Ukulele Strumming for Dummies

I get quite a few emails asking me about strumming, so I thought I’d put together a ‘How to Strum a Ukulele’ post. This is how I strum – any resemblance to good technique is pure coincidental.

UPDATE: For a more comprehensive coverage of the subject check out my ebook on ukulele strumming. And there’s also a healthy section on strumming in my real-world book Ukulele for Dummies.

Strumming Hand Position

1. Make your strumming hand into a loose fist.
2. Hold it infront of the centre of your chest.
3. Point towards your left boob (or right boob if you’re left handed).
4. I like to have my thumb steadying my strumming finger. It gives it extra strumming support.

Where to Strum

If you strum your ukulele too close to the bridge it sounds very tinny (which might be an effect you want sometimes) and the strings have very little give there. The ‘sweet spot’ on the soprano and concert ukes are around the point where the neck hits the body. The sweet spot for tenors is a little closer to the bridge than this.

Strumming Technique

As any teenage boy will tell you, moving your arm rapidly up and down gets tiring very quickly. When you strum, use your wrist rather than your whole arm.

When you strum down, you should be hitting the strings with your nail. When you’re strumming up, with the fleshy tip of your finger.

Swing/Shuffle Strums

Lots of forums of music popular on the uke use swing time – such as Hawaiian, jazz and blues. In swing time the down strum lasts twice as long (ish) as the up strum like this:

This makes a simple up, down strum sound much more interesting.

Simple Strumming Patterns

You can create some more interesting strumming patterns by keeping the same up, down motion but not hitting the strings on certain strums. In this clip the actual strums are down, down, up, up, down. But I’m doing a constant up, down motion (I strum down, miss the strings on the up strum, strum down and up, miss the down strum, strum up and down, miss the up strum).

You can learn more strumming patterns here.

Chnking

You can funk up the strumming a little with a few ‘chnks’. With a chnk you strum down and hit the strings with the underside of your hand, so you get a percussive sound from the strum. In this clip I strum down, up, then a chnk followed by an up:

Dead Strums

Dead or muted strums are another way of creating a percussive click from strumming, but this time you’re creating it with your fretting hand. To create them, you stop the strings ringing by laying your fingers across all the strings like this:

Advanced Ukulele Strums

Once you’ve got the basics down, you can start checking out the advanced stuff.

Matthew J Richards’ tutorial on George Formby’s Split Stroke
Cool Hand Uke strumming PDF
COVEYWOOD’s favourite ukuleles strums
Ukulelezaza’s Ukulele Strums Revealed

View Comments

83 Comments

  1. LonnaB October 23rd, 2008 12:25 pm

    Thanks Woodshed.

    I’m chnking right along, now.

  2. jack33 October 23rd, 2008 12:52 pm

    Nice one WS

    Informative as ever

    Jack33

  3. Art October 23rd, 2008 1:40 pm

    Al,
    Good review of the basic strum stuff. When I do a lot of strumming I have the problem of wearng down the side of my nail on forefinger. Is this a common problem with others?

  4. Jeff October 23rd, 2008 4:43 pm

    Hi Al:

    Sorry, I blanked out on putting this together for us. As always you come through. I will link to your article on my blog. We just had a mini performance by Tomas Kubinek. Take a look at my latest blog entry. J

  5. Woodshed October 23rd, 2008 8:05 pm

    Lonna & Jack: Thanks guys.

    Art: I did have that problem when I played guitar. I haven’t had it with the uke – but I’m guessing some people do.

    Jeff: Just seen it. Hilarious. I’ll be mentioning tomorrow.

  6. Anne October 23rd, 2008 10:53 pm

    This is great, thank you so much! Strumming seems always the most difficult part, this helps a lot a lot.

  7. Emily October 24th, 2008 2:07 am

    Thanks, Al! I myself am struggling with strumming in 6/8 time while also trying to remember to sing.

    Whoopee-ti-yi-oh!

  8. Woodshed October 25th, 2008 11:22 am

    Anne: You’re welcome. Glad you found it useful.

    Emily: I’m the worst person in the world to ask about strumming and singing at the same time. Or singing full stop.

  9. pukuklele pete January 22nd, 2009 1:28 pm

    went to print this and I have to print 8 pages of info I don’t need

  10. Andrew February 20th, 2009 5:58 am

    Wow, pete, you could at least express some gratitude for the great information you’ve acquired before you complain.

    Anyway, Woodshed, thank you — this site is so sweet. I just started playing uke last month and have gained so much from your work. Re: strumming, I was inclined when I started, in ignorance, to use my thumb rather than my index finger, and I feel like I have seen at least one of the artists in the youtube vids you highlight doing this. Since reading this post I’ve tried using the finger, but it doesn’t work so well for me. Anyone else out there use the thumb, or is this a terrible idea?

