Fingerpicking can be pretty daunting if you’re new to ukulele. It sounds really impressive, looks very complicated and as a result it can take a while to really to get to grips with, but did you know there’s another option?
There are some songs out there that are really well suited to a little bit of thumb picking. Essentially your thumb strums the chords but it’s also used to pick the individual notes out between those chords. You don’t quite get the fluid, continuous nature of fingerpicking but it’s a great sound in it’s own right and it bridges the gap between strumming and fingerpicking nicely.
Shouldn’t I be strumming with my finger?
Yes and no. There are plenty of purists out there that will tell you that you should only strum with your index finger and it’s definitely something I’d recommend that you try, but ultimately it’s your ukulele and you’re the one playing it. Play it however you like and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If you find that you play best when strumming and picking with your teeth, then don’t let anyone stop you (except maybe your dentist).
Here’s a clip of me playing a rendition of No Woman, No Cry by Bob Marley and the Wailers using the thumbpicking technique…
It’s a pretty effective style and it’s a nice little entry point for those looking to switch from just plain old strumming to something a little bit more complex.
Let’s Do It
Here’s a little example for you and I’ve centred it around those chords we all know and love so well – C, F and G. Keeping it really nice and simple, we’re just playing quarter notes here (that means you’ll be counting 1,2,3,4 and playing on each beat). Where individual notes are shown, pick them with your thumb and where the full chord is shown, strum with your thumb – give your fingers a little break!
There you go, that wasn’t too bad was it?
If we push a little bit beyond just having the opening beat strummed we might end up with something like this…
Play it nice and slowly to begin with and watch for the eighth notes that I’ve slipped in as a bit of a challenge (count these by using an & between the beats).
Once you get comfortable with strumming and picking with your thumb I’d recommend experimenting with some songs that you know quite well. Try switching from a completely strummed version and see if you can retain the feel of the song mixing between strumming and picking.
If you’d like to have a go at No Woman No Cry, you can get the tab here. Or if you’re feeling super confident and finding it all a little bit too easy then you can take a look at fingerpicking for beginners…