Tim Mann is a Boston area ukulele player known for his work with Greg Hawkes formally of The Cars. He is also one of the usual suspects at the popular Ukulele Noir shows organized by the infamous Craig Robertson.
1. Do you see the ukulele as primarily an accompaniment instrument to your singing or are you also exploring instrumental possibilities?
A well-timed question. I’ve been a singer-songwriter for many years and immediately began singing when I picked up the uke, just like I had done with a guitar. It had never occurred to me to use the uke for instrumental endeavors until my musical partner Greg Hawkes released his Beatles Uke cd. At that point, he and I added a third uke player on Baritone uke so we could perform some of the pieces live. For the last 18 months we have been performing this way, and I absolutely love it. A totally different experience that allows me to treat the uke as a bona fide instrument, and not just an accompaniment to my singing.
2. Are there advantages to learning ukulele first before tackling the guitar?
I can’t speak from my own experience, as I played guitar for many years before taking up the uke, but as a teacher, I can clearly see advantages from the students’ point of view. To begin with, the nylon string is much easier on the fingers than steel strings, so if one has no instrument background, the curve is much quicker. I also think the ability to form very easy chords, with only one fretted note (C, A7, Am, etc) hold much more promise for the budding uke player. Indeed for anyone looking to get into more sophisticated music like jazz, the ukulele is much easier to get around. If at some point one gets into guitar, again it will be much easier to tackle a bigger instrument, with a gained knowledge of chord shapes and some already acquired hand strength. I feel the two instruments complement each other in many ways.
3. Some ukulele players seem to suffer from LGS (Little Guitar Syndrome), which is a morbid aversion to guitar players. How do you rationalize playing both instruments?
Expounding on the last question, the two instruments clearly complement each other, and the uke is a natural attraction for guitar players, given the similarity in intervals and chord shapes. Undoubtedly my background on guitar helped me pick up the uke much quicker than had I not had that experience. Where they differ is also a point of attraction. The ukulele has a different sound altogether, and I have found it works so easily with some of the music of the early 20th century that I never even attempted on guitar. Playing the uke has allowed me to expand my musical repertoire as I never had before. I’ve played many senior centers where I get to perform music from that generation (5 Foot 2, Mr. Sandman, When You’re Smiling, etc.), and that has been a thrill, as though I was rediscovering music from another time. The guitar has primarily been an outlet for rock and blues, but the uke crosses so many genres, I’ve been exploring jazz, which I was never able to do successfully on guitar. Conversely, I’m still very comfortable on guitar, so it is often very rewarding to go back and visit my first love, and rarely do I cover the same material on both instruments.