2017 Classes, Workshops, & Song Sessions

Scheduled workshops are just the tip of the iceberg at the West Coast Ukulele Retreat. Add to these the student-led workshops, the flash mob, the fun and entertaining evening events, the planned and “impromptu” jams and there’s no question why folks come back year after year. Having said that, here is what we have so far. We will be adding to this as the schedule gets organized and staff additions are taken into account.  In the meantime, hang on. You’re in for the time of your life!

(Click here for a description of the workshop “levels.”)

Three-Day Sessions

Begin the Beguine

If you’re brand new to the ‘ukulele or even just a little rusty, (or perhaps you’re a spouse or “companion” who just came along for the ride) this individualized workshop with Rhan Wilson should help bring you up to speed. The idea here is to move along at the pace needed to keep you motivated and entertained and coming back for more! (Level 1)

Blues and Beyond

12469345_512944932214729_5665886502197001808_oJoin British bluesman, Phil Doleman, for a look at the evolution of the blues, from early riff-based forms to the 3-chord 12-bar pattern familiar to so many.  But then we’ll take it a little further and on to the beginnings of jazz. We’ll learn a couple of classic blues songs, with fat jazz chords, some riffs and runs that really sound the business, whining string bends, double stops, and a few killer endings and turnarounds—all without the tedious business of going down to the crossroads and selling your soul. This is a 3-day class for intermediate to advanced players. (Level 3 – 4)

Clawhammer Uke

Clawhammer is a 5-string banjo technique that, thanks to the high 4th string on the uke, also works great on the ukulele, as long as you have Phil Doleman as your guide.  After he has taught you the basic stroke, he’ll add some hammer-ons,  pull-offs, double-thumbing, and drop-thumbing, as you work your way through some very simple songs, culminating in the classic bluegrass tune,  “Cripple Creek.”  This 3-day class requires that you have an ukulele with the high-G tuning. And, while it is geared toward advanced beginners, if clawhammer  is a new technique to you, regardless of your level of play we’ll all be starting on a level field. (Level 2 – 4)

Dave Egan’s Recording Studio

rotate_IMG_1709This was such a huge hit last year that Dave Egan will again be setting up a full recording studio for us at Asilomar and take six lucky campers at a time through the entire process of recording a song, from start to finish.  Vocals and other instruments are optional and songs may be of your choosing or ones suggested by Dave. Make no mistake, this is not just about vanity. “The process is extremely helpful in improving all aspects of playing,” says Dave. “Hearing yourself play into a $1,500  mic is a real ‘ear-opener’ and can help create a big breakthrough. Leaps of skill are part of the experience.” So, there will be a learning curve, possibly a steep one: learning to listen, learning to play better, and learning to sound better. For once you’ll have an opportunity to hear  what you really sound like, to correct  your mistakes, to become a better musician, and to come away with a product (recorded on CD) you’ll be proud to share….all under the watchful eye of the kindest and most talented man in the business today. (Level 2 – 4)

Here’s a little sample from last year:

I Will (Corey)

You can find more student recordings here.

Jazz Band with Kevin Carroll

Here Kevin Carroll presents a “differentiated” approach to learning jazz by deconstructing a piece of music and putting it back together with a deeper understanding of its elements. The laid-back, sparse melody of Moonlight in Vermont, in addition to the bluesy classic Bag’s Groove, made famous by Miles Davis, will be presented in tablature and notation along with some “extra” online supplements.  There will be parts for bass, baritone, high and low-G ukuleles, some chordal parts and some single notes. What a great way to up your game and learn some beautiful tunes at the same time.  (Level 3 – 4)

New World Ukestra

If you have been wanting to expand your scope of playing to include classical music, but didn’t know where to start, this may be just the place. In this 3-day workshop, Kevin Carroll will introduce, illuminate, and teach the beauty of playing classical music on the ukulele through an exploration of Largo from the New World Symphony by Dvorak. Developing solid time, good tone, and accuracy, while learning to listen and read notes will launch your playing to the next level. And since the piece has been arranged in 4 parts, for levels 2, 3, 4, and bass, there will be a little something here for everyone (including players with a low-g ukulele. (Prior note or tablature reading experience is not required, but is recommended.) (Level 2 – 4)

Play Ukulele by Ear: Learning to Listen

From Canada to Australia, and all across the USA (in an Airstream trailer, no less), Jim D’Ville has made it his personal mission to get people’s noses out of their songbooks so they can start using their ears. And while some of you may have already attended one his energetic workshops, few get the opportunity to spend three consecutive days working on this singular skill, a skill that is vital to your progress as a musician. (Level 2 – 4)

