Today we’ll see how we can get two benefits out of one exercise. We’re going to do some vocal warm ups while also getting to know the ukulele fretboard better at the same time. This exercise can be done over any scale or arpeggio, because we’re only using the ukulele as a guide for our starting note. Where we go from there vocally is up to us.
In this example, I’ll be doing exercises that move up or down in half-steps. Our lowest note on an ukulele tuned with a high G string is going to be C4 (middle C on a piano, see diagram below). Depending on which exercise we’re doing, we might want to move up in semitones until we get to C5 (third fret on the A string). If you have a low G ukulele, you can start on the low G (G3) and move up in semi-tones until, five steps later, you reach middle C. If you have a high G ukulele, just start on the C string. Below is an image on a piano keyboard with these notes marked on them so you can compare with the ukulele:
This exercise is a great way to start getting to know your fretboard while also warming up your voice. Make sure that you learn the letter names of the notes on the fretboard by saying or singing their names, as I demonstrate in the video below. This will eventually help you become more competent at reading chord charts on the ukulele.
Since everyone learns differently, I’ve provided you with four ways of identifying the notes in the image below:
- The top line of each system has fret diagrams indicating where to put your finger to play each note.
- On the stave below that is the note written in music notation
- Below that is the letter name
- Finally, below that is the TAB notation for each note. If you’re not familiar with this, the four lines in the TAB represent the four strings of the ukulele, when viewing the uke from above, and with the headstock pointed left. The strings, from bottom to top, are GCEA. The numbers indicate the fret to play at (a zero means an open string) and these numbers are placed over the string you should be playing.
You’ll notice that I named the notes chromatically in sharps as we go up, and in flats as we go down. This is simply to make sure that you learn both names for the notes that correspond to the black keys on the piano. These notes have different names depending on which key we’re in. So, for example, the note that lies between G and A is called Ab when we play in the key of Eb, but it is called G# in the key of A.
If you’re used to playing folk songs and rock songs, you may be more accustomed to calling notes by their sharp versions since many songs use open strings on the guitar and so favour keys like A and E, which have sharps in their key signatures. Since jazz typically favours flat keys, this exercise will be very useful for you to get used to naming the notes as their flatted equivalents.
In the video above, I went through a few ideas for how you can use this exercise. You could even try a different vocal exercise sequence for each day of the week. Just make sure that whatever range of notes you sing are comfortable for you and don’t cause you to strain your voice! You don’t want to sing higher or lower than is comfortable for you that day. Be kind to yourself and don’t ever push your voice beyond its limits. Remember that you can always jump up or down an octave and continue the exercise that way.
Once you’ve become very familiar with the first four frets, you can do the same sort of exercise, but using a single string and going up and down in half steps. This helps you learn the notes as you move up each string. There are lots of ways to keep this fresh and interesting! Have fun with it.