I avoided watching Ralph Shaw’s Essential Strums for Ukulele for a very long time. I knew I was going to be writing my own guide to strumming and I didn’t want to be unduly influenced by it. The problem was I had nothing to tell the people who asked me if it was any good. So now I’ve finally got round to watching it I can let you in on my opinions.
What You Get
A 1 hour, 33 minute DVD covering basic strumming technique and strumming patterns in the following styles:
Strums: Common, March, Waltz, Blues, Triplets, Bossa Nova, Reggae, Swing, Samba, Bo Diddley, Frailing (Clawhammer), Syncopated (Split Stroke).
Songs: Take Me Home Country Roads, Mister Sun, Let Me Call You Sweetheart, Kiss Me Once, Rolling Down the Hill, The Girl from Ipanema, Over the Rainbow/Wonderful World, The Darktown Strutters Ball, A Song to Bring Back Something Which is Lost. I’m Happy, Let Me Sing You a Country Song.
You also get two booklets: a chord chart and one with notation for the strums and song sheets.
The Good Stuff
Very Clearly Explained: The big question you ask yourself before you buy a uke DVDs is, “Is there’s anything here I couldn’t pick up on YouTube?” On this DVD, there isn’t. The big difference is that it’s much more clearly explained here. There are plenty of video tutorials on clawhammer and the split stroke. But this is more clear than any I’ve seen. And he’s also demonstrating good technique which isn’t always the case with YT tutorials.
Ralph is adorable: The DVD is very easy to watch and Ralph is a friendly and charming teacher. It’s enough to forgive him for the shirt and the strange chalk picture in the background.
Good range of difficulty: Takes from the absolute basics up to complex stuff like clawhammer and split-strokes. Although it’s heavily slanted towards beginners, most people will pick up something from it. He’s convinced me to have a proper go at getting the clawhammer technique down (which I hadn’t had much interest in previously).
The Not So Good Stuff
He doesn’t teach you how to fish: If you’re looking for a deeper understanding of rhythm and strums, this isn’t for you. The DVD doesn’t equip you with the skills to adapt the patterns he gives you, to understand how strumming patterns fit within songs or to decide which strumming patterns to use yourself.
Booklet: The booklet could be a bit more helpful. It uses guitar picking notation for the strums which isn’t very intuitive or easy to read and is inadequate for more complex stuff like triplets, clawhammer and split stroke. The song sheets in the booklet don’t have chord diagrams with them.
It’s a DVD: I’ve moaned about this before. DVDs make it hard to go over the bits you’re interested in and skip past the stuff you know already. It leads to a lot of shuttling back and forth trying to find things. For example, he carefully explains all the chords he uses – even the most basic. Which drags a bit and is probably familiar to most people using the DVD.
I’d say it was a worthwhile purchase for beginners and anyone concerned about their strumming technique. It’s clearly taught and will give you a solid technique. But there’s not enough here to justify the price tag for more advanced players.