By Victoria Vox
AS I mindfully listen to other ukulele players, I’m often drawn to the groove. At this year’s Vancouver Ukulele Festival, Daphne Roubini (of Ruby’s Ukes) performed a song she wrote and explained it was to teach beginner players those first few chords. She established a rhythm, never rushing, and held her basic strumming in the pocket. It was absolutely beautiful and I forgot she was playing a straight up C chord most of the time.
The truth is, what she did was quite difficult. Since I began teaching ukulele workshops in 2008, I’ve noticed how much people rush, vary the tempo, skip a beat or add a few when trying to accomplish some fancy fingering or rhythm.
I’d like to compare playing a song to riding a bike. I’ve done a fair bit of cycling in the past few years and have learnt so much about efficiency, stamina and rhythm. This boils down to what cyclists call a cadence. (Musically, a cadence is defined as the movement of melody or chords that create a sense of resolution.) I learnt, in finding my cadence, to never stop pedalling and that I need to change gears, especially on hilly landscapes, to keep the same pedalling speed. The point is to maintain a groove. Once one stops the circular pedalling motion, it’s that much harder to get back into it.
Playing ukulele is similar. When we’re learning something new, we naturally slow down at the challenging parts. However, practicing this way can affect the future performance of the song. Try practicing with a metronome at a tempo you can easily play the difficult chords or strum, even if the easier sections seem painfully slow. It’ll sound much better than slowing down for the hard parts and speeding up during the familiar areas.
Keeping the groove at a slower tempo helps me understand the beats I am playing. I like to subdivide the beats mentally (into sixteenth notes) so every beat is accounted for equally. Also, it might help to imagine the drums and bass.
The bottom line is, play whatever you’re going to play in time, be it super simple or fretted fancifully. Take your time. Give it feeling. They’ll all be screaming, “Groovy, baby!”
Grab a copy of Victoria’s groovy new album When The Night Unravels at victoriavox.com
Photo by Philip Edward Laubner
This article first appeared in Issue 9 of KAMUKE, which is available in the Store