How To Strum a Ukulele: The Ultimate Guide

Ukuleles can be fun yet challenging instruments to learn. One of the most important part of learning to play the ukulele is getting the unique strumming pattern down. From there, all it takes is patience and practice.

Strumming a ukulele is a unique motion that certainly takes practice to get down, but with a few detailed, specific motions, correctly strumming a ukulele can become second nature. Read on to discover the proper way to strum the ukulele, some of the strumming notations, and a few ways to develop your abilities.

How Do I Strum A Ukulele?

Correctly strumming a ukulele begins with the all-important rule of using a loose wrist rather than your entire hand like you would when playing the guitar or almost any other string instrument. Ukuleles require a unique wrist motion, unlike most other instruments.

Begin by strumming with your index finger with your fingernail facing the ground. When you strum in a downward motion, you should be hitting the strings with your fingernail, and when strumming backup, you should be hitting the strings with the fleshy part of your hand.

Your strumming hand should be your dominant hand. Most of the work is done with the fretting hand, but the most essential movement in ukulele playing is strumming. Strumming requires the precision and control that only your dominant hand can offer.

Position the ukulele so that your index finger sits directly above the G cord, near the part of the uke where the body meets the neck. When you have mastered strumming correctly, you could move this hand slightly higher or lower to find the positions where the chords sound the crispest.

Strum With The Index Finger of Your Right Hand

The first rule of strumming a ukulele is to use the proper placement with your strumming hand. As covered before, you should be strumming with your dominant hand and have already nailed down the instrument’s position in relation to your body. You can achieve the proper strumming placement of your hand in just a few simple steps.

To achieve the proper placement of your strumming hand:

  • Make your hand into a loose fist.
  • Hold your hand in front of your body in the center of your chest
  • If you are strumming with your right hand, point your index finger toward the left side of your body. If you are strumming with your left hand, point your index finger toward the right side of your body.
  • Place your thumb on top of your index finger for extra support and stability.

You will use your index finger when strumming in a downward motion and the fleshy part of your hand when strumming upward. Keep your wrist loose, and do not lock the index finger on your strumming hand.

Strum Downward, Hitting the Strings With Your Nails

Once you have achieved the proper placement of your strumming hand, you are ready to begin. Start by strumming in a downward motion, hitting the strings of the ukulele with the fingernail of your index finger. This is the first strumming motion.

Be sure to take strumming step by step and get familiar with correctly strumming in a downward motion before complicating the move. Start out by repeating this first step several times until you find that the nail of your index finger is gliding down all of the strings and producing the correct sound.

Strum Upward with The Fleshy Part of Your Finger

Once you have become proficient at the first step: downward strumming, you can move on to the second step. The second step in strumming a ukulele properly is to strum upward with the fleshy part of the tip of your finger.

This strumming motion has a different feel than the downward strum, so begin by repeating this step until the tip of your finger glides cleanly over the strings. Once you have achieved the upward strumming motion, practice both motions in immediate succession. Continue practicing the movements together until you feel comfortable moving into a chord progression.

Use Your Wrist Rather Than Your Whole Hand

Strumming up and down quickly without using your wrist will be exhausting. To properly strum the ukulele, you should be using just your wrist rather than your entire arm. Depending on the music you are playing, your strumming pattern will change, but the placement of your hand and the movement of your wrist should not.

Can I Use a Pick to Strum a Uke?

As we have discussed above, the Ukulele is traditionally strummed, but if you are having trouble or just prefer to use a pick, strumming a Ukulele with a pick is perfectly acceptable. Thick, felt picks are the best option to use when strumming a Ukulele. For practical reasons, if you have weak or brittle fingernails, a pick can be a necessity when playing Ukulele.

For more modern ukulele playing, a pick will create a louder strum that can differentiate a solo from the background music. The Ukulele is a very light instrument usually with nylon strings, so choosing the correct pick is very important. Heavy picks may not work well with nylon Ukulele strings, so a more lightweight pick will be the better choice.