    A second beginner question if I may: Is it typical for the open A string (say in a 2220 D chord or 2010 F chord) to sound really bright & ‘ping’-y? It can sort of overwhelm the chord. Is this just because I have a cheap uke (Kala w/aquila stings)? I’ve noticed something similar with my mandolin as well, though, which is better quality though not amazing (low-end all-solid). Thanks for any help!

  11. Woodshed February 20th, 2009 7:09 am

    Andrew: Some people do use their thumb, but I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s really hard to get a steady rhythm using your thumb exclusively.

    I’m not sure what could create the problem with the A string. I wouldn’t have thought the Kala and Aquila combination would cause any problems. Sorry I couldn’t be more helpful on that.

  12. Andrew February 21st, 2009 4:34 am

    Thank you. I’ll keep at it.

  13. Michael July 20th, 2010 9:26 pm

    Thanks for the help…strumming can be pretty difficult…but i was wondering because i use two fingers when strumming…my index finger when i strum down and my thumb as i strum up…just want to hear you input on that…

  14. Woodshed July 21st, 2010 7:55 pm

    Michael: It’s not what I’d recommend but if it works for you.

  15. Beginner Ukulele Lessons | Ukulele Hunt August 15th, 2010 6:47 pm

    [...] Ukulele Strumming for Dummies – Strumming [...]

  16. gail August 25th, 2010 2:56 am

    oh woodshed, i can’t for the life of me figure out how you do that chnk thing. i’ve watched the video over and over and it remains a mystery. i am entirely new to the nuances of the strum, had until finding your site been strumming with — i’m embarrassed to admit — my thumb. want to get over that bad habit, however, and the chnking sounds so cool… thoughts?

  17. Woodshed August 25th, 2010 11:12 pm

    gail: You definitely want to be very comfortable strumming with your finger before you move on to chnking. I’m going to have to try to do a post about it at some point.

  18. paul September 10th, 2010 12:36 pm

    hope someone can help, only just started the uke, trying to learn it in secret from my fiance so i can play it at my wedding, want to play bring me sunshine (morecambe & wise theme ) but cant crack or find the strumming pattern and chords, have found some sites with chords but no strumming pattern and i cant get it right, hope someone can help, thanks paul

  19. Polly January 22nd, 2011 3:50 pm

    That’s really helpful.
    Are you supposed to have to rotate your hand to get the fleshy part of your finger to play one the up strum or am I doing it wrong?

    I’ve never been good at strumming with my nail. Instead, I’ve always used my thumb for the down stroke and my index finger for the up stroke. I do it on guitar too and people always tell me it looks weird but it works for me.

  20. Woodshed January 28th, 2011 10:35 am

    paul: Sorry, missed this comment. How did the wedding go?

    Polly: Depends what you mean by rotate. You don’t have to hit it completely flat with your finger. I’d say don’t rotate more than you need to to strum.

  21. Sjoerd675 February 1st, 2011 4:09 pm

    hey, I just bought my first uke today, and i love it! I hope your lessons will help me alot! so far, they already did!

    Sjoerd675

  22. Woodshed February 2nd, 2011 10:29 am

    Sjoerd675: I hope they do too!

  23. paul February 6th, 2011 8:41 pm

    Hi wedding not till july
    still desperatly trying to get the strum pattern for bring me sunshine (morecaMBE & wise)
    please somebody help me with this
    chords would be good but totally need the strum pattern
    please please please help

  24. Woodshed February 6th, 2011 9:58 pm

    paul: Doesn’t just down, up, down, up… work?

  25. Danny March 3rd, 2011 4:06 am

    What is a muted strum?

  26. Woodshed March 6th, 2011 11:03 am

    Danny: You stop the strings ringing with your fretting hand when you strum so it just makes a click.

  27. Mark March 24th, 2011 9:14 am

    I second Polly.
    I also use thumb for down and index finger for up.
    But, it seems that sound is a bit weak when I compare to the excercises in how_to_play_ukulele_strums ebook.
    Then, I tried to strum by index finger only and felt really hard.

    well, i m completely new to uku and only learn by myself through this wonderful website.

  28. Shifty April 6th, 2011 3:42 am

    Woodshed love the site, alot of good stuff. I love the uke,makes my little girl dance and sing,drives my wife mad. I bought a banjo uke and put new strings on it but it just dont sound right in standard tune. Can you give me any advice? Thanks

  29. Woodshed April 9th, 2011 8:15 am

    Shifty: Sorry, I’m not up on banjo ukes. They always sound bad to me.

