From the Fall 2017 issue of Ukulele | BY DANIEL WARD
For many, finding a comfortable balance between fingerpicking and strumming can be elusive. Here is another study from my book Arpeggio Meditations for Ukulele. Each study is designed to improve your playing by looping carefully crafted repetitive patterns into a short song that’s played many times over while you watch, listen, and learn to feel the strings. With each clean and even repetition you gain more control over your sound and rhythm.
This short meditation combines three easy chords (G, C, and E minor) with three separate techniques. By switching between a roll with your thumb and an arpeggio pattern, your picking hand will quickly gain balance, speed, and clarity. The right-hand pattern below repeats over and over, throughout the looped part of the song. I highly recommend sitting down or using a strap with this one.
With your picking hand, roll your thumb down in a smooth strum on the quarter note, and follow with the arpeggio starting from the second string with your middle finger. The thumb is a longer beat, and the arpeggio fills in the rest of the pattern with middle-index-thumb-index-middle-ring. An easy way to hear the count would be “Roll, 2-3-4-3-2-1, Roll, 2-3-4-3-2-1” with the numbers being the strings you pluck. Try it on just the open strings to get used to the pattern before adding the chords and the pull-offs. (Example 1.) (In the video above, I demonstrate the pattern using a G chord, but you could use any chord since this is a right-hand exercise.)
With the beginning of each chord, there is a pull-off on the first string that blends the roll and the arpeggio together in a melody. Notice that the music in the study is all eighth notes, even though your thumb plays a quarter note with every roll down the strings. The pull-off adds the extra eighth note, and gives you time to start the arpeggio with your middle finger. (See the “How to Play Pull-Offs” sidebar below.)
Practice slowly rolling your thumb down on the first beat, and pulling off with your left-hand fret finger right after the thumb rolls past the last string. Fill in the extra beats with the arpeggio, starting on the second string with your middle finger, and follow the strings up and down to the next strum. The right-hand pattern will stay the same throughout the study, repeating until you are ready to end it with the last tag.
Your other fretting fingers get a workout in this study, too. For the C6 chord, play the third-fret C with your fourth finger the first two times, and with your third finger the third time it appears; on the E minor add 4, play the second-fret B with your first finger.
The final tag is a musical end to the song, and can be left out if you want to get to it later. The real benefits of the study come from doing the main body over and over.
All of the pull-offs in this piece’s main body involve the first string, but when the tag comes in bar 14, the note you pull-off to needs to be pre-fretted on the C6 and the Cmaj7 chords. The picking part here is a bit different as well, but with some quick study of these patterns in the tab, the end tag is easy to figure out.
By repeating this pattern slowly and evenly, your right hand should pick up a healthy angle, and you will feel more in control of your hand position, as well as gaining a new ease of switching between fingerpicking and strumming. Speed up as you get better, and remember to listen to your tone and inner rhythm as you go, pulling more and more music from your uke each time you loop around.
Practicing this meditative exercise for 5–20 minutes at a time will really help the new feeling of control sink into your bones. After just a couple of days, your picking hand will begin to feel the strings in a whole new way. Enjoy!
How to Play Pull-Offs
If you are new to the land of pull-offs, you will want to spend a little time getting the hang of it. Try this:
To articulate a pull-off, make sure that your fretting-hand thumb is anchored behind the neck, rather than wrapped around it.
Fret a note right on the tip of your finger, pick it, and pull the string straight down (toward the floor) with your fretting finger, to get a tasty snap. (It will feel a little bit like the fretting finger rolling over the string and letting go as you pull down.)
Before you play the music as written, isolate each pull-off from its full chord. For example, in bar 1: depress the second-fret B with your second finger and pull-off to the open first string. The notes should sound smoothly connected. This articulation is notated as a “slur” in the music, and you will see the same curved-line marking in the tab between the numbers where the pull-off occurs.