In some Ukuleles, like a baritone Ukulele, the strings are much heavier. In these cases, a thicker, heavier pick will work just fine. Experiment with different picks and pay attention to the sound quality of your playing with each different type. Choose whichever pick feels the most comfortable to use and creates the crispest sound when strumming.

How To Learn Ukulele Strumming Notation

Strumming notations for the ukulele are illustrated as slashes on a musical staff. This will tell you how and when to play a specific chord. Ukulele chords are divided into groups called measures. Measures will show you the duration a given chord should last or the ukulele’s strum pattern. There are four beats in a measure, and the strum patterns will follow that system.

As a beginner ukulele player, it may be helpful for you to count each measure out loud, “one, two, three, four.” Just as in other music, notations will have different note durations.

The main notations you will see are:

  • Whole note strums
  • Half note strums
  • Quarter note strums
  • Eighth note strums

These notations will instruct you to hold a strum for a count of four, two, one, or a half.

Whole Note Strums

One of the main ukulele notations is a whole note strum. Whole strums will be notated with a symbol that looks like a slanted box. When you see this notation, you will strum downward in one swift motion holding the chord for a count of four.

Half Note Strums

A half note strum on the Ukulele will resemble a slash with a hollow slanted box above it. When you see this notation, you will strum and whole the chord for a count of two.

Quarter Note Strums

A quarter note strum on the Ukulele will be noted again with a slash, but this time there will be a filled slanted box on top. This notation should direct you to strum, following your strum pattern, and hold the note for one count.

Eighth Note Strums

Eighth note strums look different than the other notations. Eighth note strumming is notated by two slashes connected by a bar along the bottom of the staff. Each slash will have a filled slanted box above them. Each individual notation will be played for a half count, totaling one full count for the eighth note.

How to Improve Your Ukulele Playing?

How to Improve Your Ukulele Playing

Now that we have covered how to properly strum a ukulele, the proper hand placement of your strumming hand, and some of the strumming notations, it is time to practice. Focus on choosing the proper Ukulele for you and once you are comfortable with the instrument you have, work on improving the quality of your Ukulele strumming and playing. Let’s go over some tips that may help you improve your ukulele playing.

Books That Will Help You Improve Your Ukulele Playing

There are several books on the market that will help you with the fundamentals of strumming, notation, and chord progression while playing the Ukulele. The most important way to improve your playing is to practice, and these books will help you by offering guides and examples.

  • Essential Strums and Strokes for Ukulele
    • Ukulele player Lil’ Rev does the demonstrations in the book, and he demonstrates every lesson in the book.
    • Lil’ Rev is an experienced ukulele player that commonly hosts workshops and demonstrations.
  • First 50 Songs by Hal Leonard LLC
    •  As your ukulele playing improves, this guide will help you play some of the most popular songs in pop culture history.
    • First 50 songs have a step-by-step process that will guide you through playing some of your favorite songs.
  • Ukulele for the Complete Ignoramus by Ted Parrish
    • Ukulele for the Complete Ignoramus is a beginner’s guide to ukulele playing and comes with a complete CD set of demonstrations.
    • The author guides you through how to choose the right ukulele, how to tune it, strumming position and notations, and how to play your first few chords.
  • Ukulele Chord Book by Bert Casey
    • The Ukulele Chord Book is a reference guide that contains over three hundred chords and diagrams that go with each of them.
    • The extensive chord chart covers over twelve major keys, twelve chord types, and two different neck positions.
    • Bert Casey is a professional performer and teacher in the business for over 35 years.

These four books will help you progress through the process of uke playing from hand positions and strumming patterns to playing some of your favorite songs. These books come with audio and video demonstrations as well as chord progression charts, all with step-by-step instructions on how to become proficient at ukulele playing.

Get Ukulele Lessons

Though lessons can be an added expense, that is not necessarily an option for everyone. Ukulele lessons can be an excellent option for learning to strum and play the ukulele. Some players opt for lessons online via Youtube, but choosing a teacher with years of experience to take lessons from will give you the payoff of learning their knowledge and seeing in-person demonstrations.

