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Posts Tagged ‘uke technique’

Christmas draws close and my Diploma course grinds irresistibly on (to say nothing of work commitments and going to the movies), but still I am managing to find the time to practise and write about the ukulele and my increasingly complicated relationship with it. So far, here or hereabouts, I have written about my reasons for picking up a uke in the first place (I think the word self-justification should have been in there somewhere, but never mind), the mechanics of strumming, the basics of fretwork, and probably the one and only occasion in history when I will ever jam with James Hill.

Quite how long I am going to continue to find brand new topics for each installment of this strand I don’t really know, but this week I would like to share a bit of an epiphany which occurred just the other night.

When I do a full proper practice session I aim for at least an hour and generally try to mix stuff up: some of Aldrine Guerrero’s finger training exercises to kick off, then a trot through a few set pieces and a rattle through one of the tunes I already know – currently limited to House of the Rising Sun or Passenger (normally the former as the very simplicity of the latter makes it easy to get lost inside it). After this I generally move on to some melody or finger-picking stuff and/or an attempt at a new song.

This week I got my hands on the Yellow Book from the Ukulele Playlist series and started tackling a couple of the songs from it. I must join the consensus and agree that these books are really good if you are of the strumming-accompaniment-to-your-own-singing persuasion. That said, I’m still not wholly sure of how the musical notes above the lyrics translate into actual strumming, and the difficulty levels of the songs vary wildly and aren’t always clear – one can innocently start to look at Hotel California, completely unaware that virtually every chord in it is different.

Anyway, this week I had a crack at Rockstar, which is a nice friendly song for a beginner: very reasonable (i.e. slow) tempo, not many chords, and lots of repetition of chord progressions. I also started looking at Dream A Little Dream Of Me, which I’ve always liked and seems like a bit of a uke staple. (There are numerous versions on YouTube; my favourite is this one, though this may not be solely due to the quality of the strumming and fretting.)

However, despite the relatively simple strumming and slow pace, the chords in DALDOM turned out to be rather complicated – not the chord shapes themselves, but the issue of how to transition rapidly between them without breaking a couple of fingers. It all boiled down to how make the initial D chord – which finger, and whether to barre the chord – in a way which allowed me to go straight into the Fdim which immediately follows it.

And, eventually, I figured it out (a first finger barre, if anyone’s interested. I’m aware this may be an unconventional and possibly even idiosyncratic finger position). From the Fdim, the Em7 and the following A are a doddle, but in the third bar you run straight into a D – C# – C progression with a B immediately following. Going from the C to the B at speed is proving incredibly difficult and I am looking for a way of consistently achieving the transition.

I spent at least an hour twiddling around with this and ultimately only stopped when the muscles in my fretting hand started to complain. And I found I was actually quite reluctant to take a break, despite the fact that my playing still sounds rubbish and I can’t consistently play anything all the way through, let alone DALDOM. That was when I realised how much more cheerful and relaxed I have been since I’ve started messing around with the ukulele.

Initially I was worried that taking up the uke would turn out to be another in a long line of silly and embarrassing ideas I would ultimately do my best to forget (finishing a novel, learning to speak Klingon, getting married, etc). But I can see myself sticking with the uke, even if it’s just at the messing-about-in-the-garret level I’m currently at. One way or another my ukulele engages both sides of my brain, the how-exactly-do-I-get-my-fingers-from-here-to-there problem-solving part and the let’s-get-some-rhythm-and-emotion-into-this creative part. Most of the things I stick with tick both these technical and creative boxes, so – the feasibility of my mastering the fabled Formby Split Stroke aside – it looks like I and my uke are in it for the long haul. Which feels a cheerful thought right now.

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