Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Three Ways to Play Over The Rainbow

photo by Karen Johns

Faced with a growing group and thus a wider range of abilities this year, we are trying a new format.

At the first meeting of the month, everyone gets to choose a song. This ensures that each person will like at least one thing we play that day, and it gives us a nice variety of music, as well.

At the second meeting of the month, one or more volunteers take responsibility for the entire session in any way they choose.

Our second meeting in February had us going over a few different ways to play songs. While it's famously easy to learn a handful of uke chords and strum them underneath a tune, going past that can sometimes be a challenge. There are a few ways to mix up a song: picking the chords, playing the melody, changing the strumming pattern, and varying the chord progression.

Here, for example, is the first verse of Over The Rainbow in the key of C. Four chords, changed at regular intervals, a slow tempo—and not the most exciting song to play. So if strumming gets boring, it's possible to pick the chords.

If you place your thumb on the G string, and your index, middle, and ring fingers on the C, E and A strings, respectively; you can pick in the pattern of [C-G, E-G, A-G, E-G]. Or by assigning the numbers 1 through 4 to your thumb through ring finger; the pattern can also be written as: [2-1, 3-1, 4-1, 3-1]. Try playing this pattern of 8 strings once per chord: 2-1-3-1 on "some" and 4-1-3-1 on "where," back to 2-1-3-1 on "over the" and 4-1-3-1 on "rainbow." It's harder to write and read than it is to do, especially if you start slowly.

A second way is to play it as a very simple chord melody (see this post on how to read ukulele tablature). This is also in the key of C and uses the same chord progression, as you can see below. The chords are simply opened up a little to bring out the melody.

Finally, there's the version that so many ukulele players want to learn, the one made famous by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole (known worldwide as Iz). Again in the key of C, the chords are similar the above versions but with a critical change from C to Am-F that lifts the melody in an appealing way. The unique strumming pattern is also key to this version.

As far as I know, there are no videos of him playing this song, and it appears that the only audio recording was a one-take, middle-of-the-night shot made almost as a memo to himself (see this NPR story).
Thus the many different tutorials on how to play Iz's Over The Rainbow, each with its own take. Some chunk or dampen the strings, some use a reggae-ish strumming pattern. This version entails plucking the G string with one's thumb and strumming in an accented pattern that is heavy on the down strum and has a pause in the middle: pluck-D-u-(pause)-u-D-u, pluck-D-u-(pause)-u-D-u.
For a printable .pdf of these three versions as complete songs, click here.

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