It has actually been a while since I ranted on this blog on this subject, but it seems that people still get me wrong on this subject. So, what do I really think about the whole 'strumming pattern' discussion?
First off, if you are of the view that, 'that Baz from Got A Ukulele HATES strumming patterns', then, frankly you are dead wrong. And if I may say so, what a bizarre suggestion. You see, I use strumming patterns all the time - everyone does if they strum. Whatever you are playing you are strumming something of a pattern. It might be rigid and simple, it might be more freeform and abstract. You may just be making it up. Whichever, it is still a pattern of some sorts. So not a rant really, more a clarification.
If you are learning I totally support the concept of teachers recommending people work on basic patterns in order for them to start to understand how basic patterns can suit different styles of music and then can apply them to anything they play (Swing, Bossanova, Country, whatever). This is GOOD practice and will only help you as you develop your playing style.
So, no. I am not against strumming patterns in that sense at all and I would encourage you to get comfortable with quite a few of these in order to add some colour to your playing style. When you know how to play a pattern that, say, adds a Swing style to a piece of music, you can apply it to many songs that wouldn't normally use that pattern and then TOTALLY change the feel of that piece of music. This is how beginners move on from just playing rigidly to starting to feel the music and understand how they can put their own take on things.
What I do get irritated with is when people take a song sheet and feel so totally lost with the concept of how to play the song UNLESS they have a strumming pattern to tell them exactly how to play it. OK, OK, if you want to play the song exactly like somebody else, go for your life, but I think that is a bit limiting. Also bear in mind that the vast majority of stuff you may be trying to learn was not written for a ukulele in the first place, so any rigid pattern is only somebody elses interpretation. Sure, their interpretation might be a good one, but who says you have to copy them so precisely. I think this is probably the most asked question that gets posted on YouTube Uke performance videos: 'please let me know your strumming pattern...'
I fear there is another danger too. I have had many beginners get in touch with me who have not focussed first of all on the important basics and choose something complex (a song they love) with a complex 'pattern' and want to follow that rigidly. I have met beginners who get these patterns memorised and can play them accurately, but their basic rhythm and timing of chord changes is all over the place. Surely that is all the wrong way around?
Be my guest on copying patterns if you wish, but first ask yourself whether you have started to understand the feel of the basic rhythm of a song.
- Can you strum a basic up / down pattern in time with the beat of the song? Ignore chords to start with - can you keep time with the song in it's original tempo? I would suggest that if your answer to that is 'NO' then you should focus there before worrying about patterns.
- Can you make the required chord changes cleanly AND in time with the song you are playing? Again, concentrate here if the answer is 'NO'.
- Is your playing very up down up down simple? If you want to add flavour to your playing, then take a look at pattern suggestions for different 'styles' of music. I just don't believe that has to be a rigidly transcribed pattern specific to one individual song.
You may say (as I have had put to me) - but this is 'boring'... Sure, it might be, but then this comes down to the mythical assumption that the ukulele is easy. Learning the very basics of strumming an instrument like the uke just MUST be more important that launching straight into rigid patterns. I suppose it comes down to whether you want to play and feel music or just copy something parrot fashion.
But Baz, surely you need patterns to then move on to more complex stuff? Well, yes, I suppose they can help give you some inspiration, but I would always encourage you to have the confidence to go 'off piste' when you want to as well. If you have mastered the basic rhythm and chord and have a few stock strumming 'styles' in your repertoire you WILL be able to do this. Try playing some songs you can play well in different styles to experiment. This is where interesting and unique ideas will fall out of your play.
Some tips for this for those who are not yet fully confident with patterns - Try picking out a different beat in the song you are playing. Perhaps from the vocal line and play along with that. Mix that up with beats (strums) from the main songs pattern and see what you come up with.
But as I always say - your uke, your choice. I am NOT against patterns, I just don't feel that prescribed patterns for specific songs are all that helpful in the long run. Use them if you must, but don't ask me what my patterns are - I am not sure I have EVER written them down. Oh, and if your pattern is just Down Up Down Up Down Up forever... then I think you DO need to look at your styles repertoire.
In short, they are not the holy grail to learning the uke and I feel beginners have enough on their plates when learning than worrying about what some other player is doing with their strumming hand. Use your ears and your internal rhythm to feel the song. Start with the boring 'basics' and go from there. There is no right and wrong in covering a song if you get the basic beat and chord progression right. Listen to uke tutors and get some pattern styles under your belts for sure though. Just don't assume that beyond that you MUST apply them to certain songs.
Rant (clarification) over!
© Barry Maz
© Barry Maz