It's a kazoo with strings, right?
June 5, 2012 5:22 PM   Subscribe

How competent can I become at the ukulele in two weeks?

I leave for my new job in two weeks. I have a ukulele, and I'm generally awful with stringed instruments.
Assuming I can sort of mostly switch between the chords C, G7, and F: how many songs can I learn in two weeks? What if I learn an extra chord? What chord should that be? Suggestions for songs to learn to keep myself and a van load of Europeans entertained around the campfire?
Note: I won't subject anyone to unwanted campfire songs. Especially cheesy ones. Especially if I can't teach myself anything good in the next two weeks.
posted by piedmont to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Learn A minor, which is similar to C. Then you can play any doo-wop song, and a lot of other songs, in the key of C.
posted by John Cohen at 5:26 PM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

You can play a ton of songs with C G7 and F - even if they're not in the key of G, most songs have a lot of I, IV, V7 chords in them so you can just transpose.

If you were going to learn one more I'd learn Am and then probably Dm since those are complementary chords in the key of C (Am is the VI chord and Dm is the II chord). The II and VII are not so common that not knowing them will be a problem.

However, if you know Dm that uses all 4 strings them you know Em also - move everything up 2 frets. Sadly nothing so easy for B half dim because it's different than the rest of the chords
posted by RustyBrooks at 5:27 PM on June 5, 2012

Funnily enough, I just got a ukulele this weekend and happened upon this excellent website, that gives tabs for "Songs with Chords You Know," including songs in C, F, G7 and/or G. It looks like the next chord you'll want to learn is some combination of Am, Dm, and Em.
posted by ChuraChura at 5:27 PM on June 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

In the key of C, you can often play F instead of D minor. For instance, if a song goes C A minor D minor G7 (a standard doo-wop progression), you can play C A minor F G7 and no one will notice the difference.
posted by John Cohen at 5:27 PM on June 5, 2012

As for songs... go to a guitar center or online and look for a "fake book" in the style you're interested in - find one that looks simple. They will have the chords, words, and melody for common songs.
posted by RustyBrooks at 5:28 PM on June 5, 2012

From your perspective, the number of 3-chord songs is virtually infinite. You're better off having 3 you can play perfectly than 10 you stumble over. Start with 3 and play 'em to death. Then add 1 or 2 more.
posted by Jode at 5:29 PM on June 5, 2012

Everything everyone else has said plus don't be afraid to smack all the strings down over a fret or two, essentially muting them (or kind of fake capo-ing them), and then strum hard with excellent rhythm and sing loud.

I'm a cellist, but they don't really make camp cellos, and so this is how I fake a number of smaller string instruments I know only marginally. I even perform a manner of fiddling using a similar method.

I also make sure I tune in the key of alcohol.
posted by rumposinc at 6:09 PM on June 5, 2012 [4 favorites]

I am learning uke. I really enjoy Chordie. I made a songbook of stuff that is pretty easy to play. Make sure that you know if you have a C or D-tuned uke and you can go looking through some of the songbooks that are for people getting started. Here are the songs that I am learning to play. You can learn either A minor or D and be able to play a good lot of those songs, definitely enough for campfire singing. Print out some songs for practice. Two weeks is plenty of time.
posted by jessamyn at 7:20 PM on June 5, 2012

Response by poster: I should also point out that I'm really bad at looking at chord progressions/lyrics and figuring out strum patterns, tempo, and whatever else it takes. For instance, I can look at this which was a complete favorite of mine when it came out. I know the song backwards and forwards. It seems like it should be pretty simple, and yet... I get nothing out of it.
posted by piedmont at 8:54 PM on June 5, 2012

Have a look at Ukulele Mike's YouTube channel. There's an awful lot of stuff there for the casual uke player - he takes you through songs and exercises showing you exactly where to put your fingers. There are lots of cheesy campfire songs, but the thing that will make you Master of the Campfire is being able to play a simple 12-bar blues and get people to make up verses.
posted by The real Gareth Evans at 6:37 AM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

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