Admittedly, Groundhog Day is more of an annual “event” rather than a “holiday.” Nonetheless, it takes on importance in that is it also “World Play Your Ukulele Day.”
It is also a day that we New Englanders sense the end of Winter and the beginning of Spring—at least those New England natives of the groundhog persuasion. Pray for a cloudy day! Avoid shadows!
Aside from some cute pictures,
I couldn’t find many ukuleles directly associated with a groundhog. But, our animal friend has a long and historic association with that older cousin of the ukulele, the banjo. It seems that it wasn’t uncommon back in 19th century Appalachia to use a groundhog skin to make a primitive banjo.
There are even a few contemporary banjo makers using groundhog skins, both on five-string mountain banjos
and even—YES—a banjo ukulele or two. Sorry, none in my collection as of yet!
There is also a great old-time tune called “Groundhog.” Here it is played on a fretless banjo just like an old Appalachian mountain one!
The ukulele lends itself to being played in the old-time banjo style called “frailing” or “clawhammer.” The standard high-G string of the ukulele can serve the same melodic/rhythmic function as the fifth “drone” string on a banjo.
On the ukulele, the index finger picks a string (usually a melody note), then brushes down across all four strings followed by the thumb plucking the G string—pick, brush, thumb. The rhythm is 1-2/and, 1-2/and, etc., played in a slow, quick-quick motion. Pete Seeger called this a “bum-ditty, bum-ditty” sound. We could call it a “North-amp/ton, North-amp/ton” strum!
Got it? Of course, there are thousands of intricate variations, but this is “Clawhammer 101.” Here’s a basic YouTube to get you started. Have some Springtime fun!
At the risk of all my vegan and vegetarian friends—to say nothing of those simply of the squeamish persuasion—I must add an good ole recipe for groundhog stew. Well, why not?
Now go seek out a groundhog, before he sees his shadow, and play him a tune on “World Play Your Ukulele Day!”