Archive for the ‘Ukulele’ Category

imageAre look for a great holiday gift? Perhaps a great family activity? Consider taking ukulele lessons on the Palladium stage at the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel, Indiana. For just $27.50 you can enjoy 3 one hour lessons filled with great information, music and fun. Dozens of folks have attended and they just keep coming! Beginning Monday, December 2 we will meet for three Mondays. Ukulele 101 (beginner) will meet at 6:00 and Ukulele 103 (advanced beginners) at 7:15. You will need to bring your own uke. This class is offered for mid teens and adults. For more information email 50littlebirds@gmail.com

Registration information is available at http://www.thecenterfortheperformingarts.org

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That Tiki Thing


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(There is an update on this story here.)

The word came down today.  It’s the end of an era.  There will be no more Pod at the Key Learning Community.  No pod means that I will no longer have a ukulele program at my school.

The loss of our pod time can be blamed on a number of things.   The long and short of it is that our students are under-performing and we are being required to spend more time on Language Arts and Math.

I came to the Key Learning Community, an Indianapolis Public School, from affluent Carmel-Clay Schools.  I believed (and still do) that in order to educate children that thrive and love learning we must care for and nurture their creative selves.

The Key Learning Community focuses on the whole child.  We were the first school to implement Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences (M.I.).  We worked directly with Dr., Gardener and are still considered the model for M.I. schools.  We also worked with Mihály Csíkszentmihályi and his Flow Theory.  Flow is an important concept, especially in understanding highly motivated and creative people.  We have two Flow teachers on staff that teach Flow Theory and teach children to seek experiences that produce Flow.

Pod class themes include everything imaginable:  dance, gardening, boatbuilding, paper arts, puppetry, violin, choir, sculpting, school newspaper, model trains — You name it!

Most years I used this time to teach ukulele.

My first Pod, a ukulele pop, grew into the Key Strummers.  The Key Strummers exploded onto a new ukulele scene.  We had 16 adorable kids that performed funny songs on well played ukuleles.  For eight great years we performed at national ukulele events (as far away as San Antonio), the National Governors’ Conference and with Garrison Keillor at the Indiana State Fair.  In addition to this we hosted three large successful ukulele festival in Indianapolis that drew crowds (yes, crowds) from Europe and Hawaii.

The Key Strummers performed with many of the world’s greatest ukulele performers and brought them to Indianapolis: Pops Bayless, Jim Beloff, Joel Eckhaus, Bryan Tolentino, Byron Yasui, James Hill and the great Jake Shimabukuro.

But I’m writing about pods in general.  Pods make school important.  Pods make school bearable.  Pods make school relevant.

Every student (and teacher), with every ability level, with every motivational level, with every degree of school success could count on spending 40 minutes (on most days) spending time with like minded folks that were excited about learning something special.

My pods were filled with geeks, jocks, gangsters and misfits.  When we began to play this wasn’t important.  The arguments with teachers and lost homework were forgotten as these children spent time doing something relevant.

This morning (after I learned that Pods would be no more, but the students had not yet learned.) a student came to class with Jim Beloff’s Book, The Ukulele: A Visual History.  The book was well above his reading level, but he was reading it!  He struggled with most words, but was reading it because he wants to learn everything he can about ukulele.  When he learned about the people in the book that had a relationship with our group and our history he was even more motivated to digest it all.  That’s authentic learning.  That’s how we really learn.  That’s what schools, everywhere, should be doing.

We are teaching the creativity and love of learning from our children — It’s a crying shame!

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I began to write this blog in May of 2009.  The focus, then, was on Blue Stone Folk School.  I began a bird carving project to raise money for the school.  this project, 50 Little Birds for Blue Stone Folk School (Later simply 50 Little Birds), grew to replace the Folk School as the focus of this blog.

Since that day in May, 2009, I’ve written and posted 345 posts that have been visited almost 25,000 times.  Small potatoes for some blogs, but we’ve quite a loyal following!

