Percussive Uke Goes Global: Q&A w/ Boris Mogilevski
We first caught the Netherlands-based multi-instrumentalist Boris Mogilevski delivering percussive and bite-sized arrangements of classic songs and improvisations on his Kala Satin Mahogany Concert w/ EQ on Instagram this Spring. Now leading his own online workshops for fascinated fans and learners, Boris took the time to catch up with our team and chat all things ukulele:
You've created such a unique and active ukulele community online this year! What has it been like to develop a new audience digitally?
Eight years ago, way before I became active online, I had introduced a ukulele course at the Technical University of Delft, where I had been teaching guitar. My course has become very popular among students, which resulted in the formation of a community of international ukulele players on campus.
It became clear to me that there was enthusiasm growing for ukulele, and broadening it outside campus walls has always been a passion of mine.
During the first months of the Coronavirus crisis I decided to share a couple of ukulele videos on Instagram for the first time. The reaction I got online was as positive as it had been on campus! Since then I have been fortunate enough to teach, educate and grow an online community of ukulele enthusiasts from all parts of the world!
How did you develop your distinct percussive playstyle?
I think what helped me develop my style of playing was my love towards the diversity in music.
I have always been drawn to various instruments and musical styles, and always tried to teach and challenge myself with something new. I felt that in order to fully understand music and communicate well with other musicians I have to know the ins and outs of various instruments. I learned to play the bass, drums, percussion and some other instruments. This helped me express my thoughts in a clearer way to my fellow musicians.
Another aspect that greatly influenced my playing was rhythm. As a child, I was fascinated with rhythm. I remember often trying to keep the rhythm while dribbling a basketball instead of actually playing the game itself! I was also dancing to songs by Michael Jackson often, trying to sync movements to the correct beat.
You have a very eclectic background in classical guitar styles too. What was it that drew you to playing and teaching the ukulele?
As a musician, I have been fortunate enough to travel a lot and meet many new friends. In these travels I learned how music can create a very unique connection between people and bring them joy. This is something I’ve always been drawn to and I cherish very much.
When I first picked up the ukulele I quickly realized the infinite potential of this little instrument to achieve just that. Its portability, as well as its crisp and joyous sound, is the perfect travel companion. The perfect “human connector." So, I started taking it with me on every road trip, sharing my joy in music with others.
Also, playing such a little instrument challenges me and constantly pushes me to explore new possibilities of musical expressions with only 4 strings. To that regard, I believe the ukulele deserves the same respect as other instruments, and I began teaching and performing on the ukulele to prove that.
Has the popularity of the ukulele been growing in the Netherlands?
I am glad to have been part of a wider introduction of the ukulele in The Netherlands, helping it come closer to the spotlight.
8 years ago, when I only started teaching ukulele at the Technical University of Delft, the spread of the instrument was pretty minimal. However, over the years I saw it’s popularity rising. Music stores across the Netherlands started displaying ukuleles in their front window. The instrument is played on stages more, and you can even find it in social gatherings. I’m also very honored to see the demand for my ukulele course at Delft University continuously rising. I want to believe that this is all proof of the growing popularity of the ukulele in The Netherlands.
Tell us a bit about your online lessons and your percussive ukulele workshop.
Since the very start, my goal was to establish a sense of community among my students. This way the atmosphere during the classes becomes more supportive and fun, and students can get acquainted and exchange knowledge. It's really nice to see how some students establish friendships even outside of my classes.
I have been receiving messages and comments from my online followers who were asking me to explain how I use certain techniques on the ukulele.
Unfortunately, many techniques can not be explained in a single 1-2 minute video. Therefore, I decided that online workshops would be the best way to share my knowledge with others.
My workshops are divided into subjects and levels. Percussive ukulele is one of them. It ranges from the very beginner to advanced players. We discuss an array of subjects such as technique, percussive ukulele, fingerstyle, improvisation, songwriting, and more.
After each class, my students receive creative assignments which are the building blocks necessary to realizing the desired goal.
Next to group workshops, I also give private online lessons. These lessons are planned differently and more consistent in their structure. The students receive my full attention which allows me to build a clear and efficient study plan based on the student's wishes.
How do you recommend that a new learner approach this instrument?
The most important thing is to enjoy the journey of playing music and listening to music. If this instrument gives you joy then you're on the right track!
However, many beginners run into difficulties pretty quickly which can be quite discouraging.
I believe that working on a strong foundation in the very beginning is essential. We shape our technique by muscle memory, and each time we play the ukulele our fingers remember the movements. If we develop bad habits, it will be harder to relearn it later on. A good beginning is key.
What should we expect to see from you in the near future?
Currently I am working on expanding my online workshops.
I’m also in the final stages of writing my first ukulele book for intermediate and advanced players. It’s a compilation of 10 popular songs arranged for fingerstyle ukulele, and comes with detailed fingering.
I’ll continue to release tutorials and tabs for beginners on my Patreon page.
And… let’s just say that there are plenty more surprises in progress!
Boris performs on the Kala Satin Mahogany Concert w/ EQ and the Kala Solid Spruce Ebony Baritone w/ Cutaway & EQ. You can learn more about Boris Mogilevski by visiting his Kala Ambassador page and support this artist on their Patreon page here.