Solo Uke

If you’ve ever seen Gerald Ross perform, you know that one of his favorite disclaimers is that he doesn’t sing on any of his CD’s. That means that each song has to stand on its own as an instrumental! (And beefing up your strumming just isn’t enough……) But even if you do sing like a bird, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to add a little pizzazz to your music by playing through that part of the song just screaming for an instrumental solo? So here’s your chance. Over the course of three sessions, Gerald Ross will teach you how to arrange a song (or parts of it) using chord substitution, melody, and lead work to create a solo piece that, like Gerald, can stand on its own.  (Level 3 – 4)

Taking the Mystery Out of Songwriting

Have you thought about writing a song, or two, but just didn’t quite know where, or how, to start?  If so, then this may be a great way to while away a couple of hours at the retreat with Rick Zeek who will help guide you through the process, from lyrics to melody and rhythm. Start from scratch or bring a tune you have been working on to a safe place to unleash your creative muse. (All Levels)

The Entertainer

Every year, treasured West Coast ‘Ukulele Retreat alumna, Nancy Piver, brings us a painstakingly prepared ensemble piece for 4 or more dedicated ‘ukulele players to learn to play with discipline and precision for our closing night.  This year is no different, though she has upped the ante with Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer,” in four parts, including one that might need some practice before-hand. Two of the parts, as well as the baritone part, are easily playable by a confident, intermediate, single-note player, as is the Baritone part. And there’s even a part you can play by just strumming chords if you are not used to single notes.  All in all, says Nancy, it is “a piece of cake!”   (Level 2 – 4)

Ukulele Flash Mob

You haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen the entire (and usually staid) Crocker Dining Room singing along to “Sweet Caroline!”  This is something the Asilomar staff looks forward to every year more than we do!  And though the flash mob has just gotten better and better under the expert leadership of Heidi Swedberg, this year the incomparable Jim D’Ville has stepped up to maintain, if not surpass, the very high standards a successful flash mob requires. So come join us for rehearsals during Flash Mob Happy Hour — All levels welcome and encouraged.  Let’s rock the Crocker Dining Hall again and raise the ghost of  Julia Morgan from the dead once and for all! (All Levels)

Ukulele Bass Skills

For the first time ever, we are offering a 3-day workshop with Craig Clelland that will take you well beyond the “introductions” and the “basics,” and teach you how to:

  • Be the “heartbeat” and tonal foundation of your ukulele ensemble by learning to follow  a simple chord chart or lead sheet as found in the songbooks of most ukulele clubs and ensembles
  • Follow an easy chord progression using “root” tones
  • Play the common I-IV-V chord change
  • Transpose I-IV-V patterns into any key
  • Play basic grooves and patterns that are common to many tunes
  • And learn some simple “walk-ups” to use between chord changes.

All the mad skills necessary for any bass player who wants to be in demand.

You’re Already Moving

The given musical rule of thumb is that the “one” chord, the chord that defines the key you are playing in, provides a feeling of rest and completion. While the rest of the chords in the song are just there to create a feeling of movement and tension.  And it’s usually the “one” chord that the song starts on as well. But in this workshop, Gerald Ross is going to shake things up a bit and teach you some tunes that start on something besides the “one,” so that you are moving the song the minute you start! Duke Ellington’s “Satin Doll,” “Honeysuckle Rose,” “I Can’t Believe You’re In Love With Me,” and other popular tunes will be used to demonstrate this technique. No music theory needed. No music reading required. No knuckle-busting chord shapes to learn. Just a fun time with one of the masters of the craft! (Level 2 – 3)

All Skill Levels

4 Strings/4 Voices

Have you ever been rendered speechless by beautiful vocal harmonies? Have you ever wanted to harmonize with a group, but just couldn’t find the right notes to sing?  Then you might find comfort with Kevin Carroll in a class that will open your mind to the possibilities.  Taking a simple and elegant “folk” melody, learning how to create a “choir,” one string (and one voice) at a time, under Kevin’s tutelage, you’ll soon be sounding like a barbershop quartet. There is just one caveat: participants must be willing to sing.

