Strumming is an integral component of playing the ukulele. There are various techniques you can employ when strumming; whether with pick or fingers – and each will produce its own distinct sound.
Strummers who prefer ukuleles tend to find that strumming where the neck meets the body to be most effective. This ensures your fingernail hits the string on down strums while its fleshy pad strikes it during up strums.
This down-and-up strum will become your go-to method of strumming, familiar to any guitarist. The goal is to strike each string with the meat of your thumb while gently stroking it downward – this technique should feel natural rather than forced when using nylon strings on an ukulele! Make sure that during this technique your shoulders and wrists remain relaxed; doing otherwise may result in forceful strumming movements that ultimately undermine its purpose.
Once you have this under your fingers, try out more complex patterns. Some styles of music feature a swing rhythm that alters the timing between downstrokes and upstrokes for an exciting syncopated feel that adds dimension to songs such as Hawaiian, jazz or blues music.
One popular strum style is the down-up-down-up rhythm, which adds some swing to any song. Although more difficult to master than its counterparts, with practice you can develop an excellent sense of rhythm – you may recognize this sound from songs by Charlieissocoollike, Noah and the Whale or Zee Avi.
By playing with a metronome, you can practice different strums for various ukulele strumming patterns. Start slowly and gradually increase speed until you can keep a consistent beat in your strumming – this is essential in building confidence when strumming your instrument!
The chugging strum is an effective technique frequently seen in reggae and ska songs, featuring muting all strings with your flat hand before using an upstroke of your index finger to play them back with an upstroke of its index finger, creating a clicking sound which adds percussive dimension. While easy to learn, its consistency can take some practice before trying it with songs.
The upstroke is an integral component of strumming. Done correctly, it can help make your ukulele sound more natural while helping you remain in sync with the music. To execute it successfully, bend your elbow so your hand is almost parallel with your belly button; relax the rest of your arm; allow movement from only your wrist; imagine painting a fence (or for those more modern, Karate Kid style!) while simultaneously strumming each string while moving your hand up and down; practice this until it becomes second nature.
Although it may seem counterintuitive to strum your strings with your thumb instead of index finger, this technique is actually an extremely effective way of creating crisp upstrokes and complex chords with ease. Your thumb can hit all four strings at the same time while simultaneously bending your index finger into position for each string you wish to hit.
Beginners learning strumming should remember to keep their fingers loose; tightening too much will cause their rhythm to sound robotic and will quickly tire them out. Focusing on rotating your wrist and not your entire arm can help achieve this effect.
Make sure that when strumming the strings with your fingertips, only use the pads of your fingers rather than nail tips to strum them – even though the latter might tempt you more, doing this will produce harsh and unnatural sounding notes.
Finally, don’t forget to practice your basic up-and-down strumming pattern with a metronome. Once mastered, experiment with other patterns and combinations until you find what works for you best. With practice comes greater success at matching up your up-and-down strumming with the beat of music – your strumming will become smoother over time!
Left Hand Strumming
Your left hand is also capable of strumming, but the trick lies in not pressing down too heavily on the strings. Instead, use your thumb to keep the neck steady so that your fingers can freely roam across the fretboard for playing different chords. As an aid for practicing, simple chords such as G string, C string and E string chords may help give you the feel for strumming in your left hand.
Your left hand should also become proficient at using muting as a technique to add rhythm and style to your playing. Muting can help add rhythmic variation when playing songs with drum tracks; simply mute certain beats while still strumming chords for an interesting sound effect.
Specifically for lefties, this muting technique can be especially beneficial as it provides you with an edge when fretting chords and making some songs easier to play. Plus, muting can reduce finger fatigue during strumming sessions!
Change up the strum pattern from down to up for another useful technique when learning a new song – especially one requiring upbeat tempos, such as rock tunes. Doing this can create more percussive sound which can help make learning new tunes much simpler!
As you learn to strum with your left hand, it is crucial that you remain relaxed. Tense muscles can quickly tire you out – to prevent this, try strumming with only your wrist instead of arm.
Start by positioning your strumming hand (right hand for right-handeders and left hand for left-handers) in front of your chest, making a light fist with the index finger of that strumming hand before rotating your wrist in an almost windshield wiper motion to strum the strings. Be careful not to strumming too widely as that will make maintaining rhythm more challenging while quickly tiring out your hand.
Right Hand Strumming
Strumming the right hand requires keeping in mind that its movement begins in the wrist rather than elbow. To achieve an appropriate motion, bend your wrist upwards and use the pad of your index finger (or thumb for beginners) to strike the strings – this produces a much mellower and softer sound than playing downstrum with nails or nails playing downstrum. At first practice this technique without an instrument until you become familiar with it before taking up your ukulele to try making this movement feel as natural as possible.
To gain the proper rhythm for strumming with the thumb, practice holding your ukulele so that the sound hole sits just above its neck. Jake Shimabukuro often holds his instrument this way for optimal strumming position – this is something most players find comfortable and allows you to play over its bridge for an authentic sound that many players prefer.
Alternating down and up strokes is another effective technique for strumming the right hand, providing a simple pattern that works well with most songs. To do this, count out loud: say one, two, three and four before strumming on each beat of your ukulele down on every countout beat – metronomes are great tools to use when practicing this technique!
Once you’ve mastered the down and up strum, add an upstroke for extra variety in your strumming. When it comes time to reset your hand for another downstroke, allow the fleshy pad of your index finger to strike all strings instead of using its nail to strike them all at once – this will produce a distinctive sound while making strumming more interesting!
Practice muting the strings with your palm as this will produce an entirely unique sound that resembles that of Hawaiian ukulele music and give your songs an authentic and traditional sound.