5 Ukulele Strumming Patterns For Beginners

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Ukulele Strumming Patterns

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).

Hand Position

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!

Timing

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 Ukulele 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.

How Do You Know What Strumming Pattern To Use?

You can use any strumming pattern with any song as long as the timing is the same. You can play songs as they were written or originally played or you can customize them to a easier pattern for beginners or adding strums to give the song a more unique sound as you get better

What Finger Do You Strum a Ukulele With?

Most people strum with either the tip of their thumb or the tip of their pointer finger. In both cases, your strumming finger should be slightly relaxed. The strumming motion comes primarily from your wrist moving, so your finger should stay in place as it moves over the strings.

Is it Okay to Strum a Ukulele With Your Thumb?

Yes! In fact, this is the way I prefer to play my ukulele. I place my thumb in between my index and middle finger and strum with the tip. This helps keep my thumb in place while keeping a fairly relaxed hand overall!

Do I have to Cut My Nails to Play Ukulele?

You don’t have to, but most people prefer the sound of the tip of your finger brushing the strings rather than a nail. The fingertip produces a warm tone, while the nail tends to produce more of a sharp sound that doesn’t always fit the sound or style expected from a Uke.

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! These ukulele strumming patterns are a great start, but by no means the only ones available!

Hope you enjoyed this article and it was helpful! Before you
go check out our full library of ukulele articles and
resources!

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