Two-Chord Christmas Songbook by M Ryan Taylor | Play Ukulele Now : an online course by Dan Scanlan

Review : Jiminy Kokopo’s Ukulele Sing & Strum Fun Book

I have very mixed feelings about this beginner ukulele method, Jiminy Kokopo’s Ukulele Sing & Strum Fun Book, written and illustrated by Jerrold Conners of Alligator Boogaloo. The kid in me says, ‘funny stuff’ and the teacher in me says, ‘meh.’ On the one hand you have your CRAZY POTATO COMICS, and on the other hand you have another ‘throw ’em to the wolves’ type of method (advanced players forget too easily how hard some of the ukulele ‘basics’ really are to new students). For example, it is unrealistic to think that a student is going to become fluent in 7 keys in under 50 pages of material (especially when quite a few of those pages are introduction, comics, word games, etc.).

The Good to Great

  • The introductory section is great, once you get past the actual introduction; we’ve got to stop calling attention to ukulele stereotypes of the past – no one under 40 even knows who Tiny Tim is.
  • There is a wonderful ‘About the Ukulele’ page that revealed a couple of bits of information that I didn’t know about the instrument (and I’ve read a lot these type of things). For instance, the name of the ship on which the braguinha (parent instrument of the ukulele) made its way to Hawaii on was named the Ravenscrag. How cool is that?
  • The ‘Choosing A Ukulele’ page points out that the pineapple soprano instrument is going to be a little louder than its guitar-shaped cousins – something I recognized when testing out Lanikai’s LU-21 series of ukuleles, the pineapple had the larger sound (and the nicer tone – we bought one for my wife) than the regular soprano.
  • I’ve never seen anyone take quite so much care in diagramming what goes into good downstrum/upstrum.
  • The cartoons and illustrations are top-notch and entertaining. The silly-leaning prose will appeal to the young and young at heart.
  • Chord diagrams, staff, sharps & flats, time signatures, note values, C scale & Chromatic scale are all covered adequately.
  • There is a nice arrangement of Aloha ‘Oe that beginners shouldn’t find too terribly difficult with a bit of practice.
  • The mystery tune puzzle on page 23 is a clever idea; I wish there were more of these in the book.
  • I like that the author encourages students to make up their own words for very good old tunes whose words have lost their excitement or are dated. It is a great creative activity which can lead into personal songwriting later on.
  • The author’s original words in ‘Pet Shop Hoedown’ (to the tune of Whoa, Mule! Whoa!) should be entertaining to the young set and illustrates the above point perfectly.
  • There is an adequate section on transposing – something everyone needs to learn about.
  • There are a number of fun activity-book-style sheets that kids will find fun.
  • The ‘Introductions, Endings & Flourishes’ section is a good idea, but there are a number of metrical (notated in 4 instead of 3) and rhythm errors (extra eighth notes in a measure), etc.
  • Encourages you to go out and perform at your local rest homes. Great idea!
  • Gives some nice tips on showmanship and getting past your nerves.

The ‘Meh’ Stuff

  • The first song, Little Brown Jug, has you plucking a tune on all four strings using all four fingers and even takes you out of first position. Sorry, way too fast for a true beginner.
  • The second tune, an original of the author, includes tricky syncopations that are only going to complicate things for a new uker. Again, too fast.
  • Our first chords are C, F and G7. As I’ve stated in other reviews, this may seem like the logical place to start, but G7 is not an easy chord for beginners. I prefer a more gradual approach.
  • An inserted errata sheet corrects the key/chord errors on ‘She’ll Be Comin’,’ but the corrected key makes the song much to high for the average singer (or too low if you sing it down an octave.
  • After just three songs in the key of C, we’re on to F and the introduction of the Bb chord, one of the hardest chords to get to ring out clearly without any extra buzzing noises.
  • Covers some very basic strums, but doen’t explore the potential of teaching and applying different strumming patterns. The Alfred method I reviewed before does a much better job with this topic.
  • Three songs in F and we’re on to D and another couple of tricky chords.
  • The author’s song, ‘My Love for You is Gaga Gugu,’ makes me want to gag. Sorry Jerry.
  • ONE SONG in D and then off to G.
  • Another original song, ‘The Mongoose Shuffe,’ is likely only going to appeal to the very young.
  • Again, ONE SONG in G and then off to A.
  • I think page 35 is in need of another errata sheet, the chords don’t seem to lineup or make sense with the melody, which rhythmically should have a pickup beat instead starting on the first beat of the measure. This seems to be in F, not A.
  • O.K. Where are the KEY SIGNATURES!!!
  • Introduces B major family of chords with no songs to reinforce this key. Immediately moves on to E. Neither of these keys are really beginner keys.
  • I’ve never like ‘My Grandfather’s Clock.” Just personal preference.
  • As several Amazon reviews noted, the book is poorly made and the binding cracked open on first use.

As a Fun Book, an Ukulele Comic Book, a Book to Pick up a Few Good Tips and Chuckles . . . I heartily recommend it. As a stand-alone method for beginning students, I heartily suggest you look into something else.

M Ryan Taylor

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