guides banner guidepicture

Ultimate Ukulele Strumming Guide

Strumming is the most crucial part when playing songs. Learn how to master it with this guide!

What to expect

  • The strumming basics
  • Notation of strumming
  • Different strumming techniques
  • How to position your hand
  • Where to strum
  • Several strumming patterns

the guide

Besides the ability of tuning your ukulele, knowing the parts of the ukulele, how to read chord diagrams and quickly changing between chord shapes, strumming is the most essential part on achieving that truly ukulele sound. Main parts (blockquotes) are written and created by Alistair Wood from UkuleleHunt. Reproduced with permission.

The Basics

There are several ways to start to learn strumming. Alistair suggests doing it this way:

Start out with the basic hand position which is a loose fist. Strum with the index finger of your right hand, fingernail side down .When you strum down, you should be hitting the strings with your nail. When you’re strumming up, with the fleshy tip of your finger. It is important to use your wrist rather than your whole hand. Using you whole hand gets tiring very quickly.

When I started playing the ukulele I did it in a different way. I put the tip of my thumb and index finger together just like if I would be holding a plectrum. Strumming down with the nail of the index finger and strumming up with the tip of thumb. Maybe this is because I had a guitar background, but I found this easier to strum in the beginning. You also want to make sure that you strum on the correct spot. Strumming to close to the bridge or to high on the neck will make a dim sound. I’ve found that the best place to strum on the ukulele is different on each one of them, but it is around the area where the neck meets the body.

Practice strumming either ways by simply going up and down, if you master this, go on to the advanced section!

Advanced

Welcome to the advanced section! So you’ve masted the basic up and down strumming. The basics of all the songs are their unique strumming pattern and rhythm, each creating a different sound. You can create different strumming patterns by keeping the same up, down motion but not hitting the strings on certain strums. Example from Al:

As an expample you could do: down, up, up, down. While doing the constant up, down motion, miss the strings on the up strum, strum down and up, miss the down strum, strum up and down, miss the up strum.

Strumming Notation

Sometimes you’ll see strumming patterns noted as text, here at UkuTabs you won’t find strumming patterns since these are not allowed by the copyright laws. They don’t allow posting how to play a song, below however you can find the notation for strumming (from Al).

  • d : down strum.
  • u : up strum.
  • - : pause or missed strum i.e. moving your hand either up or down but not hitting the strings.They are most useful to give you an indication of the timing of the strums.
  • x : indicates a chnk. Strumming down and following through so the underside of your hand lands on the strings creating a ‘chnk’ sound.
  • (d) or (u) : A muted down/up strum. Strumming as normal but with your fretting fingers resting on the strings to stop them ringing. It sounds like a chnk but you can do them with strums in either direction.
  • d or u : when in bold that means the strum is emphasized (i.e. give it a bit more welly).

Quick tidbits

Strumming Hand Position

1. Make your strumming hand into a loose fist.
2. Hold it infront of the centre of your chest.
3. Point towards your left boob (or right boob if you’re left handed).
4. I like to have my thumb steadying my strumming finger. It gives it extra strumming support.

Where to Strum

If you strum your ukulele too close to the bridge it sounds very tinny (which might be an effect you want sometimes) and the strings have very little give there. The ‘sweet spot’ on the soprano and concert ukes are around the point where the neck hits the body. The sweet spot for tenors is a little closer to the bridge than this.

Strumming Technique

Moving your arm rapidly up and down gets tiring very quickly. When you strum, use your wrist rather than your whole arm. When you strum down, you should be hitting the strings with your nail. When you’re strumming up, with the fleshy tip of your finger.

Swing/Shuffle Strums

Lots of forums of music popular on the uke use swing time – such as Hawaiian, jazz and blues. In swing time the down strum lasts twice as long (ish) as the up strum. This makes a simple up, down strum sound much more interesting.

Simple Strumming Patterns

You can create some more interesting strumming patterns by keeping the same up, down motion but not hitting the strings on certain strums. For example: down, up, up, down. Strum down, miss the strings on the up strum, strum down and up, miss the down strum, strum up and down, miss the up strum.

Chnking

You can funk up the strumming a little with a few ‘chnks’. With a chnk you strum down and hit the strings with the underside of your hand, so you get a percussive sound from the strum.

Dead Strums

Dead strums are another way of creating a percussive click from strumming, but this time you’re creating it with your fretting hand. To create them, you stop the strings ringing by laying your fingers across all the strings.