Arranging for Ukulele Groups

Bored with your club or band strumming the same thing at the same time? (Sometimes referred to as incessant strumming syndrome.) Do you want to add more interest, color, rhythm, and polish to your playing? Then you won’t want to miss this one! Phil Doleman will teach you how to play around with chord inversions, rhythmic devices, and harmony, how to build “big” chords from two “small” chords, and learn some percussive techniques. In fact, we’ll be learning all of the arranging techniques made famous by The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain!  This is a one-time class, designed for players of all skill levels. (All Levels)

Best Practices in Stage Performance

Getting up on stage to sing or play can be a wonderful experience but it can be nerve-wracking for some. Join musician/performer Craig McClelland for this workshop covering stage presence and performance practices that will help you take the stage with confidence. We will discuss some common misconceptions about confidence and focus on the keys to becoming a more relaxed and confident performer. Anxiety, preparation, equipment needs, and common pitfalls will be examined and discussed. Learn some tips, tricks, and techniques that will allow you to make your next Open Mic Night the best one ever!

Chart your Path to Success

Have you ever wondered how professional musicians can perform an unknown piece of music and get it right the first time out?  Typically, they are handed a sheet of music and take a few quick glances at it.  The band leader counts off the song and the band members jump right in. Flawless. First time. Every time. You, too, can learn how to play with “the band” in this workshop being offered by Gerald Ross, open to everyone, but geared specifically toward the folks who want to strut their stuff with the Flea-by-Night Band on Friday night. You will learn the universally agreed-upon standard for charting a tune and leave with a little homework: charting the tune you’ll be singing or playing with the band. This is an important skill that will allow you to share your music with an y musician anywhere in the world. If you own a pencil and can count to four, you are more than ready for this class.  No music theory required.

For Teachers Only

Among the many things Kevin Carroll excels at, running a very successful ukulele business is one, and, lucky for us, he has generously offered to share all his trials and tribulations in this introductory class to the art and business of teaching ukulele.  If you are already teaching, you might learn a few tips and tricks to keep your students engaged and ensure they return. If you are considering becoming a teacher, you might be curious about where to start, how to collect resources and how to attract students.  In any case, Kevin will help you unearth the qualities of successful teachers and provide you with approaches and skills that will empower your teaching, whether it is your first or your fiftieth teaching episode.  From what to charge to what to teach, you will come away with many ideas to help you inspire and edUKEcate others! 

Open Mic and On Stage Performance

In this workshop, Rhan Wilson is going to teach you a number of tricks to improve your Open Mic performances, whether you’re a newbie or think you are ready for Carnegie Hall. You’ll learn the proper use of microphones and monitors, as well as how to prepare for your turn on stage. And if stage fright is holding you back, you’ll learn a few tricks of the trade and ways to focus that may help to soothe your nerves. Bring a song you want to perform and, if time allows, you’ll have a chance to share what you have learned with a loving and nurturing audience. Yes, you can!

Matthew, Mark, Uke, and John

Sunday morning has always been a bit of a mish-mash at the West Coast ‘Ukulele Retreat, but not this year because we’ve got Rhan Wilson and Rick Zeek to lead us in a rousing sing-along experience featuring uplifting and spiritual songs in the Americana genre and more. We’ll be singing tunes from their popular MMUJ songbooks, but stay on your toes ‘cuz the R&R duo like to mix things up a bit with the arrangements: calling out alternate chords and endings to suit the moment. This one is tried and true and just plain fun! Plus, rumor has it we may even have a little surprise revival.

Picking Ukulele by Ear

Learn to pick the melodies to your favorite songs with Jim D’Ville, but without tab! (And if you don’t know what tab is, don’t worry. You don’t need to!) You will, instead, learn to use the solfege syllables (do, re, me, etc.) to train your ears to hear and pick out the melodies to your favorite songs. Topics will include playing scales, arpeggios, rolls and fills, and, of course, songs! This first step you need to take to be able to play anything that comes into your head!

Practice Made Perfect

We have all heard the saying “practice makes perfect” and indeed it does. You will not improve without it. Effective practice, however, is a truly elusive beast. How often do we seem to practice long and hard with seemingly little to show for all our time and effort?  The reason is that effective practicing is an art in and of itself. In this workshop, Craig McClelland will help you develop strategies to maximize effectiveness in your practice sessions so that you actually see results. Come on and learn to make the most of your precious practice time.

