It's Oh So Quiet

Emmjay

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I think due to playing alone so long i have developed a really quiet strum. I recently started going to a group and i find i have to bend my head down to hear myself and a couple of people mentioned it at a strum along i attended last weekend. When i strum harder it doesn't sound good. Any suggestions?
 

Ms Bean

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How do you strum? Do you use your finger pads, your nails or a combination of both? You can use both thumb and index lightly pressed together for a bit more volume. If you like you can even use a pick to give you a bit more attack and volume.
You can try to develop different techniques that can serve you in different circumstances. Playing at home will ask for a specific playing style. When you play in a group you can try the more aggressive strum. It won't sound bad because the situation is completely different.
In any case, even if you can't hear yourself, pay attention to your posture. If you know that you sound good when you practise on your own, trust that you also sound good in a group.
 

Rakelele

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Good questions and suggestions from Ms Bean. In addition to what she said, it is important to know that almost everybody will feel this way the first time she or he plays in a larger group. Everybody is strumming out full throttle because everybody feels they can't be heard well enough. This battle will only lead to an endless fortissimo, possibly drowning important things like the melody or the bass, and making it impossible to use different dynamics (piano, mezzoforte, forte, etc.). In this situation, I think people shouldn't just join in the rat race by adding as much volume as possible, but try to listen to the overall sound and what they can add to that - other than sheer volume.

A pretty good way to hear yourself better might be an instrument with a side sound port, providing sort of a monitor that will blast part of your volume towards yourself.
 

Jerryc41

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I think due to playing alone so long i have developed a really quiet strum. I recently started going to a group and i find i have to bend my head down to hear myself and a couple of people mentioned it at a strum along i attended last weekend. When i strum harder it doesn't sound good. Any suggestions?

That's what's nice about playing with a group. Everyone wants to be heard, so you don't have to hold back.

I try to let the nail on my right forefinger get long enough to strum. I've found the most effective way for me to strum is to hit the strings with the nail alone. To each his own, though. I can hear myself clearly, and sometimes I think I'm too loud, but many people say that. You tend to hear your own strumming since it's right there.
 

rorym

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There may also be other contributing factors. The ukulele itself may be inherently quiet, and the strings, too, maybe relatively quiet. I recently purchased a Homestead concert from Bonanza. It’s a thinline model, so it’s not going to be terribly (wonderfully?) loud on the best of days. The first thing I did was to put on a new set of hard Freemont Blackline strings. Both the loudness and, IMO, the tone improved.

Then again, it may just be your strumming technique:)

Just what is it you are playing?
 

Rllink

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It is likely a combination of things. I think there is a tendency for people new to to playing with others to hold back a bit. That will go away on its own eventually as one gets used to playing in that kind of environment. Eventually when you are more comfortable your competitive spirit starts flowing and you'll just naturally start playing louder. I think that trying to push it is not the way to go. That's why it doesn't sound good when you do. Let it come naturally. It will on its own. I don't think that you need to make big changes.

The second thing might be your ukulele is contributing. I have a mahogany concert that sounds beautiful but does not have the volume to cut through without strumming it unnatural my hard. I have a cedar top ukulele that I sometimes have to back off of when I play in company with others. I always play the cedar top when I go to the group strums. It is easier to play when I don't have to add that struggle to hear and be heard.

That's been my experience. But my advise isn't to start making big changes or to run out and buy a new ukulele. I would give it a little time to sort itself out. It usually does it you just let it.
 

VegasGeorge

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I, too, have experienced that in groups. Frankly, that's one reason I don't play in groups anymore. I like to hear myself. I like to be creative. I like to play tunes my way, especially when playing "My Way," :) . So, I recommend you just resign yourself to hearing the group, not your own playing, when playing in a group. I think they call that "ensemble." Seriously, I used to play in orchestras, and I remember being told more than once, "If you can hear yourself, you're playing too loud!"
 

Kenn2018

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Loudness: You can place behind your index finger to brace it. Almost like holding a pick, but just supporting your finger. This makes it a little stiffer and as a consequence, a little louder.
Max attack: Use all four fingers to strum. Thumbnail for the upstroke. There are some players who strum this way all the time.

I agree with the others though, I felt my playing was a little lost in a large group.

On some of my tenors, it is very difficult to play softly. (Martin 1T IZ; Cali Walnut; Ko'aAloha KTM-00.) When I use those my stumming booms out and I have to try to soften my strums, or play with my thumb.
 

