BY CATHY FINK | FROM THE SUMMER 2020 ISSUE OF UKULELE

On a beautiful afternoon in Maui, I was in the back yard of my friend Ginger Johnson’s house, sitting under a coconut tree. It was a sunny, happy, and energetic day, and I was inspired to compose a clawhammer instrumental piece, “Jump Up Ginger,” based on a banjo-like tuning.

The tuning is spelled F C F G. From standard reentrant tuning, lower strings 4 and 1 a whole step each, and raise string 2 a half step. Strum the open strings, and you’ll have an Fsus2 chord. The high fourth string functions similarly to the banjo’s fifth string and acts as a drone throughout the piece.


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“Jump Up Ginger,” which appears on my latest album with Marcy Marxer, WAHOO!, is an is an intermediate tune. If you’re new to the clawhammer technique, you might want to start with my instructional video “Clawhammer Ukulele—Module 1.” I also give a note-for-note demo of the piece above. But before you get into the clawhammer moves, note that “Jump Up Ginger” works largely off the I (F), IV (Bb), V (C5), and vi (Dm) chords in the key of F major, so you might want to start by learning those shapes, which are shown at the beginning of the notation.

Notice the position of my right hand in the video. It’s easiest to play clawhammer style over the uke’s soundhole, giving your thumb a bit of room to dig into the fourth string, while minimizing contact between your index finger and the wood of the soundboard. Also note that in certain spots, like in bars 13–14 and elsewhere, I use more conventional strumming to break up the clawhammer texture. And I play the piece a little differently each time, so use the notation just as a guide. 

Take each eight-bar section slowly and try to get a really clean sound throughout. Then, once you’ve got the basics of the tune down, use your metronome to get the whole thing in time, slowly increasing the tempo. Start practicing at 90 half notes per minute—or slower, if needed—and increase by 5 bpm at a time, until you can hit the target of 130 bpm. If you want to dig into more intermediate clawhammer tunes and techniques, check out my full Intermediate Clawhammer Ukulele lessons.

Cathy Fink is a Grammy-winning multi-instrumentalist and clawhammer expert.