Your Next Best ‘Ukulele

You’d be a very unusual ‘ukulele player if you weren’t already thinking about what might be your next, best ‘ukulele.  And Dennis Lake is just the right person to let you know what you should be looking for from tone wood on the outside to bracing on the inside, from strings to tuning pegs. This man carries with him a wealth of information and is only too happy to share it. So even if you’re not in the market for a new ‘ukulele, join Dennis for a little ‘ukulele “talk story” and learn more than you thought you needed to know.

Newbies – Level 1 (and beyond)

Basic Rhythm and Strumming

Are you ready to learn some new strums? Then you’ll need to get a handle on rhythm, first, and once you do, you’ll be able to create more strums than you ever thought possible. In this workshop with Rhan Wilson, you’ll start off slow and simple – and gain a basic understanding of how time is counted and before you know it you will be able to settle into any song with confidence and feel.  This is very basic and necessary information, yet it is rarely taught or explained. Once you’ve taken this class, you’ll be way ahead. (Level 1 – 3)

Intro to Fingerpicking

Fingerpicking is an excellent way to get a little more music out of your uke using the fingers of your right hand, individually and in groups, to pluck at the strings. It creates a lighter, more airy sound than strumming and can be very effective. In this workshop, Craig McClelland will introduce some of the basic building blocks that can be used to learn common fingerpicking that you can use with any chord progression or song you already know, including basic arpeggio, waltz , and alternating thumb patterns, along with basic Travis picking.  This is a wonderful and relatively easy way to add another dimension to your ukulele sound “pallet.”  (Level 1 – 3)

Playing Together 

The sheer joy of making music  together with other people is probably what attracted you to the ‘ukulele in the first place and has kept you coming back for more. In this popular and informative workshop, Rhan Wilson will show you how to be a better group player, as well as a better group leader. Understanding the basics: counting in a song, starting together, and ending together – are simple and effective ways to make your sing-along experiences even better than they already are. (Level 1 – 3)

Beginners – Level 2 (and beyond)

Buddy Holly by Ear

Buddy Holly changed the face of rock and roll, and he did it in just 18 months! With blues-based classics like “That’ll be the Day,” “Peggy Sue,” and “Oh Boy,” Buddy Holly melded the best of rock, rockabilly and blues into his own style of music. Other classic songs you’ll learn during this session with Jim D’Ville are “Everyday,” “Maybe Baby,” “It’s So Easy,” “Rave On,”  and “Heartbeat.”  (Level 2-4)

Fab Beatles Songs 1963-’64

Why were The Beatles the greatest band ever? Blame it on the chord progressions! The Beatles songs that were written in the breakout years of 1963 and 1964 showcase Lennon and McCartney’s exciting use of cadence and colorful extended chords. Put away the books and paper as Jim D’Ville teaches the immortal pop classics including “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” “She Loves You,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” “Tell Me Why,” and more!  All by ear! (Level 2 -3)

Isometric ‘Ukulele

The notion that it takes hours and hours each and every day to kick your technique upstairs is a bit of a myth. The reality is that simple focused exercises can build your coordination very quickly. In this workshop you will learn a few valuable exercises that are like tongue twisters for your hands and will help you gain greater dexterity while making fast, smooth chord changes in less time than you think. Eliminate the wasted motion and see how quickly precise, relaxed strumming and picking are yours.  (Level 2 – 4)

Practical Music Theory: An Introduction to Chord Progressions

Do you want to understand more about music and how songs work but are a little intimidated by what seems complex and full of rules you don’t understand? Then join Craig McClelland for a no-nonsense introduction to music that will get you playing with ease and confidence in all keys. If you know a few basic chords, the alphabet, and can count to seven, you possess all the skills necessary to participate in this workshop and will soon find that playing your ukulele is a whole lot more fun! (Level 2 -4)

Strumming to the Grateful Dead

Mosey on into this workshop with Craig McClelland and learn a couple Grateful Dead classics to pull out at your next jam session. Along with learning a few tunes, you will work on some right hand strumming techniques as well as getting our thumbs involved with some single note lines. Suitable for beginners and beyond, newbies can practice singing and strumming along with these great and timeless tunes while more experienced players can work the thumbs and rhythms. Low-G and re-entrant friendly. Truck on down. It’s 4:20 somewhere! (Level 2 – 4)

