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By Cliff Adams.
It’s only rock and roll… yet it moves people since… well, name your year between 1942 and 1954. One of the classic rock backgrounds is what can be called the Chuck Berry rhythm. My example will be in the key of C. But bear in mind it can be transposed to any key (and was originally played in another key).
“Johnny B. Goode” gives us a fine example of an easy Chuck Berry rhythm for the ukulele. It is a simplified 12-bar blues progression: four bars of C, two bars of F, two bars of C, two bars of G, two bars of C. His rhythm has an eight beat swing feel. If you strum each measure with a syncopated down then a quick up motion each quarter note, you get eight beats to every bar.
In this song, Berry emphasizes the third beat of every four. So with eight beats to each measure the strum is: one and TWO and three and FOUR and…, a true back-beat. He not only strums those two beats more loudly, but on them he raises the fifth (of each chord) to the sixth. In a C chord, that fifth is the G note, so he raises the lowest G to an A. If you strum a first position C chord, you play the fourth, third, and second strings open, and fret the first string on the third fret: G, C, E, C. If you fret that third fret with your ring finger, it is easy to place your middle finger on the second fret of the G string to raise it to an A.
Moving the progression to the F chord, in the open position, place your middle finger on the second fret of the fourth string, play the third string open, fret the second string with your index finger on the first fret, and play the first string open: A, C, F, A. The fifth of an F chord is the C, so on that back beat, it needs to raise to a D. If on that strum you place your ring finger on the second fret of the third string, the C raises to a D, the sixth in an F chord. Strum those two measures the same way you strummed the opening four bars of C.
The two bars of G chord offers two easy solutions for this strum. In a G chord, the fifth is a D, so it will need to raise to an E, the sixth of a G chord. If you play the first position G chord with an open fourth string, your index finger fretting the third string on the second fret, the second string fretted on the third fret with your ring finger, and the first string fretted on the second fret by your middle finger, you get G, D, G, B. To raise the D to an E, you can either lift your ring finger off the second string which allows it to play as an open E string, or place your little finger on the fourth fret of the third string raising the D to an E. The first way is easier, but unlike the way you have been strumming the C and F chords, you keep the fifth note of the chord in addition to the sixth, rather than just raising it and eliminating it. Either will work, but the little finger on the fourth fret of the third string is my favorite rock way of playing rock and roll on an ukulele.
Go Johnny go!
ABOUT Cliff Adams