Strumming patterns

Al Woodshed from UkuleleHunt has worked out some of the most common strumming patterns and recorded them. A big thank you to him for allowing me to use them. Al also mentioned that the question below is a common question and I have to concur. I’ve got that question quite a lot as well.

“What’s the strumming pattern for this”? Unfortunately, there’s no real answer to it. It’s not like a chord progression where there’s a right chord and a wrong chord. You can use different strumming patterns and it will still work. It’s an important skill to be able to pick your own strumming patterns. Below you can fine some of the most common strumming patterns around. Try them out and see if they fit the song.

Below you can find the most common strumming patterns, 13 are listed, but there of course a lot more and you can create your unique ones!

4/4 Strumming Patterns

By far the most common time signature around is 4/4 (“four four”). If you can count along to a song, “one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four,” and it fits, try out these strumming patterns.

Strumming Pattern 1: d – d u – u d -

This one crops up in so many ukulele songs. It’s simple to play. But – because it misses the third down strum – it has a slightly syncopated feel to it which makes it more interesting. Use it in: Charlieissocoollike – A Song About Acne, Outkast – Hey Ya!, Noah and the Whale – Jealous Kind of Love, Zee Avi – Kantoi, Nevershoutnever – Cheatercheaterbestfriendeater,…

Strumming Pattern 2: d – d u – u d u

Very similar to strumming pattern 1, but with another up strum at the end. Use it in: Ingrid Michaelson – You and I, Paolo Nutini – High Hopes, I Wanna Be Like You, Misty Miller – Remember,…

Strumming Pattern 3: d – d – d u d u

Use it in: OK Go – This Too Shall Pass, Keston Cobblers Club – You Go, The Pogues – Fiesta,…

Strumming Pattern 4: d – d u d u d u

A really straight-forward strum useful for punky stuff. Use it in: UOGB – Teenage Kicks, Ryan Gosling – You Always Hurt the Ones You Love, The Beach Boys – Wouldn’t It Be Nice,…

Half-Bar Patterns

If you’re looking for a strumming pattern for a song where the chords change regularly (twice a bar) try out these.

Strumming Pattern 5: d – d u

Use it in:, Death Cab for Cutie – I Will Follow You Into the Dark, Sesame Street,…

Strumming Pattern 6: d u x u

Use it in: Hellogoodbye – Betrayed by Bones

Two Bar Pattern

If the chords change much more slowly, you could just double up on the 4/4 pattern. Or you could make it more interesting by using a two bar pattern.

Strumming Pattern 7: d – d u – u d u OR - u d u – u d - 

Henceforth to be known as the ‘Sophie Madeleine strum’. Use it in: Sophie Madeleine – The Knitting Song & You Are My Favourite & I Just Can’t Stop Myself, Rocky and Balls – Love Cake, Bella Hemming – Play Guitar, Peggy Sue – February Snow, Antarctica Takes It – C&F,…

Emphasis

Strumming Pattern 8: d u d U d u d U

Use it in: Florence and the Machine – Kiss With a Fist, Sophie Madeleine – Take Your Love With Me,…

Strumming Pattern 9: d u x u d u x u

Use it in: Nevershoutnever – Biggest Fan, Noah and the Whale – Five Years Time,…

Reggae Strums

With a reggae strum you’re always going to be accenting the off beats. In the other strums here you’re always playing a strong beat on the ‘one’ of the count. Here you’re accenting other beats. It’s not always obvious what’s going on so I’ve included a click track with these.

Strumming Pattern 10: – d – d – d – d

Here you’re accenting the beats between the count. Use it in: April Smith – Colors,…

Strumming Pattern 11: – – d u – – d -

Here the accent is on the ‘two’ and ‘four’ beats. Use it in: WIUO – The Israelites,…

3/4 Time

If counting, “one, two, three, four,” doesn’t fit with the song you’re playing, try counting in threes instead. If that works, try these patterns.

Strumming Pattern 12: d – d u d -

Use it in: Amanda Palmer – In My Mind, John Denver/Ballard C Boyd – Christmas for Cowboys, Weezer – Christmas Song,…

Strumming Pattern 13: d – d u d u

Use it in: WIUO – Blue Smoke,…

Hopefully you've enjoyed reading this guide. Any remarks, questions or suggestion? Use the contact form to let me know what they are!

Discover UkuWorld

UkuGuides.com 2012-, part of the UkuWorld network, All Rights Reserved. All guides posted are copyright protected.
HomeUkuGuidesUkuTabsUkuChordsUkuTunerUkuWorldPartnersContact