from Ukulele in the Dark
w/ Guido Heistek
This week I want to talk about playing together as a group. We are all familiar with the topsy turvy sound of a group of musicians who are not really playing together in time. I think this happens in large part because the members of the group are not listening to each other. Each individual is making their own playing more important then the playing going on around them.
The other day I tried an experiment with a class to see if I could get them to change the quality of their listening while playing together.
First I got them to strum along with me as I played some chords to a simple song in a more or less steady beat.
Why don’t we do the experiment together?
Here is a recording of me playing the chords to the Lion Sleeps Tonight. The chords are C, F, C and G7 one bar (four beats) each. That progression repeats again and again.
You can try to strum along or you can just play the chords once each if that is easier. Play along with the recording for a while and then please continue reading the newsletter.
To play together as a group it helps to make the sound of the other players in your ensemble more important than the sounds that you are making. This may seem strange. But this way the pulse of the song becomes a consensus among the players in the group. This demands a quality listening that many beginning players are not used to. The following experiment will give you a chance to practice the quality of listening that I am talking about.
The next recording is of me playing the progression to the Lion Sleeps Tonight but I speed up and slow down quite drastically during the performance. Your job is to strum along with me as best you can. What I like about this exercise is it’s almost impossible to do while you are thinking too much. What a relief! You may find it impossible to strum along with me in that case just play the chords once each and do the best you can. What I want you to experience is the quality of listening that I think leads to playing well with others. Have some fun with it!
Okay. How did that go? Don’t worry if you lost me at times. It’s impossible to do the exercise perfectly. Try it again a few times if you like, and move on to the next part.
Okay finally, I want you to strum along with recording #3. Please apply the same quality of listening as you brought to recording #2. I may speed up or slow down or I may not. But be ready. Listen!
Here’s a little secret. Recording #1 and #3 are exactly the same. Did you notice a change in your strumming the second time around, though? Did you find that thinking the tempo might change kept you on your toes? Ready for anything? That’s a good state to be in when you are playing with people.
When I did this little experiment “live” in class, the class was strumming together totally differently by the end. They were grooving! It was a beautiful sound.
That’s all for this week. Hope you enjoyed this week’s newsletter see you next week.
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