Problem Chords: Strategies for D, Bb and even (GASP!) E

A beginning ukulele player faces many challenges. You find yourself asking how do I tune my uke, do I really look good in a bowtie, and just how do I pronounce “ukulele” anyway? Playing chords is just another of these challenges and just as you are getting a pretty good handle on how to play such common chords as G Major, C Major, F Major and A Major and are getting pretty good at switching between them, along come two chords that strike fear in the heart of every beginning ukester– D Major and of course, the dreaded E Major. In this workshop Craig McClelland will help you find ways to approach these most feared of chords – fingering variations, different voicings, and even out and out “cheats” that you can use at your next uke jam until you do master the preferred forms – all while learning a couple of easy songs and having a fun time. If all goes well, we may even examine a few more common problem chords (although the decision to wear a bow tie is left completely to you). (Level 2 -3)

Three-note Chords

Just because the ukulele has four strings doesn’t mean you have to play them all! According to Gerald Ross,  all you need is three to get that bluesy/jazzy sound and often you can say more musically with two or three notes than you can with four.  In this workshop you will learn easy-to-finger three-note chords that sound much more bluesy and jazzy than their four note counterparts.  Easy blues songs will be used to demonstrate this very effective, very hip-sounding style.  No music theory needed nor music reading required. And no knuckle-busting chord shapes to learn. Any size uke tuned GCEA will work. (Level 2 – 3)

Intermediate – Level 3 (and beyond)

The Art (and Science) of the Shuffle

Now for a little blues. So, you have the I, IV,  & the V, the blues scale, and it still doesn’t sound quite right. What could be missing?  Ah, says Kevin Carroll. It is the groove! In this workshop Kevin will help you breakdown the rhythm and work through several variations of chord movements that will give you the authentic sound of blues and blues-based music.  This is a great primer for intermediate level players who just want to stretch a little, sit back, and get in the…..groove. (Level 3)

Cliff Notes: Arrangements for ‘Ukulele

American songbook standards get murdered everyday on the internet, the last place you should go for your favorite songs. But you can prevent this carnage by going straight to the original source and creating your own, authentic arrangements, and in a key that works for you! In this workshop Dave Egan will show you how to do just that while you also explore advanced (but not really crazy) chord shapes, partial chords, and common chord substitutes that make fast work of complex original scores and complicated turn-arounds. At the same time he’ll help reduce your fear of long-winded chord names and show you how easily even they can be played on the uke. Sample arrangements and chord shape charts will be provided. (Level 3 – 4)

Get Into The Groove!

Make your playing stomp, swing, and groove, and get everyone’s feet tapping. We’ll cover getting a solid strum, chunking, swing, muting, 3-string voicings, stabs, stops, and even funk. This one is guaranteed to make your playing 100% more dance-able and is a Phil Doleman original, offered once, and a great choice for any and all players of intermediate through advanced skill. (Level 3 – 4)

The Jersey Boys by Ear

Who doesn’t want to channel their inner Frankie Valli (in or out of the shower) with such great songs as “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,”  and “Walk Like a Man!”  And now you can channel it with your uke! In this brand new workshop from Jim D’Ville, you’ll not only learn to sing and play the music of the Four Seasons, one of the most popular vocal groups of all time, you’ll discover the underlying structure that made their first three hits,  along with “Dawn,” and “Rag Doll,” immortal classics. We’re going to have some fun in this one! (Level 3)

Masters of Emotion

dville-promo-shotLet’s build on our Beatles theme and explore how they employed every trick on the Circle of 5ths to write some of the most ear-catching musical phrasings in popular music. In this workshop we’ll learn the structure behind over 25 Beatles songs and examine how they used the emotional values found in chords to write some of the most popular music of all time:  “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” “Hey Jude,” “Ticket To Ride,” “Eight Days A Week,” “Taxman,” “Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da,” “Nowhere Man,” “Revolution,” “You Won’t See Me,” “Good Day Sunshine,”  and many, many more! (Level 3)

Advanced – Level 4 (and beyond)

Jerome Kern Classics

“Someday, when you’re awfully low…….” you’ll wish you could play some of Jerome Kern’s timeless classics on your ‘ukulele.  Well, here’s your chance.  Our own master arranger Dave Egan will be taking some time away from the recording studio this year to help you navigate a couple of relatively complicated Kern tunes such as “The Way You Look Tonight,” “I Won’t Dance,”  and “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” with irresistible melodies and lyrics, but tricky modulations through the bridges. Dave’s arrangements, with the proper choice of chord voicing, will help you master the vocal key shifts at the bridge. You’ll come away with an enhanced understanding of music and a couple of great arrangements of Kern’s classics that will help you enjoy the complexity of his arrangements without cutting corners. (Level 4)

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