When strumming patterns disappear

I’ve actually got a few interesting things I want to talk about. I have half a post written about wrist and hand position, but it’s trapped on my external drive, and at the moment I’m camped out in my mother’s living room to escape the sauna.  The A/C situation is still not corrected, and around 7 pm tonight, I couldn’t endure the fact it was 95 degrees with the lights out in my house anymore. We’re approaching another brief heat wave, so I grabbed my laptop and my ukulele and left the house for the night.

Since the article I was going to share with you next is still back at the house (which is so hot that even my wifi is struggling), instead of that, I’m going to talk about strumming patterns.

I talked about them a while back, and my argument at the time was that for a beginner, strumming patterns are a necessary part of the learning process. It teaches the ear the difference in sound between a down strum and an up strum. It also serves as a really bare bones introduction to ear training, because you’re trying to listen to songs to identify those strum patterns. I spent a bit of time bitching about a music educator who refused to acknowledge this and told beginners not to count. Beginners are going to count. It can’t be helped. That’s just a crutch we need, and frankly I don’t really see much way around it when you’re dealing with trying to replicate a cover song. It’s fun to experiment and make a song your own. I’m still fiddling with the bridge and outro of “Lean on Me” to make them something that works well for me. But, we have to learn to replicate before we can create. We have to learn how to re-create what we’re hearing before we move on to creating something new.

That doesn’t mean we’re going to be married to that crutch forever, and it doesn’t mean we’re not eventually going to create something original. Assuming that would be like arguing that learning theory hampers creativity. (Nonsense, though I admit fully that theory mostly just hurts my brain for now. 🙂 ) It just means we have to walk before we can run.

But, I have noticed recently that the few songs I do know, the strumming pattern ‘turns off’. I use it at first – it’s a sort of launch pad – a place of origin. But, I seem to lose it over time.  I noticed it with ‘Lean On Me’ – the moment I start trying to think about my strum in order to replicate, I’m no longer able to play the song. Once I go to focus on what I’m doing so I can identify what I’m doing, I’m no longer able to do it.  This is something that’s coming up in noodling around, too.

Here’s a quickie sound clip of one of my noodling sessions, for illustrative purposes:

I stumbled across this strum pattern when I was just fiddling around, and I thought ‘oh, you know, I like that’.  But, what am I doing? I tried to pay attention, and it turned to hell really fast. I couldn’t tell you what’s a down strum, what’s an up strum. I’m sure if I listened to the sound clip carefully enough, I’d be able to figure it out. But, the point is, I can’t tell you. I don’t know. I can’t even tell you what the count is off the top of my head. “dun dun dun dun dun – dun dun”, basically? lol.  Not a very useful description, I know. If I listen to it, I can replicate it. My ears somehow know what my hand needs to do to make it happen, but if I turn my attention from my ears to my hand, it falls apart.

This is a very notable switch from my previous experiences, and one I think that’s going to lead me to a point where singing and playing are going to be easier to marry together. I’ve reached a place, at least in ukulele land, that I can no longer tell you what I’m doing when I strum, but that’s because I’m no longer thinking about it so intensely.

That doesn’t mean that what I was doing before was wrong. It was the right way to go about it at the time, and it was an important part of the process, but one that appears to be falling away.

Right now, I’m doing some light reading (The Astronaut’s Wife. After attempting to read Dean Koontz, I decided I needed to read someone who was not going to ramble on for two paragraphs to say something that could be said in 2 sentences, and a 200 pg book seemed to be a good choice for that.), so I can’t help the spaceship imagery that’s coming to me. I’m thinking of strum patterns at the moment as the…you know, booster things? Wth are they called? 🙂  The bits of the rocket that help push the rocket into the air, but fall away once it’s gotten high enough.   I guess some other good imagery would be training wheels, but I sort of like the rocket imagery better. Training wheels are something you have to choose to take off. Boosters are going to come off whether you like it or not; that’s just what they’re designed to do, and that imagery, it seems, may be a bit more accurate in regard to my relationship with strumming patterns.

It’s not as if I’ve cast them aside.  I still do focus on them to figure out a new song, but, whether by my choice or otherwise, they do fall away all on their own, and it seems there’s really no way for me to reattach them once they’re gone.  That’s neither a good thing or a bad thing; it’s just a thing.

Though, I do wonder, without knowing the strumming pattern, how I’m supposed to remember what I have to do for any given song without recording things and listening to them to jog my memory. I guess I’m just going to have to start recording things if I don’t want to forget them.

Until Next Time, I’m launching into the stratosphere…one baby step at a time.

2 thoughts on “When strumming patterns disappear

  1. You know. I picked up my bass tonight, for the first time in around 3 months. I ran through this warm-up that I used to do, up and down the neck on all strings, just to reacquaint myself with every fret. Then I ran the minor scale for a bit, just because I like how it sounds. I just went up the neck with it, for the most part – but when I practice it I don’t usually just play it a note at a time from root to octave and then move up a fret. I have this pattern that I play on each note ascending, and when I descend, I vary it a little when I come back to the 3rd and 2nd degree. Its really similar to your strum pattern. I always liked doing that when I practice stuff – come up with a pattern and just play it on each scale degree or whatever of what I’m practicing. I also really enjoy 3-finger technique for picking and incorporating triplets into stuff. So, its cool to hear that you’ve discovered a strumming pattern that takes to your hands and ears.

    I’ve definitely lost some speed and accuracy above the 12th fret, btw.


    1. Lol. Well, it’s sort of fascinating, because I’ve found that where I used to base everything on first identifying the strum pattern of a song, and building on that foundation, recently, with songs I know or when I’m noodling, I can’t seem to think about it. Once I do, it just goes to hell. It’s like I’ve gone from looking for the rhythm to something more vague. If someone asked me how I strum a certain bit of Lean on Me, for example, I couldn’t tell them. I have no idea, but I still repeat it pretty much the same way every time. I may eventually become like that with all songs. It’s nice to start moving away from the crutch a bit, but it’s also slightly cumbersome, because I no longer have that memory device if I don’t play something for a while. Lol.


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