  30. Cardinal Fang May 15th, 2011 2:59 pm

    Some ukulele songbooks, such as The Ukulele Playlist red, blue, yellow and white books use different strum notations unlike anything a novice like me has ever come across before.

    Eventually I found this tutorial for guitars: http://www.accessrock.com/BeginningLessons/guitarchordgrid.asp that was vaguely relevant but its still difficult to relate that to what I’ve learnt so far about strumming (from your excellent ebook!).

    Any chance of an additional tutorial covering such things?

  31. Woodshed May 18th, 2011 10:13 am

    Cardinal: I haven’t read those books, I’m afraid.

  32. Cardinal Fang June 12th, 2011 6:06 pm

    There’s a picture of the aforementioned notation here:

    http://www.ukuleleunderground.com/forum/attachment.php?attachmentid=18062&d=1291115582

    I don’t read music at all so this just looks like gobbledegook!

  33. Ukulele Bob July 4th, 2011 11:18 am

    I have recently started the ukulele and purchased some music books to learn songs but found that alot of the strumming patterns are left out. would love to know if there is a book to show them or a way to know which ones to do thanks

  34. Peho July 10th, 2011 11:26 am

    My finger tip gets stuck in the strings what am i doing wrong?

  35. Woodshed July 11th, 2011 12:32 am

    Ukulele Bob: You might find this post helpful .

    Peho: Try relaxing your finger and your wrist so it glides over the strings a bit more.

  36. Peho July 17th, 2011 12:35 pm

    Thanks it sorta helped.

  37. boydellini August 12th, 2011 6:21 pm

    Many thanks for taking the time to put this site
    together. So much useful information !

    Really helpful advice on the strumming techniques especially.

  38. Woodshed August 13th, 2011 8:55 am

    boydellini: Thanks very much! Glad you find it helpful.

  39. koa October 6th, 2011 6:00 am

    Dude, thanks so much for this website! It is absolutely amazing and I hope to learn a lot to become a better ukulele player! The strumming patterns helped me a lot!I really like the chnking but the video of coveywood is also pretty interesting. The first video on the list is not working anymore btw. Aloha and Shalom,
    Regn

  40. Matt October 14th, 2011 8:37 pm

    Is anyone else having trouble getting the strum videos to work? I have flashinstalled, and have tried both IE and firefox.

    Thanks,
    Matt

  41. Ally October 17th, 2011 2:54 am

    Hey :) I love this site so much~ I am getting so much better :D know about 3 songs now, but my strumming is a bit…eh. Some strings I hit too hard sometimes and it makes the whole thing sound off…and my nail sometimes makes this really heinous sound against the strings. I got a really cheap (pretty much a toy :P) ukulele because I am away from home for a few months and didn’t want to risk damaging a good one on the way back, but I don’t think its the Ukes fault…all mine and my terrible strumming :P. Any hints for the strumming? I really want to get it right but so often it soudns crap :( boo

  42. Jayson December 2nd, 2011 6:40 pm

    sorry if ive read this post wrong but to get started can you learn most song with a straight up down pattern or is it not gonna sound right?

  43. Woodshed December 4th, 2011 2:24 pm

    Jayson: Yeah, that’ll do for most songs.

  44. Marly December 28th, 2011 1:26 pm

    I’ve had a ukulele for 3 weeks and am loving it. I’m trying to strum AND sing the songs at the same time to keep the tune in time with the strums (or maybe it’s the other way around. Anyway, I’m thinking I should just be concentrating on the strumming and changing chords rather than bothering with words/singing. Is that what you’d recommend?

    BTW, I’vw bought your book and think it’s great! And the website’s packed chock with useful info.

  45. Woodshed December 28th, 2011 7:26 pm

    Marly: I’m the wrong person to ask, I’m afraid. I don’t do any singing at all. Ever.

  46. redkirk January 11th, 2012 7:47 am

    Steven Sproat’s Fan Stroke tutorial
    (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OLAwSOELH9s&feature=related)
    This video has been removed by the user.

  47. Woodshed January 11th, 2012 12:49 pm

    redkirk: Thanks for the heads-up. I wonder why he’s done that.

  48. Jazz January 15th, 2012 5:48 pm

    Hello there uke-ers, I’m going to sound VERY stupid now (*alert* – I have been playing for a week! *new-comer!*) Why can’t you just strum with your thumb? That’s what feels most natural to me…?! :)

  49. Bea January 26th, 2012 1:47 am

    Hello! I it possible to play ukulele with a pick? I’ve been using one now and can’t seem to switch back to just strumming with my fingers. I’ve only been playing for about a week now, and don’t want to get into a bad habit. Help!!

