BY MARK KAILANA NELSON
The “Dallas Rag” comes from—who else?—the Dallas String Band. Led by mandolinist Coley Jones, the band played an infectious blend of early blues and rags in the 1920s. Their 1927 recording of “Dallas Rag” is a standout. It is fairly typical of string band rags in that it only has two parts, no modulations, and a fairly simple chord structure. It’s a good one, though. I came up with this fingerstyle ukulele version while waiting for a student to show up one morning. Shows you what a little creative time-wasting can accomplish. [This piece is adapted from It Sounds So Sweet: Jug Band Music for Ukulele.]
HOW TO PLAY IT
This one will take a bit of doing, so take it slow. I use a couple of different picking techniques, including alternating bass thumb picking, multiple string pinches, single notes, and even some strumming.
MEASURES 1 & 2:
The intro sets up the tune with a descending series of double stops on the first and third strings. I use my thumb and index finger to pluck the strings. You will encounter this figure again.
In this measure, the thumb moves between strings three and four. Use your index—or your index and middle finger—to pluck the other strings. All of the notes on the beat are played as pinches with the thumb and one finger plucking two strings at the same time. Notes off the beat are played with your fingers only. Note that the pinch on beat 4 sounds two identical notes.
I play the initial F chord as a pinch with my thumb, index, and middle fingers. Hold the chord until beat 4, using your pinkie to fret the melody notes. Then jump all the way up to an inversion of the F chord with a barre at the fifth fret.
Hold the barre you set up in the previous measure and switch back to alternate thumb-style picking. Note that in this measure, your thumb jumps between the fourth and third strings on the downbeats.
MEASURES 9 & 10:
Sound the downbeat with your thumb, then strum—or pinch—strings one, two, and three to sound the chord. Quickly slide everything down one fret, then bring it back up for beat 3 and drop it again for beat 4. Do the same basic thing for the next measure.
MEASURES 11 & 12:
This is the same figure you encountered in the introduction, only this time slide up into the notes on beats 2 and 4.
MEASURES 13 -16:
Essentially the same as measures 5-8, only with a tiny bit more complexity. Pay attention to how your thumb reverses direction; moving between strings four and three in m. 14, switching to strings three and four in the following measure, and then back again. Hold a barre at the fifth fret for the chord in measure 17.
The B section uses alternate bass thumb picking almost exclusively. Displacing the tonic—the open C string—to beats 2 and 4 in the measures played out of a C chord helps emphasize the ragtime syncopation.
MEASURES 27 & 28:
Nothing like a little chromatic run to liven things up. Play the initial chord with a quick downward strum, and then alternate between your thumb and index fingers—or your index and middle fingers, your choice—to pluck the melody notes. The best way to fret the run is to use one finger per note starting with your index on the first fret. When I repeat this section, I often improvise something different for these two measures.
Return to basic alternate thumb picking. Note that in measure 33 you drop the thumb pattern for beat 3.
Hold the F chord for the entire measure, using your pinkie to grab the melody notes. From there it should be smooth sailing.
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of Ukulele.