and standard notation to make it accessible for both specialist and non specialist music teachers.

It's not bad, it's just different

Don’t be so hard on Tab, it’s really not the end of civilised society and it may allow more pupils to play some music. We know this is controversial so let us know what you think…

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