There’s been some great contributions to Ukulele Go which I’m really pleased with. It means that you guys are getting more diverse tips from a broader range of players which can only be a good thing. Today it’s over to Howard Matthews for some ukulele strumming tips. Howard has been playing Ukulele for around 8 years and guitar for a staggering 54 years…
Strumming – a subject much discussed on ukulele forums. The video below shows you my method of establishing a rhythm for any song. For most beginners, strumming is the last part of learning the ukulele to be mastered.
Some sites show you strumming patterns, like down,up, up,up,down – which for me, and I think most beginners, is very difficult to follow.
To help with your strumming, a useful technique know as “chucking” can help you find the rhythm for a song.
“Chucking” is where you lightly touch the strings of the ukulele with the fingers of your left hand, so when struck, the strings don’t ring out, but sound very percussive. This concentrates the mind purely on the rhythm using the right hand.
Strumming with right hand (unless you’re left handed of course) is a very wristy action. Typical advice for beginners is to use your forefinger to strum, which I personally prefer. Using a plectrum usually makes the sound of the ukulele too harsh, and hides the nice tones from the instrument. Using the thumb doesn’t have the same flexibility for different strums.
As you gain experience, you may experiment with different ideas, but these are a good starting point on your musical journey.
Using the forefinger, first point it to the floor, then point it towards yourself, this action creates the right wrist action for the strum. The movement in strumming should never come from the elbow.
Creating The Strum
So you have the chords and the words for a song and are ready to go.
Before you start singing and playing along to a song, you first need to get the rhythm of the tune in your head.
When I start a new song, I first listen to the tune, trying to get the different parts in my head – Verse, Chorus, middle eight. Usually the chorus is the easiest to get, but it can vary. I will la la the song, and start “chucking” with my strum hand to the rhythm of the song.
The rhythm is set up by the motion of the right hand. I’ll tentatively start adding lyrics as I work the rhythm until it is automatic, the rest of the song then starts to fall into place.
I’ve always followed this in all my time of playing guitar or ukulele. The right hand (or left) strumming should be automatic, and something you can do without thinking, before you attempt to sing along. If not invariably your strumming will stutter, and you will lose the rhythm.
Before you head off for your ukulele group, or band practise, take the agreed song(s) you have to learn and if you follow the above I’m sure you will have a satisfactory practise, and also to able to help others get there as well.
In the video above, there are a couple of examples to follow – “Jamaica Farewell” and “In The Summertime”. These are just to give you the idea, now take your songs and see what you can do. Good Luck.
Further Strumming Help
If strumming is an area that you feel like you need some extra work on then you should take a look at the ebook How To Play Ukulele Strums. For $12 you get an in-depth guide to strumming the ukulele. It covers 49 patterns and helps you to start creating your own with a clever counting method. I found it to be really useful and it definitely improved my strumming a lot.