According to the back cover of Schott’s book, Colin Tribe is internationally known and respected as a ukelele writer and teacher. In this book, we can see why. It progresses in its 170+ pages from beginner to very-accomplished. There’s a huge amount of core material, a (mostly) progressive approach to the content, and thoughtfully worked-through preparatory exercises for students. It is demonstratively a book written by a very accomplished player.
The seriousness of the approach is itself an act of reverence to the ukulele and, although this is an association for guitarists, there are increasing demands on guitar teachers to be able to play and communicate this smaller relation’s secrets to an ever-growing ensemble of students. This doesn’t constitute an exhaustive examination of Colin’s courageous tome, but hopefully will point out its strengths and also a few weaknesses.
Starting with one of the latter first, it is clear that this is a self-study book. As such, it fights the eternal battle of not being completely sure what the student already knows. Colin assumes that the new ukelele player needs help rhythmically and explains about minims, crotchets and quavers. He’s less explicit when it comes to the naming of notes and the alpha system music employs. It’s perhaps a case of being damned either way.
Should he assume we know nothing and start to explain? Then the book treads on the toes of many others and needs another 100 pages. Alternatively, should he make assumptions that some theoretical details are understood? Then there will be a student who doesn’t understand. It’s not Colin’s fault and I think he strikes as good a compromise as any I have seen.
The structure of the book is very appealing; organised by keys (C minor, C major, F major, G major, etc.) it uses the common thread of a tune called ‘I Love Music‘ to explore new treatments and tonalities. This is intelligent thinking. Not only does the student grasp the notion of ‘key’ easily, he also sees that transposition opens up the ‘uke’ in a way a capo cannot.
Some of Colin’s compositions and arrangements are very pretty. I thought ‘Suo Gân‘ was enchanting and his ‘Perpetually Diminishing‘ was very clever and meticulously worked-out for the instrument. Even the early ‘Blues In C‘ (page 33) is as sweet as it is quirky.
The book offers challenging music at times too with tremolo, scales, and much of the guitarist’s arsenal being brought to fruition in a no-compromise tome which will challenge the converting guitarist in surprising ways. It’s rich in variety, insight, carefully-considered studies and sensibly weighted to allow the learner to progress in a systematic way. I was impressed by Tribe’s willingness to arrange naked tunes, devoid of accompaniment.
Sometimes, it’s just too unrealistic to contextualise every single note harmonically; he is aware of this and skilfully employs simple or octave melodies which both circumnavigate a potential problem and actually work very well from a musical perspective. One of his mantras is experimentation: e.g. taking a usable fingering and exploring alternatives to see if something works better for you. That’s a humble and intelligent suggestion which I welcomed seeing on many pages.
There’s access to on-line recordings of all the material too. I ‘tuned in’ to some of the later recordings and noticed a few places where legato fell off and the examples seemed to be challenging the performer; but with 155 tracks to record and presumably a limited time in which to record it all, this isn’t so unexpected – especially given some of the technical challenges of the latter pieces. All the tracks seem to work at the first click though, so the interface between the user and Schott’s website is easily navigated.
There are problems and matters to confuse in the book. Tribe doesn’t always call a spade a spade, which guitarists might get irritated about. Rasguedo is called a nail brush, sequential planting has only cursory explanation (it’s a fundamental technique), and there are but a few lines on free strokes and rest strokes. Given how high we are ending up technically, some of the groundwork doesn’t go very deep. I wasn’t impressed by his ‘pull-off’ advice: “Give the string a slight snap with that finger so as to play the next note”. This sounds like an exhortation to ugliness.
There are also oversights which more careful proof-reading could have eliminated. These include enharmonic inconsistency, mis-spelt rhythms, inconsistent appearances of chord windows, claims things are there when they are not… it’s quite a list the critical observer could assemble. However, a 2nd edition will hopefully iron-out these blemishes and the worthy content will remain.
Teachers will enjoy working with this book if students bring it along. I’ll go further and advise that you suggest it as a good study-book for anyone wishing to transfer an elementary guitar technique onto the ukelele, or anyone starting the Uke from scratch. Much as he is pushing this as a self-help book, I think it really needs a teacher’s input.
Colin Tribe’s dedication to the ukulele has produced a study-book which will take many a student a long way to becoming complete players. For this significant achievement, which in many regards can be considered seminal, I think he is to be congratulated.