Saturday, September 13, 2014

Lil Rev in Michigan this Week

Hello Friends,

This weekend I am working in Lansing, MI at the much beloved grand-daddy of all music stores, Elderly Instruments.

Teaching three ukulele workshops and a performance in old town Saturday night the 13th.

While in Lansing...
I'm Looking forward to hanging with my pals Lynn and Brian of the fabulous heftone's 

Brian and I have a grand tradition of playing lots of Uke and then making a video to share on You Tube.

On Sunday the 14th I will be teaching and performing at the Ludington Arts Center. Afternoon Uke workshop and 
Evening concert.

Monday morning I'll rise early and board 
The S.S. Badger (Ferry) which will shuttle me across the Great Lake Michigan and back to WI.

I always enjoy the ride and like the time to read and reflect on my travels. 

Ah! Life on the road or should I say, water! 

Lil Rev

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

New! Fiddle Tunes for Ukulele Book Coming Soon!

Hello Friends,

I have some really exciting news!

After a many years of hard work and 100's of hours arranging, John Nicholson
(Milwaukee, WI Based Ukulele Superhero!) and I are eagerly anticipating the release
of a our new book titled: Fiddle Tunes for Ukulele (Hal Leonard)

The book will be 48 pages in length and contain well over 40 instrumental arrangements
of both known and uncommon fiddle tunes. We've included historic photos of the
famous and some long since, forgotten fiddlers whom inspired this music, as well
as arrangements in the campanella, finger-style, single-string lead style, chordal, and
claw-hammer approaches.

This book will meet the approval of both the beginning student of old time music as well
as the seasoned picker, looking for a real challenge.

There tunes are derived from an array of different old time dance traditions including:
Marches, Polkas, Reels, Jigs, Waltzes, Novelty, Rags, Schottische, Breakdowns, and more!

We'd like to think of this book as one of the most comprehensive collections
of fiddle tunes arranged for ukulele currently on the market.

A Bit About My Co-Author: 

While John Nicholson isn't widely known on the international ukulele scene, i suspect it
won't be long before he is.

He is a great musician, finger-picker, strumming maniac and all around stellar musician
equally adept on Guitar, Banjo, Tiple, Mandolin, Jaw Harp, and Ukulele. 

John and i met in Milwaukee back in the early 90's, back in our early busking, bar-room
free-wheeling days.

John  started playing Ukulele just about the same time i did. Back then, the ukulele
was very uncool! Never the less, we both loved the sweet, sultry and happy
sound of dem 4 strings and quickly set about performing: Hokum, Blues, Jug Band,
Tin Pan Alley and Fiddle Tunes on the ukulele.

John is especially adept at the banjo-uke and tiple.  Matter of fact, if you own any of my
recordings, chances are you'll hear John on many of them including Uke Town, Fountain of
Uke Vol. 1 and That Old Madness to name a few.

John has taught at the prestigious Milwaukee Irish Festival Summer School, University of WI-Milwaukee Adult Ed, Wheatland Traditional Music Camp, Ear Full of Fiddle and many
other places. His instrumental prowess is unbounded and his genuine enthusiasm for the material
in this book shines thru. Thus, i am proud that this book (my first to co-author), was lovingly
co-written with John Nicholson. I think you'll soon agree.

                                           John Nicholson Circa 2013- Courtesy of The Lil Rev Archive

John is also the author of a number of ukulele books thru Hal Leonard including:
Play Ukulele Today DVD, Play Ukulele Today Book 2, and Classical Tunes for

When Will The Book Be Out?

The word from the publisher at present is that it will hit the streets in late fall.

Here is a link to Hal Leonard for follow up:

Here is a link to John & Susan Nicholson's Band page:

Lastly, here is a cool little interview that i did with Uke Maestro Jim D'Ville of Three Questions Fame

Fiddle Tunes For Ukulele: 3 Questions W/ Jim D' Ville

                                                      Lil Rev and John Nicholson
                                                                  (C) Deone Jahnke

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Albuquerque Ukekopelli Festival

 As many of you know, i have often toured NM on my Winter
Uke Tours.

Over the years i have performed for Chabad of Santa Fe, Yoga related
events, The JCC of Albuquerque, and numerous music stores and workshops
for regional ukulele clubs.

Thus, I have always had a fascination with the High Desert and NM.


I am thrilled to let all my fans know in the High Desert Region of NM, AZ,
CO, TX that i will be teaching and performing at The African American Arts
Center, as part of a weekend festival also featuring Heidi Swedberg and Daniel

This is the first year out and i am eager to see how this great little festival will
blossom!  The event will showcase numerous workshops, vendors, raffle,
concerts and more!

Here is the link to their homepage:

The event is being sponsored by a number of fine ukulele company's including Ohana,
Kala and Mya-Moe (Which is what I will be playing while i am there)

Whether you live in the area, or perhaps you are looking for an opportunity to travel,
i hope you'll consider attending this fine event. Don't meet me there! Beat me there!

