I’ve never fancied myself a good singer and I’ve never really cared. For years I thought of myself as guitar player in a band that would hopefully include somebody who would sing and be at least decent at it and that was just fine with me. In fact, I didn’t really even care if they were decent as long as I wasn’t singing.
I’ve been playing the uke for a while now and it often seems to be a more solitary situation which is really cool in a lot of ways. You don’t have to coordinate with others to practice, you can take it anywhere, you have complete creative control but… you are the singer.
In this short uke time I’ve also realized how much singing is a needed thing. Unless you’re some ukulele virtuoso like Jake Shimabukuro and playing both the vocal and rhythm melodies at the same time, playing songs on the uke without singing ends up being just a couple repeated riffs. Verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, verse, chorus – gets old fast without vocals to add a complimentary rhythm and some break up of the repetition. Also, I think it’s really human nature for listeners to be way more likely to connect to voices and words than instruments and rhythms alone. Not that they’re not important, they add a lot, but without singing it feels like something is missing.
So yes, unfortunately singing is important but, as always, the uke comes to the rescue.
Playing the uke can be very basic so it’s a great instrument to work on singing while playing with. I’ve been working on it for some time now and, though I still don’t fancy myself a great singer, I think I’ve improved a lot. And as always, just the act of working on it and spending time doing it has taught me things I never would have guessed before I started trying. Hopefully talking about them here will helpful and encouraging.
Pitch is extremely important. Luckily, this is one that you can improve with practice. When I decided to get serious about improving my singing I knew my pitch was bad. I searched for tricks on improving but didn’t really come up with anything so I just started singing and crossed my fingers. I sang in the car, I sang in the shower, I sang on Saturday mornings. I sang loud, I sang will reckless abandon, I sang without shame. And, like most things, I found the more I sang the more my pitch control (and singing) improved.
Putting minutes in also taught me about my range. I learned I like the sound of my voice better in the higher part of my range. So now I know to look for songs where that’s the case.
Tuning Down (and Up)
Normal tuning (called C tuning I think) is, from top to bottom, G, C, E and A. If most of a song is right in the good spot of my range but occasionally a note is high enough to be a struggle… I’ll tune the uke down a half step (or two) which would be F#, B, D# and G#. This is actually how I know I’m right in the right place and since I’m the only one in the band I don’t have to coordinate with anyone. I just tune to where it’s best for me (this does usually happen to be tuned down). You can also use a capo for the tune up version of this technique and play with where a song falls in your range that way.
Some Songs Work Better Than Others
And finally… With all the minutes spent working on singing I noticed that some songs just don’t work well for me and some work much better. Try a bunch of songs, try different types, try different places in your range, keep a running rating in your head, sing the top 5 or so frequently, it feels good.
So, though I still don’t really fancy my voice and I would still rather let someone else handle the vocal duties I sound so much better than I did when I started. I’ve gotten to the point where I enjoy it and I know that I’m capable of making a song way better than having just a uke playing by itself. Uke Club open mic night is still a bit terrifying but it’s getting better, and knowing I can face that challenge pretty successfully is another benefit I didn’t even know would be. I’m also still not comfortable taking compliments on my singing but I’ve worked it out so I just force myself to reply “thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed it” then I smile and shut my mouth… finally.
In Conclusion – Just Do It
So go, just get out there and sing. Like most things, if you work on it, if you put the minutes in, you can’t help but learn and improve and have fun. Trust me, I’m living proof, it pays off and your uke love will grow in ways you wouldn’t have guessed were possible.