I was delighted for Alastair Wood, uke writer, tutor and blogger to agree to be interviewed for Got A Ukulele.
If you don't know him by name, you almost certainly will have come across his Ukulele Hunt website which is a mammoth resource for uke players. That site was a staple in my early days of playing the uke, and I still visit regularly due to the breadth of info, links and song tutorials Al provides. He also runs the How To Play Ukulele site, offering a large range of uke tutor ebooks for download, and has recently been given the honour of authoring the Ukulele For Dummies book, which is published this August.
Hi Al, let's start with the obvious question, how did begin with a ukulele?
I just bought one in a music shop on a whim. I think I was around 16 at the time. I was playing guitar and they seemed like fun. So I picked one up. But all I had to learn from was a really terrible book. Those were the days before Al Gore invented the internet. So other than occasional noodles, I very rarely played it until the internet came along and I realised what you could do with it.
How did you find the initial learning curve?
I found it easy to get to the stage where I didn't completely suck at it. But difficult to play very well - I still haven't reached that stage.
So it was internet resources that helped you along in the early days – were there any friends you were playing with, or did you pick it up solo?
Ukulelia and Ukulele Cosmos were the main ones. And I picked up a lot of stuff from Dominator. Kiwi Ukulele (http://www.kiwiukulele.co.nz/) was a big influence on me too. He was posting some indie ukulele stuff that I thought was being ignored by most ukulele sites. It gave me confidence that I wasn’t the only person interested in that side of playing.
No, I was always playing solo. I don’t have any real-life friends.
You are probably now best known for the Uke Hunt website – when did you start writing about the instrument, and how did your first site emerge?
Before I started Uke Hunt I had a couple of general music blogs. I wrote a bit about ukuleles on those and realised I had a lot more to say than could be contained on those sites.
Uke Hunt started after I packed in my last job and realised I was completely unemployable. So I set out to start a business on the net and Uke Hunt was the main one.
So the Uke Hunt site, and writing about ukes has become a full time job for you?
It was a full time job from the start – I just wasn’t making any money from it. I didn’t have any other job or a Plan B.
When I say I’m unemployable, that’s not hyperbole. That’s fact. I can’t follow orders, I have issues with authority and I’m not a team player.
What's been the highlight of your life with ukulele so far then?
Being called 'ace' in the NME http://ukulelehunt.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/01/nme.jpg
I'm a frustrated indie-boy. I would have been happy playing bass in Menswe@r.
So how did this new book deal come about?
They emailed me asking if I was interested. And, of course, I said yes. I was expecting it to fall through - that's happened before - and it wasn't until a few months later the whole thing was confirmed and I started working on it.
They found me by searching the net. Wiley - who publish the Dummies books - often find bloggers to write their books. Which, in my completely biased view, is a smart move.
Many of those books contain music CD's – have you contributed audio lessons as well?
Yeah, there’s a CD that comes with the book. It’s got 97 tracks on so there’s plenty to go at. I made videos of some of the trickier tunes in the book here: LINK
Tell me what you would say to promote the ukulele to a new player?
It seems strange to say, but I don't really promote the ukulele. I'm more into promoting music. I think it's a real shame that people who would love to play an instrument don't because they've been led to believe they have no musical ability.
Having said that, I do think the ukulele is a good way into music for people who aren't confident with music. The suck threshold is low and it's not an intimidating instrument.
Throughout the ukes history, its popularity has risen and fallen. We certainly seem to be on an “up” at the moment – what are your thoughts on that? Do you think this bubble may burst?
That’s a good question. I wish I knew.
If you look at the history of the ukulele, you’ve got to say there’s a pretty good chance the ukulele is going to be as popular as an out-of-tune banjolele in a uke group.
What I’d like to see is it calm down a bit and the ukulele become just another instrument that gets used. So bands can have a ukulele in their set up, or include a ukulele song without it being notable.
So, as a seasoned player, what is your best tip for a beginner?
I think practice is underrated. The best tip is to practice very, very slowly. Painfully slowly. So slowly you don't make a mistake. Once you can play something slowly, speed it up very gently.
Thanks ever so much Al - and I wish you continued good luck with the site and book. To end, hope you enjoy this video showing off Al's playing - its one of my favourites.
Read my other Got A Ukulele Interviews HERE