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Ukulele Strum Systems
by Bill Worsfold

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Sixteenth Note Strums

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Sixteenth Note Strums

An instrument that has a lot in common with the uke (and is especially close to the double strung Tahitian uke, which is common in Tahiti, Cook Islands and New Zealand) is the South American charango. This instrument has five pairs of strings, tuned GGCCeEaaee. It differs from the uke in that it has an extra ‘e’ on top, and octave ‘e’ in the middle. If you remember the hit, ‘El Condor Pasa’ some years ago -- it featured a charango. It’s definitely worthwhile for adventurous uke nuts to seek out charango recordings for inspiration and ideas. In addition to some neat fingerpicking, charango players do a lot of fast strumming and tremolos with just the index finger that adapt well to the uke. Most charango players I’ve seen hold their palm more or less parallel to the soundboard, finger in line with the strings, with the index finger pointing down towards the strings, and the thumb and other fingers held straight out, out of the way. Movement is a fast small sideways fanning of the wrist. You don’t need to move very far to get all of the strings, but try to cross the strings by the shortest route, rather than diagonally.

Any beat of the bar can be replaced with four strokes (down-up-down-up). Don’t overdo it – unless you’re aiming for a tremolo, just one or two groups of four contrasting with eighth and quarter notes will be more effective than whole bars of sixteenth notes. Also remember that the first beat of a bar, in any rhythm, is always the strongest – that’s what makes it the first beat of the bar! Where you place your groups of four (or any other rhythmic effect, come to that) in relation to the first beat makes a big difference, so experiment!

In a normal strumming pattern, you count 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &, using a down strum for the counts and an up stroke for the ‘&’s’.  To do a sixteenth note you replace a ‘1 &’  (or ‘2 &’ or ‘3 &’ or ‘4 &’) with a ‘1 a & a’. In this case the 1 and the ‘&’ are down strokes, and the ‘a’s are upstrokes, but at exactly twice the speed of the others – i.e. the ‘a’s are being inserted into the strum you’re already doing. Start slowly and evenly and gradually up the speed. Try putting the group of four on each beat in turn. My favourite places are on beats one or four, but try them all.