It gets fiddly playing the chords with a capo at the 7th fret. So here are the open chords if you don’t want the faff.
For a simple strum you can use this twice for each chord:
d – d u – u
The only place that doesn’t work is with the F – Fmaj7 change. If you want to keep things simple you can just play the pattern once for each of those. Or you can do something similar to the way Beirut play it:
I’m working my way through this album from the outside in. I did the opening track here and here’s the album’s closer.
This song has many of the features you’d expect of a Beirut ukulele song: it’s in waltz time, there’s a hammer-on from a second to a major third (although it’s on a D chord rather than the usual F) and there’s plenty of incomprehensible mumbling.
Yes, this is post number 1,500. And it’s just a mish-mash of stuff that reaching that milestone brought to mind.
If you’ve got any thoughts on any of these, leave a comment or send an email. I’d like to know what you think and which direction you’d like to see things go over the next 1,500 posts.
First off, it’s time to refresh things. The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed a few changes to the theme. There’s now a podcast bit on the front page and a Dummies bit in the sidebar. And a few other clean ups. If you spot any issues (like the titles in the How to Play and Review sections are screwy) please do let me know. And if you’re seeing a font like this for the post title (on the website) rather than the Saul Bass type font in the header, could you leave a comment.
I’m also rewriting the ebooks and giving them the same look as the blog. That might mean some of them disappear for a little while before they get a re-release.
And there are a lot of old/outdated news and window shopping posts. What do you think I should do with those? Delete them? Leave them? Rewrite them to make them more timeless?
Realising I’d written 1,500 posts, ten ebooks and a 360 page paper book made me wonder if I’d written more about the ukulele than anyone else ever. Anyone know of any other contenders?
After doing all that, I’ve decided to slow down posts here. So I’ll be doing one-week-on, one-week-off for a while and seeing how that goes.
If you’re desperate for more, I’ll probably be upping the amount of stuff I post on Tumblr, Twitter and Google+. I’ve been posting a few previews and extra bits of tab to my circles on Google+. So if you’re on there add me and I’ll put you in the ‘Ukulele Players’ circle. Unless your only following me to get in my pants in which case I’ll add you to the ‘Pants’ circle (but I think circles are limited to 5,000 so that one is going to fill up quickly).
1,500 posts in and I’ve posted loads of stuff I love, a few things I used to like and now I’m not so sure about, some stuff I don’t like (those are the most popular), and plenty of deeply unpopular stuff.
The most awkward question I get asked is, “What’s the strumming pattern for this?” Because there’s no real answer to it. It’s not like a chord progression where there’s a right chord and a wrong chord. You can use different strumming patterns and it will still work. It’s an important skill to be able to pick your own strumming patterns.
So in this post I’ve listed some of the most common strumming patterns around. Ones you can try out and see if they fit the song.
Before you start strumming, go through these steps:
Step 1: Clap along with the song: If the singer was to shout, “Hey everybody, clap along,” what would you do? (Assuming you’re less surly than me and would just fold your arms and look moody.)
Step 2: Pretend you’re in The Ramones: If you were going to start the song by shouting one, two, three, four what would you do? Try counting through the song repeating that all the way (if counting to four doesn’t fit, try counting to three).
Step 3: Try a few strumming patterns: Try fitting a strumming pattern to the song. Fit them so the down strums in the pattern match with the numbers you count. So a dead simple pattern would be all down strums: strum down when you count one, when you count two, when you count three and when you count four.
4/4 Strumming Patterns
By far the most common time signature around is 4/4 (“four four”). If you can count along to a song, “one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four,” and it fits, try out these strumming patterns.
Strumming Pattern 1: d – d u – u d -
This one crops up in so many ukulele songs. It’s simple to play. But – because it misses the third down strum – it has a slightly syncopated feel to it which makes it more interesting.
With a reggae strum you’re always going to be accenting the off beats. In the other strums here you’re always playing a strong beat on the ‘one’ of the count. Here you’re accenting other beats. It’s not always obvious what’s going on so I’ve included a click track with these.
Strumming Pattern 10: – d – d – d – d
Here you’re accenting the beats between the count.
You make any of these strums faster or slower than I’ve played them. In general, the more complicated the strum, the better it’ll sound slowed down. The more straight forward it is, the better it works at high speed.
When I say ‘essential’, I’m not just talking about records that are nice to listen to. All these records have changed the way I think about making music on the ukulele. They’ve inspired me to try something new, to be more ambitious in my playing or to think about the instrument in a new way.
This is my personal choice. So, if you think I’m an idiot, let me know what I’ve left out (or shouldn’t have included) in the comments and why it deserves to be here.
In no particular order:
James Hill – A Flying Leap
He’s got more tasteful and understated with his recent albums but I love this one for its spirit of , “Hey, Mum, look how high I can swing.” There’s an unrelenting enthusiasm to the entire album. Tunes like Uke Talk and Down Rideau Canal blast along like he’s desperate to play every note on the uke in as short a time as possible. He’s got total command of his ukulele and he’s enjoying every second of it.
With highly skilled players of any instrument there’s a tendency to sacrifice enjoyable tunes for technical wizardry but A Flying Leap doesn’t fall into that trap. Even a quite pretentious idea like the One Small Suite for ‘Ukulele is packed with hummable tunes.
James hasn’t made any secret of the fact he’s a bit jaded with the ukulele at the moment and, really, where do you go after an album like this?
The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain – Live in London #1 and #2
If you tour for 25 years, you tend to become a pretty good live act. And there’s no doubt that the UOGB are best experienced live (they’re currently up there with Dillinger Escape Plan and AC/DC as my favourite gigs). These two albums pack in all the hits (with the merciful exception of Smells Like Teen Spirit) along with the atmosphere and jokes as old as the band.
As a nerd, what fascinates me about these records are the arrangements. Most uke groups just have most people strumming the same chord while a couple of flash-Harry’s have at it. But their arrangements are crafted.
If someone had asked me a few years ago what I’d most like to hear I’d probably have said, “MIA covering Frank Zappa on a ukulele,” and I would be imagining something a lot like tuNE-yArdDS. Connecting TUne-YArds to those to is the masses of ideas they cram in each track and their ability to combine sometimes wildly avant-guard sounds to make something enjoyable, listenable and popular.
The Luddite part of me thinks every album should be made this way. Write some great songs, get together a bunch of great musicians, sit them around a single mic and give them a day to produce something incredible. Miss Jess followed that tactic and it paid off spectacularly with this record.
Jake Shimabukuro is idolised by many ukers for his individuality and originality. Which is why they try to play like him.
After the effects- and instrument- heavy Dragon, Gently Weeps is much more open and direct. Other instruments don’t get a look in until towards the end (where they make the sound much more cheesy). The album is the perfect showcase for Jake’s ability and contains some captivating performances.
Jake has such an individual and recognisable style it’s a shame that he inspires more people to imitate him than he inspires to find their own style.
Standout track: No one agrees with me on this but my favourite is Grandma’s Groove.
Buy It: On Amazon
Beirut – Gulag Orkestar
“Yeah, I’m in a band. I play guitar. And Billy’s on drums. And Mike on bass.” Oh, piss off.
With all the incredible instruments in the world it baffles me why 95% of bands just stick with the obvious. By the simple expedient of using brass, ukuleles and accordions, Zach Condon makes music far more interesting and captivating than most of his contemporaries.
It’s tricky writing songs that are timeless without being retro. It helps to be an impossibly talented songwriter. And that voice. Being something of a white-trash thug myself, I can’t resist the posh voice.