The Ukestration Manual is out now!
Ukestration started out as an antidote to hum n' strum, an approach to arranging music for ukulele groups. But with 8+ years of experience we've come to think of it as a whole-of-uke-group approach to music-making. And so we wrote two books about it.
Ukestration as an approach to music-making and teaching on the ukulele
Ukestration is where contemporary songs are arranged into parts for an ukulele orchestra. The very essence of a ukestra is inclusion, so the parts cater for a wide range of abilities. You will learn some really cool and fun riffs and licks that make the songs sound so much more! But our real aim is to leave you with new skills, techniques and knowledge, and a new sound that you and your audiences will enjoy for their diversity and musical skill.
For fast track development of improvisational skills we believe in the power of:
- the major pentatonic as learned in My Girl (Smoky Robinson)
- the blues scale in Sunshine of Your Love (Cream)
- the effective use of harmonised scales in songs such as Spanish Harlem, How Bizarre and Do You Know the Way to San Jose.
In a two hour workshop we can target a variety of skill levels and introduce some of these complex musical theories and techniques in a fun way. We can often then get people improvising over a variety of different song forms.
Alternatively we can teach some of our fantastic arrangements of contemporary songs by Lorde, Gotye, Sia, Tom Petty, Paul Kelly, Burt Bacharach, The Madden Brothers, the Beatles, Ben Lee, U2, Jimmy Eat World, and more.
Where did Ukestration come from?
No big deal really. Orchestras do it with virtuoso musicians. Why can't we?!!!
We work hard in our local communities around the Newcastle area of Australia where we teach ukulele to up to 150 adults each week, using a 'ukestra' format that combines entertainment, music education and social connection.
Using this experience as a base, the ukestration approach has also been refined by learning from others.
We were the first Australians to complete the three years of the James Hill Ukulele Initiative (JHUI) in Canada and we now partner with James to deliver the JHUI in Australia and New Zealand.
However we have also been inspired by the extraordinary abilities and entertainment of the Langley Ukulele Ensemble.
But it is the commitment of our local adult ukestras - a commitment where 'non-musicians' have learned to be musicians and performers, and the need to provide parts for all manner of abilities - that has been the most inspiring. The ukestration approach was so successful that in our first appearance at a national ukulele festival in Australia (Melbourne Ukulele Festival 2011), the 'Ukastle Ukestra' amazed everyone with their entertaining ukestrated performance. This resulted in the tongue-in-cheek awarding of the 'Golden Ukulele' for best community group of the festival.
Out of these experiences, Mark and Jane have distilled a two hour 'Ukestration' workshop that has attracted accolades from all over the world.
To give you an idea of the finished product from a workshop, here is a video from one of our two sold out workshops at Ukulele Movement in Singapore in April 2013.
And if you wish to know about how we impacted on Hanoi (Vietnam), then this little TV article will help you!
What have others said about the Ukestration Workshop?
The greatest review we have had of our work is this ---> a recording of the Bellingham Ukulele Group (WA, USA) playing their version of The Middle. They even changed the name of the song! (File is about 3mb).
Gail McDonald loves ukestrating, and has adapted this Jimmy Eat World song in a fully conceptualised and well measured ukestration of our original adaptation. Chinese Whispers at its best!
If you want some other versions - here is a rehearsal of the Ukastle Ukestra (soundcloud).
Some Reviews from the Sacramento Ukestration Workshop in August 2012
Thanks to Stu Herreid (RIP) from the Strum Shop for the workshop, and for these comments from his Meetup site.
- These guys were outstanding!!!!!!!!!!! Funny, informative, talented, well taught. If you missed them this time, they will be back in a year... Don't miss them then!
- This was amazing. I love how all different levels were able to participate to create a beautiful full sound. I hope we can continue more of this here locally
- This was a very fun workshop. Having the group play different parts made the music dynamic. The instructors were very entertaining and engaging.
- This was a bunch of fun, and I went home with a number of great ideas for working with my kids group!
- Mark Jackson and Jane Jelbart, the instructors, did a marvelous job teaching 22 ukulele players with various skill levels how to play songs and sound professional while doing so. I think they are top notch instructors and I would gladly take another workshop from them.
- It started slowly while they assessed where we all were in uke levels and then the workshop gathered steam and was great. They introduced a number of interesting techniques to accompany those who only plays chords making for a more diverse and entertaining song. Thanks Stu for making it happen for us. Bob
- What a wonderful night it was. The instructors were a lot of fun and very knowledgeable about the music and the Ukulele. We got to learn a couple of new songs and how to read tabs (we are such novices.) The workshop was entertaining and informative, the time just flew by. We are looking forward to attending some more workshops in the future.
- Australia - 2010 - today. We tour when we can get away from home in our country, and usually we work with local uke clubs when we have a festival scheduled somewhere that's not home.
- Hanoi & Singapore - April 2013
- 2011-2017 - the West Coast of North America
- 2013, 2015 and 2017 - New Zealand
Past Ukestra Performances (ukestrated, of course)
- The Ukastle Ukestra regularly appears at various Australian Ukulele Festivals including Melbourne, Brisbane, Newcastle (of course! Our community runs it!), the Blue Mountains and the Central Coast.
- Annually at the Hawai'i Ukulele Festival since 2011.
- Since 2016 we have welcomed non-Newcastle people to join us for international tours of Ukestralia, with appearances in New Zealand and Hawai'i.