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How to Strum a Ukulele: Basic Strumming Patterns and Skills

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Sep 1, 2020 • 2 min read

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Jake Shimabukuro Teaches ʻUkulele

Whether you're strumming ukulele chords with your fingers or a pick, you can improve your playing by mastering different strumming patterns.

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Jake Shimabukuro Teaches ʻUkuleleJake Shimabukuro Teaches ʻUkulele

Jake Shimabukuro teaches you how to take your ʻukulele from the shelf to center stage, with techniques for beginners and seasoned players alike.

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How to Strum a Ukulele: 3 Ukulele Strumming Techniques

You can strum a ukulele in one of two ways: with a pick or with your fingers. The two techniques produce notably different sounds.

  1. Strum with your finger. When strumming full chords, use the fingernail on your index finger. For the down strum, keep your knuckles pointed away from you, curl your fingers in toward your body, and strum in a downward motion with your index fingernail striking the strings. For the up strum, use the fleshy pad of your index finger or your thumbnail.
  2. Strum with a pick. This technique involves using a small plastic or nylon pick. Grip the pick between the fleshy part of your thumb and the side of your index finger, and keep your wrist flexible. Using a pick enables you to strum in patterns reminiscent of a guitar or mandolin. Picks also produce louder, brighter tones. They're great for rapid tremolo picking, but they don't work as well as fingers when it comes to skipping strings.
  3. Mute the strings with your palm. To mute the strings, lightly press the side of your right palm against the strings just above the bridge as you stum. This deadens the strings' vibrations and produces a muted sound that is characteristic of Hawaiian ukulele music.

4 Standard Ukulele Strumming Patterns

When playing ukulele chord progressions, use a right-hand strumming pattern that keeps you aligned with the song's tempo and time signature. There are five easy ukulele strumming patterns you can apply to different chord progressions:

  1. Down-up-down-up: This is a simple, alternate strumming, where every downstroke is followed by an upstroke. In ukulele tablature, this pattern is notated as D-U-D-U-D-U-D-U.
  2. Down-down-up: This pattern works great for music written in 3/4 time. You can also use it in 4/4 common time, particularly if you want to play the first three beats of a bar and leave the last beat silent. In ukulele tabs, this pattern is notated D-D-U.
  3. Down-up-down: Use this pattern to perform eighth-note triplets. In ukulele tabs, you’ll see it as D-U-D-D-U-D. Note that it involves two downstrokes in a row when one cycle ends and another begins.
  4. Down-up-up-down: This strumming pattern gets tricky because it requires both down- and upstrokes that come back-to-back. The ukulele tab notation is D-U-U-D-D-U-U-D. This pattern can give your music a jaunty sound, but it can be tough to master. To learn it, start slowly with a metronome and gradually increase the tempo.
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Want to Pack Some Hawaiian Punch Into Your ‘Uke Skills?

Grab a MasterClass All-Access Pass, stretch out those fingers, and get your strum on with a little help from the Jimi Hendrix of ‘ukulele, Jake Shimabukuro. With some pointers from this Billboard chart topper, you’ll be an expert on chords, tremolo, vibrato, and more in no time.

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