From the Summer 2017 issue of Ukulele | BY DANIEL WARD
An arpeggio is a group of notes within a chord, which are played one at a time, instead of all at the same time. The word arpeggio comes from the Italian word arpeggiare. Literally, this translates as “to play on a harp.”
The arpeggio is a handy tool that outlines not only the chord structure of the music, but also drives the rhythm in unique ways, and can even carry melody within the pattern. This is great news for ukulele, which is set up perfectly for this kind of playing. In this lesson, we will look at a simple arpeggio that has the power to quickly unlock big changes in your playing, whether you are a beginner or a seasoned musician. This lesson is so easy to learn that we need to be careful not to miss some of the rich benefits that come from this kind of practice.
Before we get started, let’s talk about the fingers that do the plucking. Whether you play right-handed or left-handed, the plucking hand is the hand that “speaks.” Although the hand doing the fretting takes care of a large part of the music, the instrument can only sing as well as the skill of the speaking hand’s touch. Here’s a quick way to get your fingers on the strings and start to get a feel for this. Play strings 4-3-2-1 with your thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers and repeat. Over and over.
Let’s look at the music!
This lesson is the very first “meditation” taken from my upcoming book, Arpeggio Meditations for Ukulele (out in early summer 2017). Each lesson concentrates on a specific picking-pattern that is made into a song. By looping a group of arpeggiated chords and playing them, mindfully, over a long period of time, you will quickly become a better musician.
Here are some of the things you can work on while looping through this, or any piece of music:
- Pull the best sound from each string
- Listen to your tone and shape it
- Play through the chord changes as smoothly as possible
- Build a strong steady rhythm that you can really feel
- Try some dynamics, playing softer or louder in sections
- Enhance the hidden melodies within the song by making one or two notes stand out in each arpeggio grouping
There are hundreds of ways to add to this lesson to any music you work on. Be creative, but remember to always make music. Even if you are just whacking through a song or playing a scale, take the time to listen and enjoy the sound you are creating. The more you listen, the more you can shape it.
Enjoy your meditation.
Daniel Ward’s Practice Tips
Practice space. Make sure you are in a comfortable space to spend some time just playing for a while. This meditation is meant to be a centering exercise that can be looped over and over.
Dedicate time. I suggest a minimum of 5–20 minutes so you can really feel the physical changes as you listen and work on your sound. Spend less time, and you won’t reach that place where things start to sink in and really gel.
Play slowly. If you can’t get through any part of it cleanly and in rhythm, you are going too fast. Practicing slowly allows you to focus on more things at once, and is the quickest path to becoming faster and clean. Use a metronome later to check yourself if you like, but the motor rhythm should come from inside you.
Learn the chords that make up this song. They are quite easy, but pleasing enough that you can play them over and over, working for smoother changes and sweeter sounds.
Look at your plucking hand while you play. Concentrate on relaxing it while keeping the back of the hand steady, without bouncing or “grabbing” at the strings. This will build tone and strength, and will lead to clean speed in your strokes.
Open your ears wide and focus on breathing evenly while you work through the adventures hidden inside of this arpeggio meditation.