While the uke has made waves off and on in popular mainstream music in the United States since the 1920s it is only recently that we’ve seen a bluegrass ukulele trend start to emerge. Bluegrass ukulele strumming is a special skill that is fun to add even if you don’t normally play any bluegrass style of music.
The ukulele may be more popular today than every before in history, and the same can be said for bluegrass, folk and old-time classics. Combining the uke with these styles of music is an exciting development in the world of ukulele.
In this article we’ll look at the strumming pattern that is popular in bluegrass music, how to play it on your ukulele, and give you a handful of songs to start you off!
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Bluegrass Ukulele Strumming
If you’ve listened to any Johnny Cash than you are likely to be familiar with the Boom-Chicka rhythm that is widely used in both bluegrass and country music. This strumming pattern is extremely fun to play and can add a different feel to a old favorite song.
Before we get into too many details here, if you aren’t familiar with basic strumming patterns and playing in time, you may want to look at that article first.
Most players will use both their thumb and their index finger to play this style. The “boom” corresponds with your thumb plucking the base note of a chord, mainly the g-string. The “chick” is a down strum on the next beat, and the “a” is the up strum on the half beat following.
Playing a song in 4/4 time means that you’ll have two boom-chicka’s per bar. This pattern also works well for any song written with 3 beats per bar.
As with any new strumming pattern you’re learning, we recommend that you grab your metronome and practice this pattern slowly to start. As you get the feel for it you can slowly increase you speed.
Most bluegrass strumming patterns are played relatively fast, so you’ll want to spend a little extra time really hammering down the basics before adding the speed component.
One of the most noteworthy players to combine the bluegrass and the ukulele, Peter Rowan, said using a bluegrass style on his uke allowed him to play faster than any guitar player using a pic:
“Bluegrass emphasizes fast, and I love playing fast. Going back to bluegrass after My Aloha, I found a way to play much faster than I could before. When I started playing the ukulele again, I went back to using my fingers and thumb as opposed to a flatpick. So, when I made my next bluegrass record, Carter Stanley’s Eyes, I didn’t want to give that fingerstyle up. I ended up using a thumbpick and three fingerpicks. Using this ukulele style, you can play faster than any flatpicker on a guitar.”
3 Easy Bluegrass Ukulele Songs
To give you a better idea how this sounds when it’s actually played, and a few songs that are great to start with, we’ve grabbed a few videos to help you start!
Billy Boy is a fun little tune that we often teach beginners to play, and is a perfect example of a song that you can learn to play with simple strumming and then add a little pop with the bluegrass strumming pattern.
A traditional hit in bluegrass communities, this version of Cripple Creek is done on a clawhammer uke, but translates well. The introduction has a few notes picked out but most of the song is played with a standard boom-chicka.
A song that has become popular worldwide in recent years and was a hit for both Old Crow Medicine Show and for Darius Rucker. Wagon Wheel is just a fun, feel good song that everyone knows and can sing along with.
The strumming pattern taught in this video is fairly standard, but we love to add the bluegrass strumming pattern in on the chorus for a little extra flavor. The chords for this song are pretty good to learn for many songs anyway
The Final Note
There you have it! With a little practice you’ll be able to add some country spice to old favorite songs you haven’t played in a while, or fit in at your local bluegrass jam session!
Just like any strumming pattern, this isn’t limited to one genre of music even though it’s normally played that way, have fun with it and you’ll be impressed how many songs it fits with!