From The Ukulele Yes! Vault
Re-prints of vintage Ukulele Yes! articles
Jody Wood offers practical advice on helping students to develop one of the most important techniques in ukulele playing: a good, solid strum. Reprinted from Ukulele Yes! Volume 5 (1980).
Developing a Good Rhythmic Strum
By Jody Wood
One of the most exciting aspects of ukulele teaching is the development of rhythmic solidity and drive in the students' playing, and the variety of rhythmic styles in performances. The importance of a good strum must not be underestimated. Despite the fact that rhythm is one of the basic components of ukulele playing, it is sometimes neglected or not developed as fully as it could be.
The strum, like any other skill, must be practiced conscientiously and diligently in order to sound good and be rhythmically accurate. In order to practice properly, the student must know what the strum should sound like. He must know what to listen for in his own playing. This inner concept can only be achieved through constant repetition in the class situation.
To develop the strum there are three things that the teacher can do to take full advantage of the class situation:
The teacher must continually demonstrate a good strum. The students must hear the teacher strum as much as possible during the lesson. In this way, a high standard of sound and rhythmic accent and accuracy will be established. Don't be afraid to strum while the students are entering or leaving the class or turning pages. Every bit of strumming that the students hear will help them become independent.
The students must strum as much as possible during the lesson to gain experience and practice. Under the teacher's leadership, the students will learn to keep a steady tempo and put the accents in the right places. The more this is practiced in the group, the easier it is for the child to do it alone at home.
The teacher must listen to the students individually in order to correct problems and set high standards. Let everyone help to analyze the strum to find out what makes it good.
There are several exercises that help to develop a strong rhythmic awareness and drive in the strum. Here are four suggestions that the teacher can use:
Play with the students to establish a rhythm on a simple chord. As soon as the beat is solid and the accents are correct, stop playing for a few beats to see if the group can continue without you. Chances are, the students will speed up, loose the accent or lose the beat so the group is no longer together. If any of these things happens, try letting them play by themselves for only one bar at a time. Join them in the next bar. Each week, make them play more bars by themselves. If done consistently, the students will eventually be able to keep the rhythm for a whole song while you conduct rather than play with them.
Play a rhythm with accents and ask the children to play it back to you. Change a lilt to straight eighth notes. Change the tempo. This will develop analytical and listening skills.
As the students mature, try experimenting with a variety of strums. When the class has learned a song well, try playing it with a different strum. For example, play Michael Row the Boat Ashore, using a straight eighth note strum (II II II II) without accents, or a triplet strum (III III III III).
Make sure the students continue to sing. This works with practically any song. It changes the character of the pieces, requires great control and leads to flexibility in your group.
Experiment with tempo. The children should be able to keep the beat and accents at a variety of speeds.
The energy and accuracy required to produce a good strum take a long time to develop. The above suggestions should help in that development. Every bit of time devoted to the strum is worthwhile. A good rhythmic strum is the basis of an exciting performance, both in an ensemble or in solo playing.
Jody Wood is former Music Coordinator for SD8, New Brunswick, and a former co-director of the Halifax "A" Ukulele Ensemble. She is the author of two ukulele books: Doane Ukulele Level 1 Skills and Technique and Doane Ukulele Level 2 Skills and Technique.