Every time I hear the word Ukulele I remember that beautiful story about George Harrison traveling everywhere with two Ukuleles, one for him and one in case he met another player to jam with.
The Ukulele is one of the most “user friendly” instruments ever made and it has many similarities with the Guitar. We have seen a raise in it’s popularity in the recent years, due to the new folk wave in popular music, and there are plenty of people that have jumped on the Uke wagon and started playing this fun, portable and approachable instrument.
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Now, can I make my guitar sound similar to a Ukulele? The answer is Yes. Here are 4 steps to get a similar sound with your Nylon String Guitar applied to Train’s “Hey, soul sister”
1 – Match the frequency range
The Ukulele is a smaller instrument with much shorter strings, so it produces sounds in a slightly higher pitch frequency. In order to match it, we will use a capo on a high fret. “Hey, Soul Sister” is written in the key of E, so we are going to put the capo on the 9th fret because we have simple chords in the key of E in that position. First, place the capo on the 9th fret, then tune the strings. Notice how the capo makes the height of the strings much lower and allows you to play the chords with much less pressure.
2 – Match the voicings
As some of you might know, voicings are different versions of the same chord. Basic chords, such as triads, are made of three different notes played on each string. When we play a four string instrument, like the Ukulele, we will have different combinations of these three elements.
Example: C Major: is the result of C + E + G
If we play it in four strings we could have plenty of theoretical combinations:
C – E – G – C C – G – E – C C – G – C – E C – E – C – G etc…
Each of these voicings has a particular sound, and although, all of them are theoretically possible, only some of them will be “easy” to play on any given instrument.
The good news, is that the notes on the Ukulele are located in similar places as the notes on the guitar, just five frets above, which means that whatever is easy to play on a Ukulele, will be easy to play on a guitar, and the voicings will be very similar in both instruments.
3 – Learn the chords
Hey, Soul Sister is built over a strong chord progression, very common in Pop hits. The chords are E – B – C#m and A. When we transpose these four chords to the 9th position, we get these commonly known shapes:
Check out these videos if you are not familiar with these chord shapes or chord switching in general.
4 – The magic touch
We will use our fingers instead of our pick to match the smooth and sweet sound of the Ukulele. As we discussed in our “Tone is in your fingers” blog, our fingers give shape to our musical voice when we play a instrument. It is important that we translate the sound we are trying to imitate by measuring our pressure, attack, range, volume etc…
It is almost impossible to determine how much of these elements you have to use. Since we are talking about putting our own voice into the music, we are the ones who should make that decision. Now, here are some tips that helped me translate my guitar voice into a Ukulele sound:
1. Anchor your thumb
Keeping your thumb relaxed on the 6th string will make your position more stable. It will also help you focus strumming mainly the higher four strings. The thumb will act as the anchor for our position.
2. Strum softly using your index finger only
Relax your index finger and use it as if was a pick, strumming up and down with no resistance to the strings.
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3. Play close to the fretboard
There are plenty of sound characters that we can obtain by just moving our strumming hand in different areas between the bridge and the fretboard. You will notice that the closer to the bridge the brighter the sound, and the closer to the fretboard, the smoother the sound. Since we are trying to emulate a sweet and smooth sound, I would recommend to strum close to the frets, or even on top of them.
Here’s a video that talks about these techniques applied to Hey, Soul Sister.
Keep up the good work, and remember, nothing is cooler than playing guitar.