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Roy Smeck, Right Hand Rhythms and Trash Cans

August 2010 16,839 views 10 Comments

by Marcy Marxer

What do these three things have in common?
Roy Smeck
Right Hand Rhythms
Trash Cans

What size ukulele should I play?

These questions and more are answered in the article below.

Hello Friends, Ukulele Players, Distinguished Colleagues!

    I’m very happy to join the writing staff of Mel Bay’s www.ukulelesessions.com

I found my first ukulele in a garbage can on my way to High school in Swartz Creek, MI in 1972.  This was no ordinary trash day.  It was officially “Clean Up Fix Up Week”.  Anybody could throw out anything and the trash collectors would take it away.  It was a magical time for our town each year.  We knew that just about anything we needed was waiting for us on our neighbors curb and we took good advantage of the situation.  Everybody in town was out early to beat the trash pick up.  I walked down the street and there it was, it’s tiny headstock sticking up out of the garbage can.  I carefully pulled it out.  It was a little wall hanger of a ukulele with a palm tree painted on it.  It held a tune and I was off and running.

     Yes, 1972 was the year my ship sailed in and boatloads of success were sure to follow. 

    My first professional gig playing the ukulele was with Gabe Ward and the New Hoosier Hotshots from Chicago.  Since then I’ve played the ukulele on stages across this country as well as Japan, Australia, New Zealand and in Great Britain for a couple of generations of kids, folk musicians and music fans.  My ukulele playing has been featured in film and television scores for PBS, MSNBC, National Geographic, The Food Channel (they have extremely good taste), The Today Show and many more.  I appear to be among a select few ukulele players to win multiple GRAMMYs.

    I was very lucky to meet and study with the legendary Roy Smeck in the early 1980s.  Roy was a brilliant multi-instrumentalist.  He played music on several instruments in the first film with sound in 1928.  That film was called “The Wizard of the Strings”.  It’s worth seeing! 

Here’s a link to a ukulele centered segment of the film on youtube

Right Hand Rhythm Technique

    Much of the magic of Roy Smeck’s playing came from intricate right hand rhythms.  That’s exactly where we’re going to start. 
    Here’s a video that demonstrates a double strum with one fluid motion. 

   The separation of fingers and thumb is the basis for all of the fancier syncopated rhythms that Roy uses in the video.  It’s worth spending some time practicing to get clear separate strums.

   The first strum is a versatile pattern that can be used in many styles of music.  It’s used here in the Calypso song The Sloop John B.
    D = all fingers strum Down and U = all fingers strum Up.  Keep your right moving up and down in a steady even rhythm.  Strum down and up with all four fingers.

The second strum incorporates the double strum with separate thumb and fingers.  Fingers strum down together and thumb follows.
Again D = all fingers strum down
             U = all fingers strum up
   And T = thumb strums down


Here’s a video demonstration of soprano, concert, tenor and baritone ukulele with tunings included.  Resonator and open back banjo ukuleles are also shown.

Have fun with rhythmic strumming.  See you next time!

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