Written by SaifZiya
August 14, 2021
8 Min. Read
What strumming notation should you follow? Should you do an up-down strum or the opposite would sound rough-and-ready?
What’s the best position for your hand to achieve mastery in strumming? Where exactly should one strum on your ukulele?
Should it be around the soundhole, or strumming on the fingerboard resonates well?
I know, too many questions here—sorry, couldn't help but bring all these questions up as they’ve been in people’s minds lately, and such questions keep the novice ukulists unglued all the time.
One of the lies that people tell you is learning to play ukulele is easy when, in fact, it’s not.
As frightening as choosing a uke may sound, learning how to strum a ukulele feels like a nightmare, especially for beginners who do not know how to do that.
Whether you long for strumming your uke with fingers, with a pick (or without a pick), or with your thumb, this guide is for you.
Why Do Strumming Techniques Matter?
But why should you even put your efforts into learning how to strum? Does it even matter?
Just like choosing the best ukulele strings makes a huge difference, you don’t want to miss out on the best ukulele strumming techniques that you’re just about to learn.
If you long for grooving any record you play on your ukulele, you better get your head around the ability to offload the rhythm using those magical hands (fingers or thumb).
If you’re a fan of using picks, don’t let your hand get in the way when strumming, or else, it’ll ruin the whole strumming game.
Also, as a beginner, you don’t need to think too much about the fingerpicking styles—these may come later.
Mastering the strumming techniques is all about learning to control the speed and having consistency on speed.
How Should You Position Your Hand?
What should your hand look like right before you start to strum on your ukulele any stringed instrument for that matter?
Positioning your hand i.e., making it ready for the strumming really pays off.
If your hand isn’t positioned properly, you’ll end up with bad strumming patterns, which will ruin the prelude you’ve been thinking to create all this time.
Here’s how to position your hand:
- First off, take your hand that you’d use to strum and make it into a loose fit
- Hold it steady in front of your chest or breast
- Now, point your hand towards your left side of your chest provided that you’re right-handed (or to your right if you’re left-handed)
- If you want to have extra support when strumming on your ukulele, have your thumb supporting the finger you’d use to strum
Undoubtedly, positioning your hand is imperative, being comfortable while strumming on your ukulele is just as much. Therefore, make sure you’re having one of these nice ukulele straps (if you play standing).
What's a Strumming Notation on a Ukulele?
It’s a system through which you can understand when and how you should strum on your ukulele.
If you have seen some tutorials on YouTube, you might’ve noticed that experts suggest following some specific patterns, such as going up and down.
These different notations are defined using different symbols, such as:
- d: strumming down
- u: strumming up
- -: this indicates a missed strum when moving your hand upwards and downwards without touching the strings. Professional ukulists make use of this to get the best of timing
- x: this one specifies a chnk (chunk, chuck, or chunking). Chnking requires twisting and muting with the thumb. It’s a percussive technique used in strumming patterns. In that, what happens is that side of your thumb is what will stop the strings from vibrating. To achieve this, you’ll need to do the down-up or up-down strum (pointing up and to the ground), and when you point to the ground, you'll notice that your thumb is positioned perfectly over the strings, creating a chnk sound.
- (d) or (u): this is very much similar to chucking, but this can be performed in any direction: up or down
- D or U: these two letters means that there’s an emphasis on the strum pattern being described
You may find other strumming notations useful other than just these aforesaid ones, but these are the essential ones.
Where Should You Strum On The Ukulele?
This is another question that confuses people who’re just getting started with strumming patterns. Many beginners try to strum their ukulele too close to the headstock or right on the soundhole; both are the wrong practices.
If you’re strumming too close to the bridge, your uke will produce tinny tones.
There’s an area on the ukulele called “Swweeet spot”. That’s where your strumming hand should stay while running your hands through those beautiful ukulele strings.
If you own a soprano or concert, you’ll see this zone right where the neck hits the body, whereas, on tenors, this spot moves closer to the bridge.
So, to know where you should be strumming on your ukulele, all you need to do is find the sweet spot.
How to Strum a Ukulele Correctly?
How can you strum your ukulele correctly?
Well, it comes down to moving your wrist swiftly up and down. Remember, it’s your wrist (not your arm) that should be twisted.
You need to twist the wrist.
Now, speaking of ukulele strumming techniques, there are many that you can master. However, each one requires practice and patient.
Here are some of them:
1. Swing/Shuffle Strum
Nowadays, most ukulists are putting this technique into their work. In this type of strum, what you simply do is follow a down-up-down pattern. However, when you go up, you come down so fast that up strum is cut into half.
2. Simple Strum
In simple strumming, you go however you wish. That means you can go up and down as many times as you want, and mute whichever direction fits the pattern you’re trying to create.
Instead of muting, you can also miss either all or some specific strings on the down or up strum.
I’ve already talked about this one in the strumming notations above. It’s represented as ‘x’ if you’re to read notations.
In chunking, chucking, or chnking, what you do is strum down and up and when you go down again, you block the strings with the side of your thumb.
Remember, this is to be done only after your fingers have touched the strings. In other words, you hit the strings with the underside of your thumb (after hitting strings).
