How To Boost Your Ukulele Strumming Skills

Strumming is the act of striking all of the strings in rapid succession so that they all ring out together.  This is opposed to picking, in which individual notes are sounded by picking usually one string at a time.

Practice and apply the following strumming basics and tricks to boost your strumming repertoire and skills in no time!

The Sweet Spot

The first thing to know is that you do not strum the ukulele in front of the sound hole, as you would on an acoustic guitar.  Your ukulele has a sweet spot where strumming sounds best.  On most ukuleles, this sweet spot is at the juncture where the neck joins the body, although this may be found further down the neck, perhaps around the twelfth fret.  Try strumming your uke where the neck joins the body,at the twelfth fret, then further down the neck around the tenth fret, then closer to the sound hole, especially if your uke is a tenor, and listen to the differences in the quality of sound produced by your strumming. See if you can find your ukulele's sweet spot yourself.  She'll love you when you do!

Strumming Patterns

Your strumming pattern is your rhythm in strumming songs, provided by the order of and variation in your up strums and down strums.  Strumming patterns range from ultra simple quarter note down strums and down-up-down-up-down-up-down-up eighth note patterns repeated throughout entire songs all the way to highly complex patterns, sometimes with different simple or complex patterns used in different song sections.

You should be able to strum consistently and at an even tempo, using both up and down strums, and experiment with the different sounds achieved by different strumming patterns.

The "Swiss Army Strum"

To start, you could use this strum.  Alistair Wood recommends it in his book, Ukulele For Dummies , as being as universally useful as a swiss army knife.  He says it is the tool of a thousand uses, strum of a thousand songs.  I bet it could be useful in many thousands of songs.

You count and strum it like this:

one     two   and  three  and  four
down down up              up   down

The "Universal Strum"

This strum is the previously mentioned simplest strum of all, quarter note down strums: one-two-three-four

Both these strums are useful tools to have in your pocket when you set out on your ukulele journey.

You can learn lots more strumming patterns when you read Ukulele For Dummies and Ukulele Exercises For Dummies or other resources, and also by listening to songs and by experimenting and playing, which I say you should do as much as you can.

Use Your Fingers, Please!

Alistair Wood also says that a fairy dies every time someone strums a uke with a pick, and he strongly recommends not to use one. I wholeheartedly agree and suggest you use your fingers to strum.  Not only does it sound better, it also offers you the more authentic experience of feeling the strings beneath your fingers.

Your strumming hand has five fingers, and so you have a lot of options for strumming the uke:
  • Your thumb- the simplest way to strum.  Be careful not to get in the habit of clutching the bottom of the uke with your other fingers if you rely on this strum.
  • Your index finger- probably your most used strum.
  • Your index finger and thumb- there are a few ways to combine these digits for strumming.  My favorite is the triple strum, taught to me by Jake Shimabukuro himself (via YouTube). For this strum, you down strum with your index finger, followed by a quick upstroke with your thumb, and then another up strum with your index finger.  This is a mighty handy strum, especially for songs in 3/4 time.
  • Four fingers- "Rolls"  I find myself using these most often to accentuate a chorus or line in many songs.
  • Five, Eight, Ten fingers- Rolls can be played like this, too!

If you insist, like one child player I know that you'd rather use a pick than your delicate fingers, be sure to use a felt ukulele pick, as this will sound far more pleasing than the plastic pluck of a guitar pick.

Fancier Strumming is Easy, Too

Try some of these moves for variety and panache.
  • Figure 8- instead of strumming up and down across the sweet spot of your ukulele, for this showy strum you begin with a down strum around fret four, then continue moving your finger in an arc to up strum across the sweet spot, then arc around and down strum above the sound hole, near the bridge, then around and back up strum across the sweet spot, arc around to down strum again around the fourth or fifth fret.  So your finger traces the pattern of a figure eight straddling the fret board.
  • Vibrato- quickly roll your index finger back and forth across all strings.
  • Rolls- previously mentioned,but these deserve your attention.  There are many ways to rapidly roll your fingers over the strings, and these range from simple rolls you can pick up immediately with practice, to delicate and dramatic rolls that you might have to work up to having skill with.
  •  Split Strum- the easiest way to do this is to strike the G and C strings on your down strum and play just the A and E strings on the up strum.
The most important thing is that you play, so experiment with all of these strums.  For more info on how to, including some awesome books and websites that can further help, check our post on useful ukulele resources.


Sylvia Otvos said...

I've been meaning to buy a ukelele for the kids for awhile! We had tried piano last year but the kids didn't like it and stopped after a year. Perhaps they'd like the ukelele. Thanks!

Millie said...

They will LOVE the ukulele, Sylvia- you all will if you try it! I published a review yesterday of a particularly sweet and affordable model- click my name on this comment for that link- and I will be posting several more reviews here (as well as more beginner ukulele instruction)soon; I'd love it ya'll will join us in playing the easiest to play and most fun instrument I know.