Daniel Ward’s 30-page “Arpeggio Meditations for Ukulele” for ukulele players reminds me of the Hanon exercises I played every day as a budding piano player. That’s how I built my technique, after playing the scales and arpeggios in the key I was assigned, I’d play one piece from Hanon for the entire week. This sort of repetitive finger exercise gets you into a trance. However, I daresay, Ward’s music is a lot more interesting and pleasing to the ear than Hanon’s.
The sixteen original compositions are cleverly ordered in increasing level of difficulty. The compositions sound improvisatory but each piece is carefully crafted. You can keep repeating in a loop until you’re ready to stop.
What’s unique about each piece is that the finger picking pattern for the right hand is always the same within the piece. However, the music that comes out varies immensely because of re-entrant tuning (high G), left-hand fingering, and left hand position on the fretboard.
For the beginner, there are four dimensions to learn in the ukulele world. Which of the four strings? Which of the 17 frets? Which of the left four fingers? Which of the right four fingers?
Ward communicates to the player in three different ways simultaneously. Chord diagram. Western notation. Tablature. The chord diagram tells you which string to press on which fret and which string(s) not to press. The tablature (tab) tells you which strings to play first and in which order. The notes in Western notation (on the treble staff) tells you how it’s supposed to sound.
He also indicates fingering for the right hand using the same convention as in classical guitar: p, i, m, a which correspond to thumb, index, middle and ring finger respectively. For the left hand, they are 1, 2, 3, 4 for index, middle, ring, and pinky.
With re-entrant tuning, the lowest or 4th string (G) is higher in pitch than the third lowest string (C). In order of ascending sounding pitch, the lowest sounding string is C, then E, then the 4th string of G, and finally the first string of A. Thus the tablature pattern doesn’t match the note pattern on treble staff.
If you are accustomed to reading notes on another instrument, you might find it easier to read the tabs and chord diagrams until you get over this lack of parallel between the tab and the staff.
The first piece “Arpeggio Meditation” is easy enough for participants in my beginning ukulele workshop series to try, as a stepping stone to reading tablature and introduction to fingerstyle playing. I would most likely assign them to study one per week until they’ve memorised them. There are free video tutorials on the author’s website to assist.
The author’s vast background in playing and composing various styles of music (classical guitar, flamenco guitar, percussion, lute, world music etc) is reflected in these sixteen pieces. Unlike Hanon for Piano, Ward’s book travels from 4/4 time to3/4 to 6/8 to 5/8, crossing many rhythmic patterns such as the basic montuno pattern and ways of playing such as switching fingers on the same string.
Although each piece is more challenging than the previous, it is also more interesting. By the time I reach the last and 16th piece, “Chicago Dog Blues” I feel as though I have flown around the world musically.
You can order this well-printed book on Daniel Ward’s website by paypal. If you have young children, you might consider buying “Color-Along Ukulele” which not only teaches 12 easy chords but also tempts your child to colour in the nice big illustrations by Ward’s partner and co-author Heidi Swedberg.