Emmjay

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Thanks for the suggestions. My Uke is an 1880 brand concert with solid spruce top and mahogany back and sides. Its not the most expensive uke, i purchased it for around $280 Australian.

I replaced my aquila strings with brown worths mainly because i found the sound unpleasant, in between i did try some other kinds, dunlop (pros i think, is that a thing?) and a generic brand that came with my second uke. That uke is a bondi spalted maple concert, with aquila completely different sound but i also struggle with volume.

My strum is down with the index finger nail and up with the thumb nail. I know thats unusual but i kind of like the percussive sound my nail makes and i feel like if anything that should make it louder?
I don't think it is the ukes, when others have played them there was no volume issue.

I talked with my uke teacher about it, he suggested a pick. I have tried a few, hated the felt and the plastic kind, i have a leather one now, it sounds better, i think i could learn but personal preference, i like to touch my strings while i play. It just feels right to me. I hope i answered all the questions, thanks again for helping out.
 

Ukecaster

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Nails matter too. In the past, I've tried fake nails in my index finger and thumb. This makes them very hard, and I got much more volume when needed. If desired, I could really bang on a uke, especially a soprano.
 
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Kenn2018

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You could also try Alaska finger picks. They are plastic and fit over your finger tips and under the nails. You can trim them to a length you like. And you play as you normally do.

They are available in different sizes on Amazon and a few music stores. I used one when I tore my index nail and had a gig coming up. Worked pretty well. And increased the volume a bit.

One question that just occurred to me: Did you have your strings lowered when your uke was setup? That can also affect the volume. But as you said, others have played it and didn't have a problem.

You might want to record yourself playing using your smartphone or computer. It will give you a better idea of just how soft your playing actually is, and it will give you a base line (no pun intended) to see if anything actually makes a difference as you experiment.
 

Emmjay

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Thanks, i would like to try the plastic finger picks, i was enjoying doing some begginer finger picking but i have a tendency to use my nails as tools which breaks them and found the different length nails made it much harder to play cleanly.

I recorded myself and i do think it is quiet. I am going to just concentrate on playing harder. It seems that whenever you try out something new on the uke you have to accept a a not so nice sound for a while. Thanks
 

Ms Bean

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Thanks, i would like to try the plastic finger picks, i was enjoying doing some begginer finger picking but i have a tendency to use my nails as tools which breaks them and found the different length nails made it much harder to play cleanly.

I recorded myself and i do think it is quiet. I am going to just concentrate on playing harder. It seems that whenever you try out something new on the uke you have to accept a a not so nice sound for a while. Thanks

I tried growing out my nails for about a year. They don't break easily, but my index and middle finger do curl a bit on the inside once they are over a mm long. I don't like the feeling of long nails (the white anything over a mm) but I do prefer the sound of longer nails for strumming!

I have now again started filing down my nails well under a mm and I can still pick with my finger pads. I think my fingertips have hardened up a bit, though I don't have proper callouses as on my left (chording) hand when I play a lot. Only the side of my thumb feels rougher due to strumming more often. Because the skin is now tougher I can now use my thumb to strum harder, but YMMV.
 

AustinHing

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If all else are done and still don’t work out. Perhaps OP is really a light strummer. One option is to install a free sound level meter app in the phone. Measure the decibels when strumming naturally. Measure again when strum forcefully. Using the same app, measure your friend’s strumming and record the differences.

Over time, add a bit more swing (wrist flick) into your strumming to increase volume while monitoring your decibels level through the app. Try to maintain the swing dynamics to rewire the muscle memory. Rinse and repeat until desired volume is attained. However, give it a week or 2, you should be able to overcome the issue progressively.

Sorry, but the engineer in me just have to kick in.
 

DaveY

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Why not ask a knowledgeable and empathetic person in the group to watch you and listen to you while you play?
 

terrgy

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Awhile back, I picked up a tip from a video by Cynthia Lin. She suggested that one doesn’t need long nails. She said on the downstroke, using index finger, with thumb pressed to index, contact should be made with the middle if the nail.
Up strum with the meat of the index.

With practice, this is my primary strum now. More volume and clearer notes. I hate long nails. Because of arthritis, to give my index a break, I use middle and ring sometimes, with thumb pressed against both. Was awkward at first.