‘Ukulele Lesson – Finger Picking – 6/8 Exercise

Often in the quiet moments of the day, I enjoy picking up my ‘ukulele and playing something short and pretty. Not only is it a good exercise and keeps the fingers limber but also is a way to bring a little of beauty to the room. Whether you are outside bathing in the sun or sitting comfortably in your favorite chair at home it’s refreshing to make the ears smile.

A little diddy that I will often work with is this simple I-VI-IV-V chord progression with a 6/8 finger picking pattern. Ideally, I would work these two components separately first to master the physical aspect of the new technique and to get comfortable with the sound of the chords. Let’s start with the right hand:

For this finger picking pattern, we are going to assign specific fingers to specific strings.  You, of course, can vary these patterns as you continue to play but stick with a single fingering first until you feel you have gained mastery over it. Today let’s start by using our thumb and index finger, assigning the thumb to the upper two strings (4th-G / 3rd-C) and your index to the bottom strings (2nd-E / 1st-A). In this example, you will be alternating between your thumb and index, weaving back and forth on the strings (thumb-index-thumb-index etc.).

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Three things of note:

  1. It is an eighth note pattern that completes within one measure leaving you 6 notes in each pattern.
  2. Identify the 1. It will be easier to identify where you are in the tune and in the finger picking pattern. The 1 in this pattern starts with your thumb on the 3rd-C string.
  3. Practice slowly and stop when you make a mistake. A good sign of mastery is when you can hold a conversation and continue the finger picking pattern. Bonus points when you mix in the chords!

Now with our left hand, we will be using a I-VI-IV-V chord progression in the key of C. The chord voices incorporate a pedal tone on the 1st-A string hence, an alternate fingering by using your 4th finger (pinky) on the 3rd fret for all four chords.

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Just like the right hand, first independently move between the chord voices, getting comfortable with the shapes. Give a “sound check,” by giving a single strum on each chord, checking for buzzes or unsustained notes.

Slowly work in the finger picking pattern one chord at a time. As your ear adjusts to the sound of both your hands working together the tune will become more and more familiar. Practice is necessary not only initially to acquire the technique but must be regularly exercised to stay sharp as a cook would whet a knife. Powder it throughout your day as it takes no more than a few minutes to play it.

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I enjoy this light-hearted tune by making rhythmic and harmonic variations to keep it fresh and to exercise a wider musical vocabulary. Once you’re comfortable with the song, adding in color tones (harmonically enhance), playing with volume swells (adjusting your attack), and playing with tempo changes (adjusting the speed of the pattern) really can expand what may be a simple chord progression and technique into a fully fledged song. Make it your own and most of all have fun with it!

-Neal Chin
‘Ukulele Artist and Educator

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