Posts Tagged ‘rhythm’

The Merry Go Round

March 27, 2013

(An expanded and edited version of this post appears in Rhan’s new book, All In Good Time – a Book About Playing Music for the Aspiring Ukulele Player. It is available at: )


I had this thought the other day while teaching a group of beginner ukulele players.

Often, when a new player is learning a song, they feel the need to play every chord every time, and if they miss one, they want to stop the song and start over. This works if you are practicing by yourself (though I don’t suggest that way to practice) but if you are playing with anyone else, then you are stopping the song for no reason.

The best thing to do is to just stop playing, listen to the other players, get your bearings, and wait for the next opportunity to jump back in.

Like a merry go round at the playground.

Once you get that thing going around and around – let it go. If you miss jumping on where you wanted to – just watch it go, and get ready to jump on the next time your place comes around again. There is no need to stop it and make everyone start over – just watch it and get your timing right. Then you will be able to jump right on with little effort, right?

Music is like this at times. The beat goes on, as they say, and if you are learning about rhythm, and know where the “one” is, you can just take your time, hear where that “one” is, and get right back into the song with little of no effort.

At first – it may take awhile to jump right back on – don’t let that discourage you. It’s much like when you were a little kid on the merry go round. The more you practice jumping on and off, the easier it gets. And it’s fun, too. Sometimes the real fun isn’t going round and round all the time – sometimes the real fun is jumping off and getting back on again.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Please leave a comment.

Rub your Belly and Pat your Head

March 21, 2013

Is there a better way to describe the difficulty of doing two things at once than to use the example of rubbing one’s belly and patting one’s head at the same time?

As difficult as that can be – now imagine if you didn’t even know how to either rub your belly, or pat your head.

This is what learning a new song can be like: you are learning new chords, rhythms, AND trying to sing – all at the same time. No wonder you are having trouble!

Here’s my suggestion: take a look at the song. Look for odd chords you aren’t familiar with and spend a little time learning how to change to them from the previous chord, and from them to the one that follows.

Then try playing through the song without singing – just sort of hum the tune, or not sing at all and get the music to sound comfortable.

Then do the same with the lyrics. Sing it without the music, or along with a recording, so that you get familiar with the rhythm of the words.

Now, after you are good at doing both of those separately – try them together. Slowly. You might even choose to just hum the lyrics at first, so that you can concentrate on the chords and rhythm.

Allow yourself to go over it a few times – at first somewhat loosely and rough, and then with each passing attempt – refine the areas that need work.

Trying to do it perfectly the first time may be fun to try, but to really get it in your head – have patience and do it step by step.
And by the way, – can you rub your belly and pat your head at the same time?

I need a new strum! – Part 1

August 30, 2011

“I need to learn some new strums! Can you teach me?”

This is one of the most common requests I hear from uke players who feel they have become stagnant and are not moving ahead with their playing.

And my answer is always the same: WORK ON YOUR RHYTHM!

That’s all “strumming” is – rhythm. So many people want to teach down-down-up-down… that sort of thing, but that simply teaches you to memorize a pattern. If you take the time to learn how to play with rhythm, I guarantee that you will have so many “strumming” options, you won’t know what to do with them all.

I have attached a video to demonstrate, but allow me to write out a little instruction to get you started:

Start by playing just ONE chord. Let’s make it a Bb. I choose a Bb because it uses all strings and because of that, you can dampen the sound as we go. (see video)

Strum  “one – two – three – four” over and over, slowly, keeping a real even beat and knowing where ONE is at all times. Tap your foot with each count. Each time you strum the chord, lift up on your left hand just a little to stop the ringing of the chord.

This should sound like short little jabs at the chord.

Now accent on JUST THE ONE. (an accent means that you play it a little louder).

ONE – two – three – four – ONE – two – three – four – ONE – two – three – four – … and so forth. Do this evenly and cleanly. Do it until you can think of something else while doing it, like look around the room and notice what’s outside the window, yet still be completely aware of the accent and where the “one” is. (And continue to tap your foot right on the beat!)

Now without stopping, accent ONE – TWO – three – four – ONE – TWO – three – four – ONE – TWO – three – four – …

Can you guess what’s next? ONE – TWO – THREE – four – ONE – TWO – THREE – four – ONE – TWO – THREE – four – …

and finally, accent ALL FOUR BEATS.

Then, accent just the “two” and “four”: one – TWO – three – FOUR – one – TWO – three – FOUR – one – TWO – three – FOUR – …

Again, do this over and over until you can do it effortlessly. And if you’re one of those who get bored easily – DON’T! If you want to develop your sense of rhythm and learn to “strum”, then you need to pay attention to the details: listen for each stroke, are all the strings sounding nice and clean? Are you keeping an even rhythm? Can you do these exercises and keep your foot going while gazing out the window and imagining you are the best “strummer” in the world?

Until you can do all that, don’t you even think about being bored!

Have fun.

Here’s the video: