There generally seem to be two groups of players when starting to play the ukulele. Some really struggle with chord shapes and changing between them, and for the other group learning to strum is the hardest part. But good news, ukulele strumming patterns don’t need to be difficult!
There are a few essential things you’ll want to learn when strumming that come before patterns such as hand position, how to strum, and timing.
After that we’ll look at five different strumming patterns that are common to the ukulele and great for beginners, and we’ll wrap up with the best listing of strumming patterns for uke that we’ve seen!
Ukulele Strumming Basics
Before we can talk about strumming patterns, we want to build a solid foundation for you to build upon. To do that we’ll cover hand position, how to strum, and timing (or rhythm).
The first thing that we need to cover is your hand position. You’ll want to place your hand between the sound hole and neck for the best sound. The perfect resonance spot is different for each uke, but almost all of them are in this area.
Next, make a loose fist with your hand, and reach out your index finger, nail down, to make contact with the strings.
We have seen players put the tip of the thumb and index fingers together, as if holding a pic to strum. Especially if you are coming from a guitar background this might be more comfortable for you.
Either way, you’ll want to make consistent contact with each string. This contact is firm, but by no means should you think about flicking or pushing the strings to produce sound!
How to Strum
Many beginners try to strum with their entire arm, which leads to really inconsistent pressure on the strings, or they make a super tight fist which results in too much tension in your hand.
The perfect strumming motion comes almost completely from the wrist. If you are using the index finger to strike the strings think of contacting the nail on the way down.
The very first strum you should practice is simply going down and then back up. You are aiming for consistent volume and timing from each string. Once this becomes easy and effortless, you’ll be ready for more advanced patterns!
The time signature that we’ll focus on today, and by far the most common one in popular music is the 4/4. If you’ve watched any concerts or live music its likely you’ve heard one of the musicians, often the drummer, call out “one, two, one two three four.”
In a 4/4 we have 4 bars, and 4 beats per bar. Each number that the drummer is calling out corresponds to a beat. This is how the band stays in time and playing together. Without knowledge of the timing of a song everyone would be playing at different speeds and it would sound awful.
Even if you are just playing by yourself, you’ll want to stay in time as the rhythm of a key part of any song.
We always recommend beginners pick up a metronome. At first these can be very annoying to work with, but today we rarely practice without one!
On each beat you’ll want to play a down strum. One of the secrets to a good strumming rhythm is to always keep your hand moving. This means that in between beats your hand will come up.
In more advanced strumming patterns, you’ll often want to strum on one of these up motions. These half beats are notated with an “and”.
A very popular pattern that you’ll often see is Down, Down, Up, Down, Up. Another way to say this would be “one, two, and three, and.” You don’t call out the four since you don’t play it, but you would keep your arm moving so you would play a Down (four) and a Up (and) without hitting the strings to finish that bar.
5 Basic Strumming Patterns
As a beginner we recommend that you play everything slowly. Grab your metronome and set it at a speed that you can consistently strum in time. As that becomes easier you can speed up or practice more complicated patterns.
1.Down, Up, Down, Up
The first pattern is one we mentioned earlier, and that is simply strumming up and down, focusing on hitting the strings evenly.
Notice that your down strums will all happen on the odd number beats (1 and 3), and you’ll be strumming up on evens (2 and 4).
Now, you won’t often hear this one in songs, with no breaks it tends to be very monotonous, but it is a great one to practice first.
2. Down, Down, Down, Down
Unlike the first one, you will see this one thrown in songs. It has a very powerful sound to it, and we love to mix it into choruses.
On each beat you’ll play a single down strum, focus on keeping your hand moving though out and hitting the downs with each beat. This is a great one to practice with a metronome to really nail the timing.
3. Down, Down, Down Up Down
Going back to our earlier notation, you’ve got an up strum on the and after 3. This pattern really isn’t much harder than all downs, except you must start hitting that strings on one of your up strokes. This forces you to work on both timing and a smooth up strum!
4. Down, Down Up, Down, Down Up
This is a pattern you’ve likely heard in songs over the years. Every other beat skips the up strum, leading to a pleasant, seemingly constantly moving rhythm.
5. Down, Down Up, Up, Down
The last of our “easy” strumming patterns for ukulele, this pattern really stresses your timing because of the third beat not having a down strum. Play this one slow until your hand flows past that missing down strum on the 3rd beat with ease!
32 Strumming Patterns to Practice
After a while most players can’t even tell you what ukulele strumming pattern they are practicing unless they slow down and think about it! It becomes almost 2nd nature to play whatever sounds ‘right’.
That being said, it’s likely that you are quite a ways from that point in your playing.
Until then, Dave over at UkuleleGo put together a great PDF for 32 uke strumming patterns that you can use to sharpen your skills and keep practice fun.
The Final Note
While strumming is often a source of frustration for a new ukulele player, it doesn’t have to be. Just like anything else on the instrument, a bit of time and practice will go a long way to getting the perfect sound you desire from your ukulele!
Hope you enjoyed this article and it was helpful! Before you go check out our full library of ukulele articles and resources!