As ukulele players we spend much of the day worrying about the next note, the next chord change, and anything involving our left hand but the right hand is where all the magic truly happens on this instrument.
A strong and consistent strum is key to pulling a sweet sound out of this tiny instrument. In this article we will break down how to properly approach strumming on the ukulele in an efficient and effective manner.
The joy of playing the ukulele with our fingers as opposed to a pick is that we have five different fingers to play notes with allow us to create a variety of different sounds out of this small instrument.
Here we will focus on the most basic style of strumming with the index finger which should be used as the foundation for most of the other fancier techniques such as the fan strum, triple stroke, split stroke, etc.
Proper Ukulele Strumming Technique In 4 Easy Steps
1. Put your hand down at your side and allow your hand to fully relax. Notice that your fingers naturally curl up into a very loose fist.
This relaxed position is what we want to use while strumming so as not to cause undue stress to our hands.
2. Before we apply this hand shape to the ukulele it is important to address the motion of our hand without being inhibited by the instrument itself.
Bend your elbow so that your hand is just about parallel to your belly button. The actual strumming motion will come almost entirely from the wrist, not the elbow.
Let your wrist be loose and envision painting a fence: up and down (think of Karate Kid!) You can practice this away from the instrument until it starts to feel more natural.
3. Now it’s time to try this on the ukulele!
Pick up your instrument and let’s start with a simple down strum.
As our hand moves towards the floor allow the nail of your index finger to hit the strings (while still making that ‘painting a fence’ motion).
Try doing this on all four beats of a measure or a simple steady strum of quarter notes.
4. Now it’s time to add in an upstroke. Directly after playing your downstroke, when you bring your hand back up to reset for the next downstroke, allow the pad of your index finger to play all of the strings.
Note that this produced a mellow and softer tone than that of the downstroke of the nail. When you are comfortable with this motion, practice playing down and up strokes, or straight eighth notes.
How To Strum The Ukulele – Beginner Uke Like The Pros Tutorial
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- Great for the beginner who wants to learn some chords and how to strum properly
- Master Half Notes, Quarter Notes, and Eighth Notes
- Develop amazing right hand strumming technique
- Learn how to play in ‘time’ and keep a solid rhythm
- Memorize essential major, minor, and 7th chords
Be careful not to strum too hard! Listen to the sound of your instrument and you will find a point of diminishing returns as far as the strength of your strum. At some point it will stop getting louder and just sound sloppy. Practice playing both soft and loud to find the dynamic range of your individual instrument.
Where you strum in relation to the bridge changes the tone of the instrument. You’ll need to find the sweet spot on your specific ukulele.
On many, the most balanced sound comes by strumming at the point where the neck of the instrument is attached to the body. Start there but experiment with different sounds by moving your strumming hand closer to or further away from the bridge. The closer to the bridge the more pointed and powerful sound you will get but at the expense of warmth.
Efficiency of Motion
Efficiency of motion is key. There is no need to make big exaggerated strumming movements. Our four strings are about 2 inches across in total, and we want to keep our entire hand as close to possible to that plane whenever possible.
Practice keeping your hand as close to the strings as you can with a nice relaxed motion. This will help greatly as you start to build up speed with your strumming in the future.
Ukulele Strumming Patterns
Now that we have the basic down and up stroke mastered it is time to figure out how to apply these to a song. Strumming patterns are notate by two symbols : Down (denoted with an upside down bracket) and Up (Denoted with a V).
In most cases the downstrokes will fall on our downbeats (1-2-3-4) while the upstrokes will fall on the offbeats (the second eight half of each beat). Keep in mind that strumming patterns are mere suggestions but it is important to challenge yourself with different ones to build a toolbox of strumming techniques that you can pull from at will.
The key to all of these patterns is that the wrist is making the same motion no matter where the strum is placed. We will almost always have that consistent up and down motion; it is simply a matter of when we allow our index finger hit the strings.
The great thing about strumming patterns is that you can even practice them without your instrument in your hands!
We can start out with what’s called the shuffle. This is a great place to start as it allows us an easy way to figure out other patterns.
The shuffle stroke is all eighth notes meaning that we play DU DU DU DU DU or we hit the strings with every single wrist motion. This will give you a good basis for where the up and down strums lie as we get into more complex strumming patterns.
Next we will try another popular four beat pattern. The rhythm for this will be 1 2 & 3 4 &. As the downstrokes will fall on the beat that makes our strumming pattern D DU D DU. Note that the four downstrokes are in the identical place that we play them i the shuffle rhythm we are simply omitting two of the up strums to give a different rhythm.
We now learn the most popular ukulele strum: the island strum. The pattern for this will be D D U UDU. Note that since we have two up strokes in a row we will not be playing beat 3 at all. Whenever starting a new pattern I find it helpful to internalize it by clapping and saying the the rhythm that you are playing. In this case that would be: 1 2 & & 4 &.
There are many times on ukulele that we will also play in 3/4 time having only three beats to the measure. A simple strumming pattern that we can use for waltz time is D DU D creating a rhythm of 1 2 & 3
Our rule of down strumming on the down beats is not hard and fast. Now let’s try that same 3/4 pattern but reverse the strumming by starting with an up stroke. Now our pattern will be U DU D giving us alternating up and down strokes throughout. Note that this gives us a softer sound at the beginning of the measure.
Take your time to master these basic strumming patterns and focus on your technique. Remember that your hand and arm should always be relaxed.
This will provide the smoothest strumming as well as providing the least strain to our body. Stay loose, have fun, and keep on strumming!