Once you’ve performed a chnk, next up is an up.
4. Muted Strum
Known by another name, “Dead” strum, your left or fretting hand (if you’re right-handed) goes into this technique. This is another way of creating a percussive click, however, this time, your left hand will be in action.
What you need to do is use your left hand to stop the strings from reverberating.
Ukulele Strumming Patterns
I’ve already shed light on the importance of strumming patterns above i.e., how they offload the rhythm so you never have to think about when to do next when playing your favorite song.
Yes, it takes practice and hard work, but if you know how to do this the right way, you’re likely to get better at your ukulele playing skills.
Different strumming patterns may also help you come up with different prelude ideas about the song you want to record.
There’re mainly 6 types of ukulele patterns that you can learn to take your uke skills to the next level.
Let’s find what they are and how you can master them.
Footnote: The following guide includes many strumming patterns different strums defined as ‘d’ (indicating down), ‘u’ (indicating up), and ‘-’ (indicating a missed strum).
4/4 Strumming Patterns:
Goes by another name “Four four”, this is the most used ukulele strumming pattern you’ll find on the Internet. While using this pattern, you can count along to a prelude saying “1, 2, 3, 4” and you’ll achieve great results within a short span of time.
#1: d – d u – u d –
On top of being a stress-free strum pattern, it’s also attention-grabbing because it misses the 3rd down strum and, therefore, has a syncopated feel to it.
As you can see, there are three ds, two us, and three missed strum in the pattern above. To begin, you have to hit the down strum first.
#2: d – d u – u d u
Another pattern which is similar to the aforesaid one except there is an up strum towards the end.
#3: d – d – d u d u
Now, this one brings some twist in the game as there are three ds in the pattern in a row. If I had to choose one out of these 3 patterns, I’d choose this one.
#4: d – d u d u d u
If you’re into the punky stuff, you’d love to experiment with this pattern. As you can notice, there’s only 1 missed (paused) strum on this one.
What if the chords of the song change frequently? Is there a strumming pattern for that?
If your chords happen to change too frequently, the half-bar patterns will be perfect to practice.
#5: d – d u
While there are only four strums in this pattern and yet this one sounds way cooler. That’s because there’s a change in the chords in the next loop of the strumming.
#6: d u x u
This one introduces a new variable in the pattern: x.
As discussed earlier, here x denotes the sound of chnk or chuck.
You can use this strumming pattern if you don’t want to sound cliché.
There's only one in this:
#7: d – d u – u d u – u d u – u d –
The two-bar patterns come into play if the chords don’t change too frequently i.e., they change slowly. For this purpose, the 4/4 can also be used twice.
This two-bar pattern is also known as ‘Sophie Madeleine strum’.
These patterns are used when you have to emphasize a specific strum.
#8: d u d U d u d U
This pattern includes the capital U which means it is emphasized. If you don’t know what this means, you can go above and see the “Strumming Notations”.
#9: d u x u d u x u
Backed by a paused strum, this pattern feels more vibrant.
Reggae strums are all about accentuation i.e., you’re to accentuate the off beats. These strums don’t always follow the same patterns and, therefore, it all may feel unobvious to the listener.
#10: – d – d – d – d
Take this pattern for example. It starts with a paused strum followed by a d in the pattern.
#11: – – d u – – d –
This one brings twists and surprises to the table, adding two paused strums together.
These different reggae patterns are about singling about off beats as an important part of the song. Some may even relate these to the emphasis patterns as described above.
3/4 Time Patterns:
I also love these 3/4 Time patterns. They sound usual when played without a loop, however, when you use a loop, the whole pattern changes. Of course, you can change the chords as you like.
Take a look at this one:
#12: d – d u d –
See how these little paused strums are making a great change in the overall pattern.
#13: d – d u d u
This is another interesting strumming pattern from the 3/4 technique that adds a twist to it when played one after the other.
Strumming a ukulele isn’t only about learning and doing what has already been done, you can also come up with your new learning style.
But, to do that, you’d need to be familiar with those strumming patterns that already exist; you’d need to start from scratch.
- You can experiment with the tempo by changing the supportive beats you’re following in a song or you can try a new pattern if you’re tired of using the old ones.
- Sometimes clapping along with the tunes can also help you be better at your ukulele strumming skills. See how often and when you need to clap to achieve better results.
Let’s face it, getting better at ukulele strumming skills is no magic. All it takes is practice and your willingness to put every possible effort of yours into mastering the art.
I hope this guide on ukulele strumming tips has helped you get your head around what it takes to get better at strumming a uke like a PRO.
But you have to understand that no one becomes a pro ukulele player in a day—you have to be consistent and keep getting better and better.
Anyway, if you loved this post, please spread the word and let others find it useful.
It’s time for you to try out these strumming patterns.
Give them a try!
Want to take your Ukulele Experience to Next Level?
If every time you try to strum ukulele it sounds bad, this either has something to do with the ukulele strings or maybe you're not good at strumming (what this guide is about). But if it is neither or them, it's about time you grabbed a high-quality ukulele because ukulele tonewood also affects how your instrument resonates.