Posts Tagged ‘cliff adams’

It’s Only Rock’n’Roll – Yet It Moves People

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

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).

Chuck Berry CD Cover

“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.

C C6In 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.

F F6Moving 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.

G G6The 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

What Happens When You Learn Something?

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

By Cliff Adams. What happens to you when you learn something? Does it make you feel good? Is it satisfying? Are you an optimist? Do you find the positive attitude in whatever misfortune befalls someone? Are you the lemonade maker? Or are you the pessimist? Are you happy because nothing is ever as terrible as you imagined it? Guess what… if you play ukulele, none of this matters. No matter how good you get, two evil thoughts are real: there is someone better, and you can be better, too. Every person who hears you play can find fault; only the insensitive ones will make you feel bad about it. The worst are the purists. The reason I call them the worst is because none of them are pure enough. If they criticize your strumming, they might have lax standards about fretboard techniques, and vice versa. If they believe that ukulele is best used for a certain style of music, they probably sort their music collection by style rather than alphabetically or by year created. 


Photo of Cliff in an Aloha shirt chatting with George and Will of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.

Photo of Cliff in an Aloha shirt chatting with George and Will of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.

I was criticized for my uke playing because I strummed with my thumb rather than my index finger. Yet the person who criticized me often wrapped his thumb around the neck to fret the G string. To him, what he did with his left hand was far less important than what he did with his right hand. I was motivated to improve my index finger strumming. And I kept my better left hand technique.

I read a Down Beat article written by Cecil Taylor, who had studied classical piano but loved jazz. He saw Count Basie playing with flattened fingers as well as with curved fingers. When Taylor spoke to Basie about this non-classical technique, Basie responded by claiming the notes sounded different. How could this be? On a piano, the notes are created by strings vibrating after being struck by a wood and felt hammer driven by levers connected to the keys the fingers played. The tone was many steps removed from the curve (or lack thereof) of the player’s fingers. Taylor went to his piano, played a piece with beautifully curved fingers, then played the same passage using flat fingers much like Basie had used. Taylor heard two different sounds. Neither was right; neither was wrong. Taylor had discovered a craft his perfect artistic technique had overlooked.

Learn all. Learn what the rules are and practice them so they are easy. When you play, and the piece works better when you deliberately break rules, you have created a work of art. Ukulele music is beautiful, cheesy, flowing, bouncy, masterful, sleazy, sad, and fun. Might even be all these at once.

ABOUT Cliff Adams.