Brain tempo • Jumping flea • Dumb Things • Honoka & Azita
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Some of you may remember in the 70s when building things out of matchsticks was a craze.
School projects, models and toys were all fair game. A devoted hobbyist on the techblog site has proudly posted a pic of their matchstick ukulele.
I sincerely hope it sounds ok.
The Brain Sets Tempo
Musician, music producer and neurologist Daniel Levitin who wrote This is Your Brain on Music (2006) has some interesting things to say about tempo, how well most people can reproduce it when singing their favourite songs and how they are much more likely to speed up than slow down, depending on stressors. The brain's tempo 'settings' also explain why it is so hard to get people to play slowly when they are learning a song they are familiar with! Here is an excerpt from the book and one from the experiment he refers to.
The average person seems to have a remarkable memory for tempo. In an experiment that Perry Cook and I published in 1996, we asked people to simply sing their favourite rock and popular songs from memory and we were interested to know how close they came to the actual tempo of the recorded versions of those songs.

As a baseline, we considered how much variation in tempo the average person can detect: that turns out to be 4 percent. In other words, for a song with a tempo of 100 bpm, if the tempo varies between 96 - 100, most people, even some profesisonal musicians, won't detect this small change (although most drummers would – their job requires that they be more sensitive to tempo than other musicians, because they are responsible for maintaining tempo when there is no conductor to do it for them).

A majority of people in our study  – non-musicians – were able to sing songs within 4 percent of their nominal tempo. The neural basis for this striking accuracy is probably in the cerebellum, which is believed to contain a system of timekeepers for our daily lives and to synchronize to the music we are hearing.

This means that somehow the cerebellum is able to remember the "settings" it uses for synchronizing to music as we hear it, and it can recall those settings when we want to sing a song from memory. It allows us to synchronize our singing with a memory of the last time we sang.
and from the experiment...
The distribution of errors is also instructive [...] there is a tight clustering near the actual tempo, and more subjects sang too fast than too slow.
Boltz (1994) reviews evidence that various forms of induced stress increase the internal tempo of individuals. This would create internal durations that are shorter than the standard and would cause the subjects to sing fast.
If we can assume that the experimental situation was somewhat stressful (many subjects seemed to be embarrassed or nervous), this could account for the asymmetric error distribution favoring faster reproductions.
An additional explanation for this asymmetry comes from experimental findings that people are more likely to perform faster rather than slower and are better able to detect tempo decreases rather than increases (Kuhn, 1974).

Levitin DJ, Cook PR (1996) Memory for musical tempo: additional evidence that auditory memory is absolute. Percept Psychophys 58:927–935.

Visitors from Hawaii
On Tuesday night the Ukastle (Newcastle) Ukestra (ukulele orchestra) hosted one of the principals, and an employee of a well-known Hawaiian ukulele brand. They taught us a traditional song and a hula to accompany it. It got me thinking about how Polynesian culture and the ukulele are such a neat fit. This article on the SEA site (Sea Education Association - an undergraduate ocean education organisation) gives some background and history to that, but also mentions the very interesting theory that: "The name ukulele came from an army officer who was popular at the Hawaiian court. He was a small and active person who was nick-named ‘ukulele’ or ‘jumping flea."
Dumb Things
Australian popular music is vast and varied thesedays, and it turns out that this song, by national treasure Paul Kelly, is even studied at the Victorian College of Education. According to Mandy Stefanakis of the Association of Music Educators (Victoria), its main inspirations are The Clash's "London Calling" and Elvis Presley's version of "Mystery Train" and it contains the three main elements of ska which she describes as "a hybrid of rockabilly, reggae and punk". These comments are from her near-thesis on the song, which you can read here.
The video of Dumb Things is very slightly different from the songsheet as this is the one that was used in the Yahoo Serious movie, but it IS in the same key!
I have changed the chord font so that it contrasts a bit better with the lyrics as I had trouble reading my own songsheet the other day...please let me know if this one is any worse!
Honoka & Azita - Bodysurfing
Honoka and Azita are two young Hawaiian uke virtuosos who met at ukulele classes, began playing as a duo in 2012, won several competitions and now tour internationally.
happy playing (and reading)!
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