Lil Rev

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Art of Tuning The Ukulele Part #1

This is an article about Tuning The Ukulele To D6, C6 and Bb Major 6th

As the ukulele revival moves forward, I have long felt that a basic review of some of the standard ukulele tunings would benefit many of my readers.

While history notes that the Portuguese often tuned their instruments in C tuning. by the mid-1920's D tuning had become the standard and my own sheet music collection, supports this claim with published pieces dating back as early as 1917.

Most scores of the day, in D tuning would include the tuning notes and chord diagrams, placed above their respective lyrics, for the general public's self-accompaniment.

Advertising for the sheet music industry, makes it clear that ukuleles were not only big business but also a primary vehicle for the masses to strum along with the hit parade.

My pal Dan Scanlan has a nice posting about the Ukulele's Evolution and its related tunings circa 2004, which might be a nice supplement to this blog post. 

Dan cites May Singhi Breen as one of the main proponents to popularize D Tuning and this is the first i have heard of this claim. I want to know more! I am not sure i would credit
her entirely. But none-the-less, she was in fact a very important link in the first wave
ukulele revival.

Thus, in the early days of the ukulele's rise towards popularity, it was primarily tuned: A-D-F#-B, otherwise known as The D Major 6th tuning.  In other words, when you strum the strings open, it rings out as a D Major 6th Chord.

For those of you used to using C Tuning (G-C-E-A), what this means, is that every chord shape you know, goes up one whole step from C to D. 

Thus your C chord shape becomes a D, F becomes a G, G becomes an A and so on, and so on.

This tuning really sparkles on the soprano and concert size ukuleles and was the primary catalyst for strumming in the heyday of the Hawaiian, Vaudeville and Broadway Era.

Today, many players like James Hill, Aaron Keim, Bob Brozman (the late), Del Rey and many others regularly use the D tuning and prefer its "brighter sound" to that of C tuning. Things really seem to pop when you play them in D tuning, especially if you are used to C tuning.

A good way to ease into D Tuning, if you aren't already used to it, is  to keep one of your ukuleles in C and one in D. That way you can mess around with both and not feel bound by the act of having to re-tune all the time. (Is there anyone who doesn't own more than one ukulele? Duh!)

On a personal note, players like myself, John Nicholson, The Canotes, Aaron Keim,
Ken Middleton and many other traditional players prefer the D Tuning when
playing fiddle tunes on the ukulele. Since most fiddlers prefer to play in D, G and A,
you'll want to maximize use of the open strings and positions which D tuning can offer.

For Fiddle Tunes in the key of G, i might use C Tuning so i can access the high G string and play claw-hammer off the G chord shapes. So you see, there is a method to this
madness and every good player, learns to utilize many different tunings, so they have
them at their disposal when arranging a new piece of music.  Trial and error is the
best teacher for this sort of thing and exploration breeds innovation, as you come
to see what works and what doesn't with this regard.

The Ukulele Hall of Fame offers this free public domain chart of the D Tuning chord
forms and you'll also find the C tuned chord link as well, both available for download.

As a reference, you might find it helpful to follow this link to see a nice D Tuning Chord Chart:  

Other links for D Tuned Chord Charts include:
Ukulele Boogaloo's:

Chord Creation Software:

Lastly, i highly recommend that all of you smart phone users, download a Ukulele Chord
Finder App for your smart phone. It makes things really handy and convenient when you
are on the go and need to look up a chord shape on the fly.

Here are a few you can check out:

Chord Apps:
Ukulele Companion:
Uke Master:

The Canadians tune their ukuleles to D Tuning and it is a part of their national grade
school curriculum for music education. This has its roots in Chalmer's Doane, whose
own legacy is rooted in the influence of Roy Smeck and the romantic influence of
vaudeville ukulele style and tunings, most of which gravitated towards D tuning.

Today, my mainland compatriots are locked into C tuning, my books and most of the
ukulele histeria is printed in C tuning and since about the 1950's it has come to
proliferate amongst American and U.K players.

C Tuning offers a sweet, lilting sound, not quite as bright or brash as D
Tuning, and this too has its pluses and minuses.

C Tuning, allows the strings to relax a bit and as a result of the minimal string tension,
strumming is mellow and easy on the fingers. C Tuning supports the voice well and makes
for a good home key to support the voice.

C tuning is: G-C-E-A

Another Tuning that i like to use is called: Bb or Bb Major 6th tuning, which is: F-Bb-D-G

I love this tuning, as a performer i might want to utilize various chords positions and their
related keys to better suit my voice in an arrangement. By having a C, D and Bb tuned
ukulele handy, i can make those kind of choices as to which chord shapes compliment my arrangement and voice the best.

If you are happy strumming in C, no need to change, but you might have fun messing
around with some of these. Instrumentalists would do well to explore the possibilities
that these tunings offer when arranging highly melodic pieces.

Bonus Tuning:  For those of you wanting to explore either fiddle tunes or slide on
the ukulele, you might consider simply trying G-C-E-G. Its great for playing glass or
ceramic slide with the ukulele's nylon strings or for coaxing a banjo friendly tuning out
of the ukulele when playing claw-hammer ukulele.

