Posts Tagged ‘duh!’

Well, the Mighty Uke people gave me a free set of strings as a bonus to go with the t-shirt and DVD I bought from them, and this seemed like an opportune moment to upgrade from the nylon strings that came when I bought my uke. It also seemed like a chance to investigate the mystery of what exactly’s been going on with my first string (i.e. the one nearest the floor): to wit, the strange twanging effect and the tendency for my strumming appendage to get entangled in it.

Not having a history in the Boy Scouts there was a degree of jury-rigging involved in contriving a knot that would not slip through the hole in the saddle under tension (this is possibly the most technical this blog has ever become), but eventually all was in place and the peg screwed to the appropriate point: and lo! The first string achieved an A a whole octave higher than the one to which I had become accustomed!

The timbre of the instrument is now a bit more pleasing, but more importantly the tension in the first string means strumming at speed is far more achieveable, which bodes well for my Formby-esque long-term aims. (Although the fact that I am clearly so tone deaf I can’t recognise the fact that my notes are in completely different octaves suggests any kind of musical ambition is probably utterly deluded.) This means I can stop worrying quite so much about what’s happening at the thick end of my uke’s neck and pay more attention to matters in the vicinity of the headstock.

Somebody fretting. Boom-boom.

Yes, folks, it’s fretwork time. Now, once you’ve got the jargon down (‘learning to speak ukulele’ as James Hill puts it on the DVD) in terms of first string, second string, first fret, second fret, etc, it is very easy to get started in making a pleasant noise strumming on the uke. It isn’t even that difficult to do the most basic chord changes – F to C, and vice versa. Of course, this is largely because F and C use different fingers on different strings.

Once you go beyond that point the learning curve ramps up vastly. In the past I would never have described myself as having ugly clumsy sausage fingers – I know my way around a paintbrush and can produce results I personally find very pleasing – but the kind of speed and precision required, in my off-hand especially, to make even the C-to-G transition at tempo (a very common and fairly basic chord progression) seems to be beyond me.

Play slowly and practice a lot is what everyone routinely recommends at this point. There is some virtue in this – the first song I properly practiced that wasn’t utterly simplistic was ‘House of the Rising Sun’ from Uke for Dummies. Displaying more of my musical mastery, it transpired I originally practiced it a) much too slow and b) in the wrong time signature. When I figured this out and modified my playing I found the transitions weren’t too difficult even at full speed (though I find I have a tendency to truncate my strumming pattern in my eagerness to get to the next chord on time – this, of course, is another issue).

Nevertheless, I have decided that serious work in training my fretting hand is called for. My guru on this, as with many other practical matters of uke-wrangling, is Aldrine Guerrero of Ukulele Underground. Putting aside my habitual grumpiness at the drills in question being labelled ‘Left Hand Exercises’, the ideas Aldrine suggests seem sort of obvious once you see them, but I would never have thought them up myself and they seem to me to be very practical. I put in a lengthy session yesterday and have had an odd sensation in my fretting hand ever since: not in a bad way, but definitely signs of the muscles working in a new way. Will this translate into improvement in my fretting? I can only hope.

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