7 Feb 2017

The history of the Māori strum

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 2:25 pm on 7 February 2017

If you've ever been to a fair dinkum kiwi party where guitars are present and a sing-a-long breaks out, or at the beach on a hot summers day with bunch of friends and a guitar, or around a camp fire somewhere, chances are you experienced the Māori guitar strum. 

It's an accompaniment to the songs we all know and love and is aptly demonstrated by Englebert Humperdink's 1967 hit 'Ten Guitars' which many refer to as our unofficial anthem.

Dr Michael Brown used the Māori strum as the basis for his doctoral thesis and his working life now revolves around the preservation of all New Zealand music in his role as the curator of the music archive of New Zealand Music at The Alexander Turnbull Library.

The particular sonic ingredients are very recognisable, says Brown.

“It’s a very full strum. We’re not talking about lots of fiddly little notes and finger-picking. Basic strum, full on the downbeat and then often with a percussive, damped quality on the offbeat so it gives you almost a snare drum sound.”

He says it is a technique not taught by guitar teachers but rather learned by listening to other players and adapting.

"It's what I would call a vernacular music style."

The Howard Morrison Quartet perform at Miss New Zealand 1963

The Howard Morrison Quartet perform at Miss New Zealand 1963 Photo: YouTube screenshot

Music details

ARTIST: The Consorts
TITLE: Maoris On 45
COMP: Trad: Arr: Dalvanius Prime
ALBUM: Single release     
LABEL: RCA Victor

ARTIST: Te Hokiwhitu-a-tu Maori Club
TITLE: Arohina Mai
COMP: Trad
ALBUM: Ake Ake Kia Kaha E: Maori Battalion Songs
LABEL: Atoll

ARTIST: Te Hokiwhitu-a-tu Maori Club
TITLE: Arohina Mai
COMP: Trad
ALBUM: Ake Ake Kia Kaha E: Maori Battalion Songs
LABEL: Atoll

ARTIST: The Howard Morrison Quartet
TITLE: Hoki Mai (Live)
COMP: Henare Waitoa, Tune Charles, Nick Kenny
ALBUM: THe Howard Morrison Story
LABEL: Stebbing

ARTIST: The Gay Notes
TITLE: Pa Mai
COMP: Alan Armstrong, Reupena Ngata.
ALBUM: Promo
LABEL: Kiwi

ARTIST: Crowded House
TITLE: Don't Dream It's Over (Home Demo)
COMP: Neil Finn
ALBUM: Crowded House (Bonus disc)
LABEL: Capitol

ARTIST: Iwi
TITLE: Iwi
COMP: N/S
ALBUM: Iwi
LABEL: BMG

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