"Oh no, no, no, it's a ukulele, you CANNOT play with a pick"... Heard that comment before? What a complete load of nonsense. Listen up, you can play how you damn well like. Why does this only come up with THIS musical instrument?
|Left: Individual finger picks, Top right: Guitar picks, Bottom right: Leather pick|
Aside from the 'it's not traditional' purist debate, there also seems to be a couple of other key driving factors behind those who have strong views on the use of picks.
First up there is the 'damage' argument. This seems to be a suggestion that the strings, or the body of the uke are going to be damaged if you use a plectrum. Well, yes, if you go at it hammer and tongs, you might do, but, really, so what? Strings are consumables. Wear them down and you then need to spend about £7 on a new set (a couple of pints of beer). It happens, they are not designed to last forever. In fact you are supposed to change them now and again! People really shouldn't be precious about their strings - it's kind of like buying a car and not taking it on certain roads as you don't want to wear the tyres down. So long as you are sensible with what material you use to play the strings (i.e. metal may not be a good thing!), you will be fine.
And what about damage on the uke, such as wear on the top? Same applies - it happens, but do you own a ukulele to make music or to be a museum piece. Personally, I have wear on all of my ukuleles, but that shows me I PLAY THEM A LOT! Take a look at the uke below that probably gets played the most in my house, my Fluke - worn to shreds. Does it bother me? Not really, it still works. And no, this was not a cheap instrument, but such things don't get me down.
Now my own wear and tear may be on account of my playing style which is kind of rough and ready (and I play a lot of rock and roll), but I won't be the only one.
But time for the bombshell - I have worn strings and tops on my ukes like this and I DON'T use a pick. Read that again. It's because I grow my fingernails out for picking and the last time I compared, my nails are just as hard as standard guitar picks. See where this is going?
It is a simple fact that a medium guitar pick is really no harder on the instrument than strong nails are. So why are nails acceptable in the ukulele world, but picks are not? And what about the pro players that use individual finger picks like those in the first picture above? They are CERTAINLY harder than my fingernails and are used by many top players. Are they committing a cardinal sin? Of course not. Are they destroying a set of strings in each song they perform? Nope.
The misconception that guitar picks are too hard to use on a uke even led to the creation of the felt or leather soft picks, pushing the argument even further and giving players something that I would wager is actually softer than a human finger tip to strum with!! (we all have nails, and even if you don't grow them out, I would argue that a short nail is going to create more wear than a felt pick!).
The other argument seems to be one based on sound. I have heard people say that a guitar pick makes a uke sound too harsh or overly loud. Well, really that kind of depends on how you play it and the pick material you use. Just because you are holding a pick doesn't mean that you have to thrash the living daylights out of the instrument. Newsflash - it is possible to play softly with a guitar pick!
And therefore back to the felt and leather picks on the market - to my own ears they make the whole instrument sound TOO soft and muddy. The ukulele, particularly the soprano variety has a traditional staccato sound to it, and if we want to go with the traditionalists then the sound of strong nails on the strings IS the way a uke should traditionally sound. They are designed to sound jumpy and snappy. Felt and leather picks, to my ears, take all of that sound away from the instrument. And when you then consider that such soft picks are the ones that are considered to be 'acceptable', then.... you get my drift.. But hey - this if you want to use those - that is your right to do so.
Do I use plectrums myself? Not really, on rare occasion perhaps, but it doesnt offend my ears when I do. For me I prefer the flexibility of using fingers to pick and strum and I find harder with a plectrum. And that is perhaps one of the only good reasons I can think of as to why a pick may not be a good idea - at the end of the day four strong nails is equivalent to controlling four picks at once and I find that more versatile! Certainly the fans of things like split and fan strokes will agree with me there, as those sort of playing tricks are not going to be possible with a pick.
But that doesn't mean that using one is wrong, it's just my personal preference and if you want to use one, go for it. Want to use your nails, individual fingerpicks, guitar picks, leather picks, felt picks? Then do so! Just please stop telling others that it is unacceptable or that they will destroy the instrument...
And if you are still reading this and thinking it is nonsense - here's the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain in 1985 - (know that group?) look closely at what George and Kitty are using.. Now, stop telling people what to do!
AND! Be sure to check out my other ukulele RANTS - where I explode the many myths and bad advice that surrounds the instrument - CLICK this link! http://www.gotaukulele.com/search/label/rants