UD#8 Musical Instincts and Inside Out Listening (Playing by “feel”)

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UD #8 Musical Instincts and Inside Out Listening

from Ukulele in the Dark w/ Guido Heistek

When most of us think of listening we think of an outside in process. Sound from the outside coming in. Listening this way is what teaches us a song when we don’t know it. But, once we know a song we have to listen the other way – the inside out. Once you really know a song you can let that knowledge tell you how to play it. When to change chords, how to sing the melody. I call this instinctual playing.

Instinctual playing doesn’t tend to develop when there are lots of technical challenges present. Difficult chord shapes, challenging strumming patterns. This is because the attention the technical demands require blocks us from attending to the internal feeling of the song. I believe that beginning players need to work on improving technically but that they also need to spend a lot of time doing very simple things again and again. This is how they develop their instincts.

In an earlier newsletter we figured out by ear the chords to Silent Night. I am sure that for many of you that wasn’t too tough. The next step is to practice though. This means singing and playing Silent Night again and again without any music in front of you. Allowing your felt sense for the song to tell you where to change the chord and what chord to use.

And of course you will play a wrong chord and you will know it!  Many of my students consider it a failing when they play a wrong chord. It’s a victory! It is exactly how you develop instinctual playing – by hashing it out, experimenting, making mistakes and correcting. You are not expected to know it before you play it. But, if you practice enough you will someday.

So let’s practice:

A. MARY HAD A LITTLE LAMB – Feeling the chords on the fly!

There are two chords in this song: C and G7. It’s starts on the chord C. The goal of this exercise is to have you sing the song and switch the chords at the correct spots using only your musical instincts. It takes practice but it’s not hard once you get going.

Here is the beginning of the melody for Mary Had a Little Lamb. It is tabbed out on the C string of your ukulele. The numbers tell you which frets to play.

Ma  ry  had  a     lit    tle     lamb

See if you can sing through the rest of the song and use your musical instinct to tell you where to change chords. Nice thing is that with a two chord song when the chord changes you know exactly which chord you are changing to. If you are playing a C chord and you hear a chord change, you know you are moving to a G7 and vice-versa.  Make sure you play the tabbed melody to start so that you have the melody in the correct key in your head. Strum a C chord and sing the melody and go from there. The answer is below. Have fun!

B. Here’s another two chord song JAMBALAYA by Hank Williams. You can try the same exercise with this song. There are some youtube clips of the song that you can use as a reference and play along with.

Some “Important” Points:

a. Before you try to play along with these recordings spend some time getting a feel for where the chords change just the way you did with Mary Had a Little Lamb. Get the lyrics off the internet and try to sing the song as you let your instincts tell you when to change chords. Choose whichever version suits your voice the best.

b. Don’t strum at first! Just play the chords once each when you are figuring out where they change. Do less. Listen internally more!

c. Once your are ready to start strumming, try strumming along on paper first like we did in last week’s newsletter.

Have fun with it

1. Hank Williams version

This is the original recording of the song in the key of C. It uses the I (one) chord and V (five ) chord in that key: C and G7. The original recording is slightly out of tune. The musicians are in tune with each other but not with the world.  I think there were some tape speed issues on that recording session.  But it’s still a great reference.
Here are a couple of other versions of the song in different keys. These work better if you want to play along. No tuning issues.

2. CCR version:

Two chords: G and D7 (I and V in the key of G)

3. Emmylou Harris version:

A and E7 (I and V in the key of A)

C. Oh and hey here’s a ONE CHORD SONG!

Coconut  by Harry Nillson

It’s just one chord: C7!  So there is not that much to think about there. See if you can figure out a basic feel that works for strumming. Then just groove along and have fun:

All for now!

See you next week.


P.S. I am regularly adding new lessons to Ukulele in the Dark. Please subscribe to my mailing list below to receive every lesson right when it comes out. Be sure not to miss a thing!


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