(At Your ‘Ukulele Jam)
So often we get stuck playing something only one way – how everyone else is doing it. This is influenced by the players in your ‘ukulele club, on Youtube, and even your own playing. It can be a lonesome road, but finding ways to deviate from the path most traveled will instantly make you sound more interesting and, most likely, add more to the music. Here are some quick tips to spice up your playing if you are a beginning ‘ukulele player.
1. Ditch The Common Strum
50 ‘ukuleles playing in unison on the same chord and the same strum sounds nice, but it in no way sounds diverse. Since everyone else is already holding down the rhythm, take a pause and listen to where the strong, interesting, or otherwise notable beats are taking place. After taking some time to notice the internal rhythms of the song, start playing again, but only on these strong beats. This will eliminate much of the strum pattern you are used to and create extra emphasis on the beats you are playing.
The more time you spend paying attention to the rhythm and following this minimalist approach, the more creative you will get, playing on the off beats and varying your dynamics (volume).
- If you’re not sure where to start, many times a down, up strum places strong beats on the 1 and 3 (1 2 3 4) or the 2 and 4 (1 2 3 4).
- Keeping a down, up motion in your strumming hand helps sync you up with the tempo of the song, even if you’re not strumming the strings every time your hand goes by.
2. Scrub Your Fretboard Clean
No, not with a rag – with your chords! One of the most bang-for-your-buck tricks I know of is adding a scrub to your chords. “Scrubbing” is when you briefly slide a chord up or down one fret and then return to where you were. This technique is most prominent when you play closed position chords, but can be used with any chord and any number of fretting fingers.
Check out the scrubbing lesson page for more details>>>
3. Add Movement To Your Chords
You never want to change the tonality of a song. If you do this in a group you will stick out like a sore thumb. But you can get away with altering some of the chord tones.
The easy way to do this is a low-tech approach to chord substitutions. Add or remove a finger in a chord to incorporate a new note. If it sounds good, use it. That’s it. These notes are usually part of the key you’re playing in.
Instead of playing all of the strings (which everyone else is already doing), play only a few strings – or just one string. By reducing the number of notes you play you are putting emphasis on the ones you do sound. Same with rhythms. If you play only on one beat a bar, that place you play is going to have added weight. Combine both and you’ll have less to think about and more to focus in on. Forcing yourself to play less is great a great to chance to ask yourself “is what I’m playing musical? Is what I’m playing as precise as it could be?”
5. Volume/Dynamics and Tempo
My main gripe with most amateur jams is that all the songs sound the same. This is usually because each one is played at exactly the same volume and at very similar speeds. Combine this with a no more, no less approach to strumming the song and you’ve got bland!
To counteract this, my advice is to change it up. You will be hard pressed to do this by yourself if you’re just one of the members (though you might be able to start a trend). It takes the leader(s) of the group to make a conscious decision to alter the tempo or announce that “this song is supposed to be played softly/loudly….”
Beyond changing each song’s tempo or volume, a way to really make things pop is to play with dynamics within the song. A song is made up of different parts that all have an energy level. If they all have the same energy level, the song is a flat line. If you bring the volume down in the verse and then blast it in the chorus you’re creating an energy contour. This creates interest and distinction – a fingerprint for the song. Listen to any tune on the radio and you’ll hear that the intensity of the music changes between parts. Anybody can do this. It’s just a matter of taking the time to learn how to implement it.