Technique: Ukuleles are cool

News flash! "Playing the ukulele can help you practice your banjo techniques". Interested? Read on.

I have a need to play music almost everyday, it's like an addiction, which has often resulted in me almost going out of my mind when I don't have a guitar or banjo to hand, especially when on vacation. Taking instruments abroad is a pain, there is the extra cost, the risk of theft and finding somewhere to make some noise. As a potential solution my missis brought me a ukulele, nothing special, just a £30 Mahalo, but small and quiet enough to travel with. I then searched YouTube for some lessons, sussed out some chords, in preparation for my first holiday with my uke. At first I found it quite unsatisfying, and after a while, just strumming it bored me (I'm not a song and dance man), so I started to pick a little, which was OK, except picking was weird because of the way the uke is tuned (this I will come back to later). When I returned from holiday my uke found its way to the attic, which is where it stayed until the following summer holiday. This cycle repeated for a couple of years, but this year I made a bit of a breakthrough, which I feel compelled to share.

Advice: Amplification

Moving from your bedroom, or your friend's living room, and into band situation comes with a requirement for amplification. Generally Banjos don’t come with pickups or built in speakers, so you’ll be faced with the challenge of choosing the best solution for your taste and situation.

The type of music your band plays is a factor, and you might not want to go down the route of expensive pickups and amplifiers, as they do change the sound instrument, and you might be after something more natural. An option here would be to use a small number of microphones and a PA system, which I have seen done to perfection by The Coal Porters. These guys all stand around a single microphone, moving closer or further away to change each instruments volume for solos and sound balance. If you want to do this you’ll need a omni-directional microphone, which can pick up sound with equal sensitivity from all directions. I would personally only recommend this technique for bands without drums, typically Bluegrass. If your interested in seeing how this is done, then have a look at this The Water Tower Boy’s video recording of Uncle Pen, I love these guys, and if high energy Bluegrass is your thing, then you should check them out.

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About Me

I have been playing guitar for over 20 years, at first playing in indie bands, followed by a long stint playing rockabilly on the streets of Oxford, a short excursion into dance music, followed by looking at early blues styles. Now after a few years of listening to Dylan, Guthrie, and early Americana I find myself in possession of a banjo, and I'm addicted! Currently I play Banjo and Guitar in an Oxford based group called Swindlestock, you can hear our music our myspace page.

Listen to my favorite Banjo songs on