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Home UkuleleTutorials Top Ukulele Strumming Patterns

Top Ukulele Strumming Patterns

Master this and you'll be an ukulele rockstar!

by Jennifer VanBenschoten

For most of us, learning how to strum the ukulele was our first introduction to playing this marvelous little instrument. I remember the first strumming pattern I ever learned was just a simple D-D-D-D (down down down down) strum. I learned from watching YouTube videos over and over, and I remember falling asleep at night, going over chord shapes and strumming patterns in my head. (Was I the tiniest bit obsessed with learning how to play ukulele? Maybe.)

But even the most dedicated player of the ukulele might get a bit bored with the same old strumming patterns over and over and over. So let’s take a look at some of the top ukulele strumming patterns that you can use to spice up your ukulele songs!

How to Strum the Ukulele

Before we get into the top ukulele strumming patterns, let’s do a little refresher on how to strum the ukulele. There are several ways to strum the ukulele, and it’s a really not a one-size-fits-all situation when it comes to learning how to strum the ukulele.

Make sure that you’re comfortably and securely holding your ukulele. That means if you’re using a strap, it should be adjusted to the correct length, and when you hold your ukulele, you shouldn’t feel any tension or “crunching” in your neck and shoulders.

Next, make sure that you have your ukulele tucked securely into the elbow crook of your strumming arm/hand. (This is usually your dominant arm/hand, the one that you write with.) You should be able to release the neck of the uke from your other hand and still have it held securely against your body with just one arm.

  • Thumb Strum: Using just your thumb, brush the pad of your thumb down all four strings of the ukulele, and then use the edge of your thumbnail to strum on the way back up. When you’re strumming, check to make sure that the only movement is coming from your wrist, the way you would move when opening a door. Your elbow and the rest of your arm should be relatively quiet and still.
  • Index Finger Strum: Slightly extend your index finger on your strumming hand. You can either curl the remaining fingers slightly in towards your palm and out of the way, or just relax them and keep them out of the way of the ukulele strings. Either way will take a little bit of practice, but make sure you’re comfortable with whichever position you use. To strum with your index finger, brush the fingernail against the strings with the down strum, and use the pad of the index finger to brush the strings on the up strum. Just like when you’re using the thumb to strum your ukulele, make sure that the movement is coming from a turn of the wrist and not from the elbow.

Top Ukulele Strumming Patterns

Now that you have your basic strumming techniques down and know what’s comfortable for you, let’s look at some of the top ukulele strumming patterns.

If you’re using sheet music or tablature, you might see the ukulele strumming patterns written in a couple of different ways:

A down strum (moving across the strings from the direction of the ceiling down towards the floor) is sometimes noted with a “D” or an arrow (↓) pointing down. An up strum (moving across the strings from the direction of the floor towards the ceiling) is sometimes noted with a “U” or an arrow (↑) pointing up. You may also see a notation that indicates a chuck is part of the strumming pattern, and that always looks like an “x” across all the lines of tablature.

When learning any new strumming pattern, it’s always best to take it as slowly as you can until muscle memory kicks in! Speed is nice, but accuracy is better, especially when you’re navigating chord changes at the same time.

Ukulele Strumming Pattern 1: D-D-D-D

This is probably one of the first strumming patterns that everybody learns on the ukulele, and it’s pretty simple. All you have to do is strum down across all the strings, bring your hand back up to the top of the strings, and strum down again. It’s great for adding emphasis to each beat in a 4-beat measure.

Ukulele Strumming Pattern 2: D-D-U-U-D-U

You’ll hear this strumming pattern frequently used in lots of pop and rock songs.  It’s catchy and rhythmic and it’s fun to play! Try putting the emphasis on the first down strum and the first up strum for some oomph. This is also referred to as the Island Strum, and it’s a very popular choice for beginners!

Ukulele Strumming Pattern 3: D-D-U

I learned this strumming pattern to use when a song called for lots of frequent and fast chord changes. The simple down-down-up pattern gives you plenty of time to focus on the movement of your hand through the chords so your strumming hand can just sort of go on autopilot.

Ukulele Strumming Pattern 4: D-D-D-U-D-U

This fun strumming pattern has a tiny little bit of a waltz feel to it, but it’s perfectly good to use in any song that has 4/4 time. You can even change it up a little bit work for a 3/4 time signature.

Ukulele Strumming Pattern 5: D-U-X-U-D-U-X-U

Adding a little bit of chucking here and there in your strumming patterns is a great way to add some percussion! With a little bit of practice on your chucking skills, you’ll see how much fun it is to play your favorite songs with this particular strumming pattern.

Ukulele Strumming Pattern 6: D-X-X-X-D-X-X-X

Once you’re ready to add a little more into your ukulele strumming patterns, try this reggae strum! It’s also sometimes referred to as “scratching”, and to play it, you hold down a chord and strum down normally, and then place your fingers lightly on all 4 strings while still strumming to produce a “scratching” sound. It’s a little bit of a challenge, but oh so much fun and worth the time it takes to master!

Tips For Learning New Strumming Patterns

  1. Use a metronome! I’ll be the first to admit that I struggle using a metronome. But I also understand that it’s an incredibly useful tool for musical mastery, especially when you’re learning some of these top strumming patterns.
  2. Take it easy! Starting slow is always better. One of my favorite ukulele teachers talks about how rhythm guitarists (and ukulele players) are just as important as the soloists, and that means taking the time to develop your skills with accurate strumming is important!
  3. Count the rhythm out loud. Sometimes it helps if you count the rhythm out loud, emphasizing the downbeats. You can also tap out the rhythm on your leg or on a table using a pen before you start to play it on your ukulele.

Feeling inspired to learn some of these top ukulele strumming patterns? Make sure you check out all the fabulous ukulele courses available on the Terry Carter Music website! You’ll find dozens of courses for everyone from beginners to advanced players, loaded with your favorite songs and new skills to master! Whether you purchase a single course or opt for one of the membership options to have monthly access to all the ukulele courses, you’ll find helpful instructional videos, downloadable backing tracks to practice with, and clearly written PDF printable materials that you can save to your digital device or print out!

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