BY CHRISTOPHER DAVIS-SHANNON | FROM THE SUMMER 2021 ISSUE OF UKULELE
While George Formby is renowned for his split-stroke prowess, creating seemingly syncopated lines through unique strumming, his use of triple strokes is just as enticing for players. Formby executed the triple stroke in three distinct ways, depending on how they were to be utilized within the split-stroke pattern, which are beneficial for players of all styles to learn.
The first and most common of the triple-stroke patterns is the thumb roll triple, as shown in Example 1, perhaps a technique you have used to apply an eighth-note triplet before. The thumb roll is executed by coming down with the nail of the index finger, followed by the thumb, and concluded with an index finger upward strum. This first exercise allows an opportunity to learn the motions necessary for the thumb roll, presented as a waltz pattern outside of the rhythmic complexity of Formby’s playing.
Let’s put this in rhythmic context by executing an eighth-note triplet using the thumb roll, as shown in Example 2. Keep in mind that the wrist motion should remain consistent as you transition between quarter notes and the triplet. Now we can look at this in a split-stroke pattern. As depicted in Example 3, the thumb roll triple, when in the split stroke, will always be followed by a downstroke.
Formby’s second iteration of the triple stroke is referred to as the shake, or the index finger triple—see Example 4. This is accomplished by simply playing a quick down-up-down with the index finger. When executing this pattern, aim to hit mostly the inner strings and avoid exaggerated strumming motions, as it flies by rather fast. When used in a split-stroke pattern, the shake triple, as depicted in Example 5, will always be in place of a double downstroke. Unlike the thumb roll, the shake sets us up to next play an upward strum, much as we would following a double downstroke.
Example 6 demonstrates one of Formby’s most popular techniques—the elusive fan strum. While the fan strum has great visual appeal, it is really just a slight variation on the thumb roll triple. The first stroke is with the nail of the pinky as all of the other fingers open up to hover over the strings, followed by the thumb, and an upstroke with the index finger. What is even more intriguing about this is that Formby used it in two different rhythmic contexts. In this example we see it used in place of the double downstroke in a split-stroke pattern. The second usage of the fan strum is to play an eighth note triplet (Example 7).