Kimo Hussey is one of Hawaii’s preeminent ukulele players and instructors. Combining his love of the ukulele with his knowledge, experience and confidence, Kimo’s ability to impart knowledge relevant to technique, practice and having fun is unmatched.
1. How did you develop your unique right hand technique which seems to be a fusion of both picking and strumming simultaneously.
The technique really was developed out of the fusion you mention, getting the melody in, picking, while there is also harmonic/chordal accompaniment, the strumming part. It requires just the thumb and forefinger which always move toward each other —– thumb only moves down and forefinger only moves up. The thumb’s function as it’s brushing down is to provide harmonic accompaniment and its downward movement is literally just a brushing motion. The forefinger’s primary function in its upward motion is to get the song’s melody. This technique produces a very wonderful, coordinated and full sound. I personally play everything this way.
When playing in this style the player first needs to be able to play every single chord he/she knows or will learn in three different positions: lower frets (1-3), middle frets (5-7) and upper frets (9-12). When learning a new piece of music, the first step is to isolate practice only to the melody. Once that is secured solidly, then it’s a matter of putting the appropriate chords to that melody and following that melody wherever it wants to go by moving the appropriate chords to different positions on the fretboard.
2. How does one go about developing a solid rhythmic style of playing?
The very best way to do this is to isolate practice only to the right hand (strumming hand). The reason for the isolation is that there is always too much attention which the left hand steals. So if you’re using your uke for developing solid rhythm, either use one chord only or just play in the open position without holding any chord. Again, it’s the isolation of the right hand that is key.
Having created the isolation, the next step is to concentrate on the song’s time signature and maintain a very strict rhythmic pattern without slowing or speeding up. If necessary, use a metronome. When this feels comfortable and grooved real well, add the song/left hand back in. A huge majority of rhythmic problems are caused by the left hand not only demanding attention but slowing down between chord changes because those changes are not rehearsed to fluidity. My favored methodology in combining the left and right hand is never do so until each isolated is able to fulfill its responsible function. Combining both hands prematurely only causes the brain to ’tilt’ and the first thing that generally gets degraded is rhythm.
My suggestion is to isolate to the degree where you put the uke down and find some suitable object to use as a drum (pie plate, drum head, table top, etc etc). Use only the right hand in this practice methodology and also use only those fingers you use to strum the uke. Simply practice several rhythmic patterns and see yourself as a drummer. Trust your instincts in deriving various patterns as you’ll find this will definitely improve with little practice. If you experience some difficulty, put various CDs on and follow with the music as another drummer. Having used this practice technique, the next step is to derive the rhythmic pattern you choose to use from the song you play. Let the song itself be the inspiration for the rhythmic pattern. The back-side corollary to this is look for variety in strumming patterns through your choice of songs. Finally, the ‘philosophy’ in this technique is: Whatever the right hand can drum, it can strum.
3. Is music theory an important aspect of playing ukulele?
Music theory is an extremely important aspect of ukulele playing and its greatest benefit is to significantly reduce the amount of time required to learn new music. It’s NOT a matter of learning to read music as much as learning how music is organized so we can see/hear that organization in all we play. If we can see this organization in all the music we do, it’s a very simple step to ‘see’ the very same organization in a song we’re hearing but don’t know yet how to play. This is what helps us learn faster. Bottom line: it’s learning to listen.