I hope your dog has fleas!

Lil Rev 

PS: If you are totally new to tuning the ukulele, here are a couple of helpful sites & videos:

                               Why Tune 6 strings, when you can tune just 4?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Skype Lessons

Lil Rev is now taking students over the winter for private home (in Milwaukee, WI) 
Or Skype lessons.

My fee is $50 for a one hour lesson.

I can also be reached at:

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Jam Etiquette

Recently, I had the great pleasure of attending a big ukulele festival in Canada.

While at this festival I witnessed a few things which encouraged me to write this

For many beginning and Intermediate 
Jammers, lessons can be hard won, as no one has ever told them how to jam
Or that there is an etiquette which lends itself to playing well with others.

As with most music festivals, be they folk, blues, bluegrass or dance camps, the opportunity to jam with others is a huge draw for most attendees.

 All jam sessions are not created equal.

The ones when everything goes right, can often live on in the memory books for years to come.

For every great jam that I have taken part in, I have witnessed 2 or 3 mediocre jams or failed jams.

Before I tell you what makes a jam successful let me first mention a couple of common pitfalls that can really sidetrack the best way-laid intentions.

1) one strong leader who doesn't know how to share the load. While many people appreciate his willingness to lead the group, he should be empowering others to step up and lead a song or two 
In order to keep things moving along.

Think about what a healthy Democracy looks like to you and that's what a good jam should feel like.

2) Sometimes a small circle of talented musicians will hijack the direction of the jam and often they'll start playing tunes that are too complicated for the majority of the participants. 

These are folks who aren't thinking about whats good for the group as a whole.

I see this happen alot with Uke players who like to play standards. 

Sure everyone knows Five Foot Two and All of Me, but you'll loose em right quick with Stardust and Dream A Little Dream.

This often happens at old time and bluegrass jams when the big boys start playing obscure fiddle tunes that no one else knows. It leaves others feeling left out since most can't figure out melodies right on the spot.

The goal should be to find tunes or songs that everyone knows well or songs that are fun and easy to pick up which are 2, 3, 4, and occasionally 5 chord tunes, with the vast majority being 3 chord songs.

Many jammers need to learn how to play by ear and transpose among other things that might otherwise make it hard for them to jump right in on a song without sheet music in front of them. 

Most are comfortable with the keys of: F, C, G, D and A.

3) Cutting others off or publicly criticizing others delivery. Yep! I have seen this more times then I care to mention. Hard to believe I know; but egos know no bounds when it comes to jams and many beginners walk on egg-shells, they are fragile, and already insecure about the notion of whether they are good enough, it doesn't take much to discourage them.

So it's our job to see to it that a positive jam stays uplifting and doesn't regress into anarchy.

Often, what will happen is someone will start a tune then another will jump in and cut the other person off or Segway into a different tune without a courteous transition.

Here's how you'll know you are at a good jam:

1) People take turns leading songs.

(No one likes a song-circle bogart!)

2) Those leading songs will call out the titles, keys and chords before starting a tune.

3) The group will sit in a circle where everyone can see each other and eye contact is obvious amongst players.

4) Jam speed is compatible with the skill level of the given group.

5) Those who have instrumental skills are encouraged to take solos but no one is put on the spot too often or asked to play something outside their skill level.

No one is told to take it, when they are obviously not soloists.

Even good pickers don't always want to be called on to solo constantly.

6) jammers network and share resources with one another.

7) When a song is started the leader will count it off so everyone can come in at the same time. Likewise, when a song is coming to an end the leader puts his or her foot up in the air or indicates in some verbal or non-verbal manner that the song is coming to an end.

 The Bottom line is, If you are watching the song leader, generally, you'll know when the song is going to end.

8) When someone takes a solo, the group as a whole shall quiet down so that the solo can be heard. 

9) Talking amongst non-jammers shall be a whisper or unheard. A jam is a place where we come forth to sing, listen, play along with others and generally practice learning how to be a good musician. 

If non-jammers are talking loudly during a song kindly ask them to quiet down or move along.

10) While jams are often the place that beg for time tested favorites, new songs are welcome if they are presented in the right way...

A) Give the key, style, title, chords.
B) Tell folks something about the tune that might interest them. 
C) If the song has a singable chorus or bridge, start by teaching that first so everyone has a vested interest.
D) keep it simple.
E) humorous songs are always welcome.

11) If there are kids, try to include them, encourage them, and keep the choice of material clean. 

12) In a good Jam, members are encouraging of one another and often
Complimentary of one another's delivery.

We all like to be told that we did a good job. Why not help instill in others a sense 
Of confidence and a willingness to continue on their path as we all seek to play well with others.

Alright! Go forth and jam!

Lil Rev

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Touring PA & NC

Dear friends 

In mid November I will be touring PA & NC.

 My tour will take me from Altoona and Pittsburgh to Durham and Wilmington in NC. 

To that end, I will be presenting a Jewish program, my scraps of quilting music show and a number of ukulele workshops and concerts to boot.

For more info please visit: 

Hope to see you soon,

Lil Rev