Here I present my top 10 posts ranked by visits:

1)  Another Family Tradition – Fraktur and Pennsylvania Dutch Decorative Arts -

Here I discuss my mother’s work with Pennsylvania Dutch decorative painting and its influence on my work.  I visit this theme recently when making Christmas ornaments.  It’s pretty apparent that there are folks wanting to know more about Fraktur.

2) Why I Carve Little Birds

Just what the title suggests.  I reference some Pennsylvania Dutch carvers that I find significant and influential.  Again the Pennsylvania Dutch theme plays strong.

3) Cape Forge – Bird Carving Knife

I firmly believe that I use one of the finest caving knives available.  Many carvers are all about the search for tools (Not me, I carve with two knives — both from Cape Forge.)

4) Build a Ukulele with Me!

My ever popular ukulele building class.

5) Berea, Kentucky is the Real Deal

Berea is a magical place to  explore creative handwork and a culture embracing it

6) Preparing for Bloomington Handmade Market

I used this article to address show preparation during an Etsy forum discussion about setting up and merchandising for shows.  It generated some great discussion.

7) BBW-Underside-of-tail

I mislabeled a photo of  the tail of a black and white warbler.  It should have been BWW-Underside-of-tail.  I learned afterward that BBW means big beautiful woman to folks trolling for porn. This gets a hit almost daily and I continue to chuckle at the disappointment these men must feel. I wrote about it here.

8) Bloomington Handmade Market

A popular show and also discussed on the Etsy forum.

9) Carving Little Birds – An Introduction to Whittling.

This is why I started the Folk School.  Folks are looking for instruction and want to make things — birds, ukuleles — whatever.  DIY is hot!

10) Meat ‘n Taters Ukulele Construction


I’m a bit curious about what this data means.  Is Fraktur really that popular or does it get hits because it was posted fairly long ago?  I sure there is meaning to  be derived from this.  Please feel free to post away.

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First and foremost – Our Indiana State Fair suffered a terrible tragedy Saturday night when the main stage rigging collapsed into the audience killing 5 people and injuring 40 others.  Talk on the street in Indy indicates that we may almost double the death toll when this is all over.  My daughter is our Hamilton County 4H Fair Queen and a contender for State Fair Queen.  I’ve been a regular entertainer at the fair (and played on the main stage with Garrison Keillor) for 10+ years.  The State Fair is central to our lives and our hearts go out to the victims, to the Fair and to the State.

Thanks to folks that checked in with me on Saturday.  We had already left the fair for the day and are safe.  We don’t spend much time around the Grandstand Stage and were never in any danger.  I had several friends that were there and their stories are sobering.

On a lighter note…

The Indianapolis Star covered the WLS National Barn Dance Tribute on Friday night.  The photos are really spectacular.

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I’m playing some holiday gigs over the next couple of weeks.  I don’t play a lot of holiday music.  I’ve been re-discovering tunes that I used to do with the Key Strummers.  In most cases I’m working from scratch.  Through computer changes and intensive classroom cleanings most original arrangements are not at hand.

Here’s the first of several.  I worked it out quickly and your chord interpretations might differ.  Comment away.

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Saturday, November 6 50 Little Birds will be traveling to Bloomington, Indiana for our second Bloomington Handmade Market.

The Bloomington Handmade Market is a contemporary art and craft fair that showcases modern handmade goods from 45+ local and regional artists.
Our holiday event will be held on Saturday, November 6th from 10 am to 5 pm at the Bloomington Convention Center, located at 3rd and College in Bloomington, Indiana.

Following this I will be playing solo ukulele and singing at The Paper Crane, also in Bloomington.  Party invite below:

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I’m hitting the road tomorrow for a grand road trip through the Adirondacks, the White and Green Mountains and then (my old stomping grounds) the Maine coast (We’re popping out at Pemaquid Point Light).

I’m tagging along with photographer Ernie Mills.  We’re looking at this as an artists retreat.  I plan to bring my field guides, scope and glasses and will find and get to know many birds that I’ve not seen in years.

