UD#97 Your Amazing Shape Makers!
from Ukulele in the Dark with Guido Heistek
I was recently working with one of my students, Angela, on the chord melody arrangement of St. James Infirmary from my chorld melody book.
She was having trouble getting to an inversion of the G minor chord in bar 7. Here’s the excerpt, if you’d like to give it a try yourself.
We both noticed that she was placing her fingers one at a time to make the chord shape and we agreed that it would be better if the fingers could “fly in formation” and land all at once. This is a challenge that many learners face when making chord changes. They often go through a long period in their uke career where they meticulously place each finger in a chord shape, one at a time. This makes for difficulty switching between chords!
How to work on it?
I sometimes get my students to practise making chord shapes in the air without the uke. This seems a little weird but it makes sense if you consider the fact you usually need all of the notes of the chord to arrive at the same time.
In Angela’s case, we worked on the shape we use to play the open E minor chord.
This is the same shape she needed to play the Gm chord at the 5th fret.
Giving it a try…
I had her think about the chord shape and what each finger would need to do to create the shape. Then she tried to do it. The first time, she was staring at her fingers and it didn’t go so well. “I can’t do it! It’s like they are not my fingers,” she exclaimed.
I know from my Alexander Technique work that the visual can sometimes interfere with our sense of body position and movement. So, I got Angela to look away from her hand, but keep her eyes open. This didn’t go much better. So, I tried one more thing. I asked her to consider widening her awareness. Instead of focusing on her hand exclusively (a kind of internal staring), I asked her if she could include the sense of her feet on the floor, the chair supporting her, the space in the room around her, etc. All the while, I asked her to continue projecting the idea of the shape that she wanted to make and allow her hand to make the shape when she felt the impulse to do so. And, in a few moments, she spontaneously made a really nice Em shape in the air! She was actually quite amazed when she looked at her hand.
Our hands are great at making shapes, be it a peace sign, thumbs up, or a Vulcan greeting. We think of a shape and our hands make it. It can also be the same for fretting chords. We can think of a familiar chord and our fingers just make the shape, all at once. They respond to our clear intention. But, we have to have a clear intention.
Trying something new…
When learning a new skill it can sometimes be helpful to be like a scientist and test things out. Often, my students complain about not being able to get to a certain chord position. It sometimes sits like a giant speed bump in the middle of a piece that they otherwise play pretty fluidly. When I ask them how they are working on it, they say they are just practising it again and again.
Sometimes it’s helpful to pause and look at the HOW you are practising.
If you are a beginner, take a simple song that you’ve been working on. When you are just starting out it can be really hard to move between C and G7 without a pause. Work with something like that.
If you are a more advanced student, take a tricky chord, chord progression or transition in a song. Maybe there is a shape in a chord melody that always hangs you up? Or, maybe a series of “up the neck” chords?
Now, practise whatever shapes are involved. Make the shapes in the air without your uke. Practice this way for a while. Maybe even over a day or two. Then, try again to play the progression on the uke again. Has anything changed? Is it easier now?
Let me know how it goes!
Easy Does It…
You don’t need to practise everything this way. Playing the ukulele is fun. Have at it! But, when you run into speed bumps, this is one more tool in your problem solving tool kit. (Maybe this is a mixed metaphor.)
Oh, yes, a final thought about Angela. We have been spending a little time each lesson making chords in the air and I notice a change in her chord transitions. She does, too. She says she now practises her chords in the air on the way to work. Cool.
All for now,
p.s. Here is a picture of me making a G7 shape in the air. Can you see the G7 shape?
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