When we were in New Zealand last summer (their winter) for the Geraldine Ukulele Festival, we stayed in a lovely parish house that was heated only by a wood stove. My four-year-old son and I spent a lot of time splitting and hauling wood from a little shed to keep ourselves warm. I relished the daily rhythm of physical work that had an immediate benefit to our family holed up in a far corner of the world. That sort of repetitive work can be almost meditative, and it inspired me to write a piece with droning accompaniment and a sweet, simple melody.
This piece, the “Woodpile Waltz,” is written for the baritone ukulele in the key of C, with the D string tuned down one step to C. It is taken from my recent book 10 Old Time Tunes for Baritone Ukulele and is for intermediate to advanced players who can read tab and have experience with right-hand techniques beyond strumming. This tuning, C G B E, facilitates the open-string drones that I love. The picking-hand thumb plays the third and fourth strings for the whole piece, providing the accompaniment, while your fingers pluck the first and second strings to make the melody. It’s a waltz with three quarter notes to the bar, so the notes you see are generally half notes or quarter notes.
The chords listed above the tab will be helpful if you want to have a friend play along with you, but if you are just reading the tab, you don’t have to concern yourself with the chord names. Also, when you arrive at the D.S. al Coda instruction at the end of bar 39, return to the segno (the sign at bar 5) and play until the indication To Coda (end of bar 24). Then, jump ahead to the coda (bar 40) to close out the piece. But you don’t have to limit yourself to just one time through. The tune’s entire form can be repeated again and again—just like chopping and hauling wood.
This type of music is generally learned through oral tradition, so viewing the video links are vital is you want to learn these pieces. Not only will they quickly show you how the notes and chords sound, but they will also give you a sense of the feel and style of the tune.
Aaron Keim is a luthier at Beansprout Musical Instruments
(thebeansprout.com) and also a busy educator, historian, writer, and performer. He performs with his wife Nicole in the Quiet American. quietamericanmusic.com