There are many websites and online sources that offer Ukulele lessons. These websites give you one-on-one time with instructors all over the globe, using video and audio chat features. Many of them come with a fee but offer instruction from music experts. Here are some of the best websites that provide Ukulele lesson:

  • Yousician
    • Yousician offers one-on-one Ukulele lessons with music experts for a monthly fee of $29.99.
    • Yousician’s unique software offers you feedback as you play, using your device’s microphone, and gives you a library of over 1500 songs to practice.
    • Yousician gives you the freedom to use your laptop, tablet, or smartphone.
    • Yousician has been featured in The New York Times, CBC, and The Guardian.
  • Ukulele Tricks
    • Ukulele tricks advertises a free course in Ukulele playing.
    • The free course is a four-part Ukulele instructional on:
      • How to tune and hold your Ukulele while strumming.
      • How to play some essential Ukulele chords.
      • Three versatile strumming patterns
      • How to play some basic Ukulele songs.
  • TakeLessons.Com
    • TakeLessons offers Ukulele lessons that allow you to choose your instructor. Most instructors provide lessons for fees beginning at $40.
    • TakeLessons.Com offers a 100% money-back guarantee if you are not satisfied.

These are just a few options for Ukulele Lessons online. Most options out there are suitable for beginners and those more advanced in Ukulele playing. If you prefer to work alone, there are also several books on the market that we have discussed earlier.

Practice Ukulele Strumming Daily

As with any musical instrument, practicing daily will help you become the musician you desire to be, but practicing the ukulele doesn’t have to be a chore. Practicing with your friends or family can be a surefire way to improve your skills while having a good time.

Practicing your ukulele playing while singing can help you nail down your strumming patterns. Start slowly and do not get discouraged if you have a hard time at first. It is important to practice the things you feel are the hardest most often. Practice just strumming, then practice strumming while singing.

Choose a Ukulele That is Right For You

Choosing a Ukulele that is comfortable for you to play is important in playing the instrument efficiently. Let’s look at some popular Ukuleles on the market and why they may be the ideal choice for you at a beginner level.

  • Donner Soprano Ukulele
    • The Donner Soprano Ukulele, sold on Amazon for a reasonable price of $54.99 is an excellent Ukulele for beginners.
    • This Ukulele comes with a nylon shoulder strap that can help adjust your form until you are used to holding the ukulele.
    • This option also comes with a bag for the instrument and a string tuner.
    • A beginner’s guidebook is provided with this purchase to help you learn some basic chords and songs.
  • Hola! Soprano Ukulele
    • The Hola! Soprano Ukulele also sold on Amazon, is another great option for a beginner Ukulele.
    • This Soprano Ukulele is sold for $39.99 and comes in nine unique colors.
    • This Ukulele is sold with a nylon strap used for learning proper form and a carrying bag
  • Mahogany Soprano Ukulele
    • If you aren’t a beginner and are looking for a more solid, concert-ready Ukulele, this solid mahogany soprano Ukulele may be the best choice.
    • This Ukulele offers a solid wood construction with die-cast machine head tuners.
    • This Mahogany Soprano Ukulele will cost you $48.99 but comes with no additional straps, bags, or tuners.
    • This Soprano Ukulele is a 21-inch Ukulele with a 13.7-inch Mahogany neck, black walnut fingerboard, and bridge.

These Ukuleles offer a wide range of uses and accessories for both beginner and expert Ukulele players. From beginner options with guidebooks and shoulder straps to more professional choices made with high-quality materials, there is an ideal Ukulele option for everyone. Your local guitar or music store will likely have a wide selection of Ukuleles. Test all of the different sizes and get a feel for which instrument is easiest to hold and strum.

How To Strum a Ukulele For Beginners, Closing Thoughts

Correctly strumming the ukulele is done with proper hand position and proper position of the uke on your body. Strum downward with the nail of your index finger and back upward with the fleshy part of the same finger. Proper strumming is the most essential aspect of ukulele playing, so be sure to strum with your dominant hand.

Review some of the strumming notations to fully understand how to properly strum the ukulele for the right counts. There are plenty of books on the market that will help you improve both your strumming and ukulele playing, but the most crucial aspect in order to improve is to practice.

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