Ralph Shaw is the King of Canadian Ukulele. Originally from the UK, Ralph is an engaging and entertaining performer, as well as, a wonderful instructor. His DVD’s include his popular Complete Ukulele Course, Essential Strums, and a children’s ukulele course, all of which can be found on his website.
1. What is your advice on getting comfortable playing in front of an audience?
The opening sentence from M. Scott Peck’s classic self-help book The Road Less Traveled begins with the words “Life is difficult…”. The book is all about embracing your reality – warts ‘n all. Playing in front of an audience is not a comfortable experience. It is usually difficult, often terrifying and sometimes embarrassing. To learn to be a good performer you need to get out there and make mistakes while people are watching. It certainly is not for everyone.
However!! I want to add that tremendous personal growth can come to those who are driven to perform for audiences. My advice is go for it!! The art of being a performer is every bit as complex and difficult as the playing of music but it can be so good for you and others. One bit of advice: practice the performing as well as the music. When on stage – What will you say? How will you move? Answer those questions before you perform and don’t expect it to just come ‘naturally’! It does get easier over time but if you are looking for a “comfortable” experience I suggest you stay off the stage and settle into a nice La-Z-boy armchair with a good book!
2. What’s a first step in making the basic down/up strumming pattern more interesting?
I have one word to answer this question: DYNAMICS. This is one of the most neglected yet simple ways to make your playing more exciting. Writing about this on my ownblogI mention that the use of volume changes can make your music so much more effective without having to learn any new strums or chords. See how quiet you can play and then make it LOUD! Then work out where in your songs it is appropriate to make these changes. Paying attention to the ups and downs in volume will almost immediately make your playing more interesting.
3. What’s your advice for learning to sing on pitch?
I have 3 words to answer this question: LISTEN TO YOURSELF. When we hear someone singing off-pitch (same as out of tune) it is usually because: they don’t really know the tune and are grasping for notes they are not sure of, and they are not listening to themselves. Singing is a complex technique. We have to think about the tune, lyrics, phrasing, sound quality, projection, vocal support and pitch all at the same time. If you are not able to listen to yourself while singing then record yourself and notice where you go out of tune. There are usually certain points when this happens. Find out where they are and then correct them. Join a choir or vocal chorus. Maybe take voice lessons and learn to sing without playing an instrument (It just gives you one less thing to think about). I have written more about singing on pitch here orhere.