There is only one Ukulele Bartt. He is a Flamenco-Boogie-Classical ukulele player in addition to being a Los Angeles Unified School District Teacher of the Year. He plays in the Ukulele Bartt Sextet, performs and teaches at ukulele festivals and is coming out with his own instructional DVD this month.
1. How does learn to play Flamenculele style ukulele?
“Flamenculele” is a word I made up to describe Flamenco played on an ukulele. I don’t really play strict Flamenco; I just have a Flamenco influence that comes through in a lot of my playing. Every player’s personality comes through in their playing, even if they’re a beginner; the music you listen to, your sense of fearlessness or caution … it always shows. So I guess if you’d like to play a little Flamenculele, you ought to listen to Paco de Lucia and people like that. I have some Flamenco-playing guitarist friends that I jam with, and my favorite part about playing with them is that it always gets so competitive. We trade solos and try to outdo each other. It’s a duel, which makes me play a lot better. It’s hard to find ukulele players who play that style, so I end up jamming with guitarists, which I love. The guitar-ukulele combo is a favorite of mine.
When I’m jamming with my Hawaiian friends, I play lots of Hawaiian music. When I’m in East L.A. I find more players who are into Flamenco and Mariachi, or sometimes Cuban or Son Jarocho music. Learning new things is more fun when you have company, so when I want to explore a new style, I look for players who are already doing it, and learn from them. When I played withBill Tapia, I learned a lot of jazz and chord theory.
2. Can you suggest an all-purpose strumming or picking exercise?
When learning a new strum the main thing is to understand the pattern and play it very slowly and cleanly. If you try to strum fast before you really understand the pattern, you’ll never really learn the strum. For example, if it’s a down-down-up pattern using your thumb and index finger, make sure that you’re playing exactly that pattern using exactly those fingers. After a couple thousand practice strums, you’ll start getting fast and it will become second nature. I have a lot of exercises on my website that will help you get better at strumming and picking. I also posted some picking exercises that will help with left-hand and right hand dexterity. They’re patterns, and the key is repetition. You should use all the fingers of both hands when you practice. Most players avoid using their pinkies. You‘re missing out on 20 percent of your fingers unless you use your pinky.
Whether it’s a strumming exercise, a picking exercise, or a new set of chords, I always teach people to start slowly and really understand the pattern of what they’re learning. If your playing is sloppy, you’re probably going too fast.
3.How do you approach learning/memorizing a new song?
It depends on if it’s a song I wrote myself, or a cover song. When I learn someone else’s song, I listen to it about fifty million times before I even start figuring out the chords. That way I’m minimizing my struggles. I no longer have to figure out when the chord changes come; I only have to figure out what those chords are. Then I usually break the song into little pieces, and learn the chords for just one small section at a time. I write each chord down as I figure it out, so I can simply read them from a piece of paper as I learn the song. When I’m done figuring out the chords, I put them into a chart, including the lyrics, and practice by looking at my chart. Eventually I don’t need the chart any more.
I forget lyrics all the time during my shows, but I just make up new ones as I go along. I forget chords sometimes, too, or play the wrong ones, but I felt better about that after I saw Lyle Lovett do the same thing. He was screwing up the song and couldn’t find his place, so he just finally stopped the song midway through and distracted the audience with a funny story. Then he started the whole song over from the beginning. It was brilliant!
If it’s a complicated piece, like Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, I’ll put the song into a software program that can slow the music down without changing the pitch. Then I go through the same steps; it just takes a lot longer. There’s a video of me doing a Beethoven medley with part of the Ninth Symphony, plus a few more of Ludwig Von’s greatest hits. The hardest part was finding passages in his music that could be transposed for ukulele. He wrote that stuff for an 80-piece orchestra, so it’s really fun to try and make it work for just one little ol’ ukulele.
Whether I’m teaching or playing, I always focus on learning things correctly from the beginning. It’s tough to break bad habits, so I try and get it correct from the start. It’s hard if you’re an impatient person, but it’ll pay off and you’ll probably have a lot more fun in the end!