Ernie has encouraged me to carve in his van.  He claims he’s not worried about chips and sawdust.  I’m not ready to carve and drop the chips in the seat and on the floor so I made a little lap box to carry a few tools and catch the droppings.

Yesterday I took a quick look at the scrap materials around the shop and put together this box.  I pulled the hardware from an antique fiddle case that was falling apart. (My Roy Smeck Vita Uke came in it.) I love the ratty handle and the spotty nickle plated hasp.

Inside there are four storage cases (old metal film-strip cans) for small parts — tacks, rivets and a small pencil sharpener.  The tool compartment is stocked with just a knife, pencil, pliers and awl.  The main compartment will accommodate a full sheet of sandpaper, a few bird blanks and a sketch book.

I gave it a quick been-around-the-shop-while-painting-and-bumped-a-bit-on-the-road distressing.  It’s a bit garish, but it’ll do.

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I teach a ukulele building class every summer.  It is great fun!

It’s a six day immersion retreat and folks come from across the country to spend a day the the Folk School.  This class is the modle for what the Folk School is to become.

Every time I teach this class folks seem to come out of the woodwork that are local and don’t want to take a week’s vacation for a class (Ironically these same folks will take a week and go to residential retreats in othere areas.)  I’ve never been able to pull it together.  The issues are:

•   Folks don’t sign up.  I offered a 12 week course at the Indianapolis Art Center and only two people signed up.

•  We have to lease a shop.  This works for six days when the shop is in use all of the time, but it become problematic when we tie up someone elses shop for six to twelve weeks.

•  We had an opportunity to set up a semi-permanent shop in a smei-permanent home in July.  I taught my regular ukulele building class there (It was great) but things were up-in-the-air regarding how long we would be in the space and how the space could best be used by us.
•  Luthiery is very specialized woodworking and an instrument building workshop requires a number of specialized set-ups.  These tie up bench space and instructional space for other classes and projects.
•  I am worried about the level of student commitment.  Every multi-week class that we offer suffers from attrition.  Folks find that they have schedule changes, get tired of the drive or simply lose interest. Ukulele building is complex.  If a student misses a session it would be very difficult for the student to catch up.
The good news is that we have secured the Judge Stone House and our favorite workspace for three more months.  With this level of commitment by our hosts we are able to clean and establish more instructional and storage space.  In short, we’ve worked around most of our difficulties.
We’re focusing on a simplified uke, the cigar box uke.  Cigar box ukes simplify the process (but not as much as you think) and decrease cost (but not as much as you think) and play very well.  The most important aspects of ukulele building and design remain in the process.  It’s a great first step into luthiery.
We have no control over the first and last worries.  We’ll see if folks sign up (I sure hope so!) and keep coming to class.
Cigar Box Ukulele Building
4 or 5 Tuesday Evenings Begining October 19
7:00 – 9:00
Tuition $200, Materials $98
Build a high quality soprano cigar box ukulele.  These ukuleles feature first rate tuners, strings, pearl dot inlays, cedar or spruce tops and Indiana hardwood fingerboard and neck.  These are not cigar box ukuleles assembled from kits, but custom designed for the cigar box that you choose.
Plan to attend all class sessions.  This is a pilot class so an extra session is planned to ensure that projects are completed.

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I’m beginning a multi-week ukulele workshop tonight.  This blog posting is dedicated to providing resources for my students.  All are welcome to browse, share and comment.  Bookmark and visit soon!

We had our first class session last night.  I expected five or six students.  At the end of the night I counted eleven or twelve!  We had a great time.

Links – General Ukulele Sites

Flea Market Music

Ukulele Boogaloo

Links – Chord/Lyric Sheets

Ukulele Boogaloo Songbook

Link – Online Tuner (We Tune GCEA)

Flea Market Music Tuner

Online Ukulele Tuner


Puff the Magic Dragon (At tempo)

Puff the Magic Dragon (Slow)

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