  50. Woodshed January 26th, 2012 12:38 pm

    Bea: It’s possible but not advisable. I’d say try out using your fingers for a while and see if you get used to it.

  51. Daniel February 4th, 2012 9:14 pm

    Woodshed: Thanks a lot for the great info on your site! One thing… the link to the video in the Strumming Technique section on this page is going to a blank webpage for me. FYI.

    Which is too bad, because I would really like to see the strumming technique demonstrated.

    Thanks,

    Dan

  52. maria February 21st, 2012 11:18 pm

    Just curious: why is the index finger the proper/correct strumming finger (as opposed to thumb)?

  53. maria February 21st, 2012 11:25 pm

    All the clips are redirecting to kulele.net. :-(

    Also, please disregard my question about index finger strumming. I found the answer in the comments.

    Thank you for all you do for uke players!

  54. AndyC February 23rd, 2012 7:32 am

    JUst started with the Uke. Loving it, but having a nightmare keeping time with my strumming when I try anything other than the most basic strum pattern. Love the website, but those videos are not available. I need help strumming!

  55. Norah March 9th, 2012 9:40 pm

    The page is failing to load for me

  56. ben March 24th, 2012 7:17 am

    those links don’t work…. maybe there’s something wrong with you.kulele.net?

  57. Woodshed March 24th, 2012 11:00 am

    Ben: Yeah, there is. I need to get the examples up somewhere else.

  58. Thela April 7th, 2012 7:38 pm

    I think there’s something wrong with me… I can’t strum anything except up down up down.

    I tried down down up up down but I can;t seem to keep the rhythm.

  59. lynda April 28th, 2012 1:32 am

    ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh … i need a live link! i’m at the chnk bit in your book and i can’t make it happen!

  60. Tajharia April 30th, 2012 10:49 pm

    I just can’t get the hang of strumming. Your advice in the comments is to just down, up, down, up… but WHEN do I do that? If the music is in 4/4 time, do I down or up on each quarter note? Both on each? More? Less? I’m worried about creating bad habits. All of the links on this page are broken. A few examples where the beat is counted would be really helpful. Thank you in advanced!
    -Tajh’.

  61. dorkery September 13th, 2012 5:26 am

    Hey, none of the kulele.net links seem to work. Your site is the best resource for ukulele players (especially beginners like me!) and I’d really like to see and hear your clips!

  62. Amy September 14th, 2012 8:11 pm

    Might you still be working on the dead links?

    Thanks.

  63. Nathan November 18th, 2012 11:04 pm

    I am having so much trouble with the “chnk”. I can’t seem to make the percussive sound, but rather a very snazzy ringing sound. It doesn’t sound like what the chnk sounded like in the video. And I can’t seem to get a strumming pattern down. Any advice?

  64. Susie December 27th, 2012 9:16 pm

    Hi
    Why does the A string on my uke seem very tight.
    It is in tune, but doesn@t sound right when used in chord.
    First time elderly Uke player

  65. Gretchen January 22nd, 2013 11:47 pm

    That teenage boy comment was in poor taste, and really not helpful at all.

  66. Woodshed January 23rd, 2013 8:19 am

    Gretchen: Man, are you going to be mad when you work out the name of the site.

  67. Geni February 9th, 2013 7:32 pm

    Woodshed: Haaaaaaa, oh man, since you said it it only took a second to realized what you meant. Hilarious.

    On another note, your site rocks, and the Dummies book you wrote is really good, too. I bought a Rogue Ukulele (super cheap) and it never sounded right and wouldn’t stay in tune and I pretty much gave up, then I read on your site about Aquila strings, and they stay in tune so long and make my Ukulele sounds wonderful, so after a year and a half of doing nothing with my uke, I can actually play a song or tow in just about a week, who knows where I’d be if I had seen your site when I first got it. thanks. :)

  68. Geni February 9th, 2013 7:32 pm

    two*

  69. Woodshed February 10th, 2013 12:36 pm

    Geni: Thanks so much! I’m really glad you found it helpful.

  70. Ukuloco February 11th, 2013 4:02 am

    I started ukeing in 1967. I learned using a felt pick, which is how my dad taught me. A few months ago the lack of the bright snappy sound of finger strumming got to me and I put the pick away at least for a while. My problem is that I ocasionaly (especially on a faster strum) trip over the 1st or 4th string an get a “boing” sound through my amp. Any suggestions other that much practice. Thanks!

  71. Woodshed February 11th, 2013 11:35 am

    Ukuloco: It’s hard to say. The main thing is to make sure your hand, fingers and wrist and really relaxed.

  72. Ukuloco February 11th, 2013 12:43 pm

    That’s probably it. I’ve been holding on to a pick for so long. I’ll keep working on it, and keep you posted. The help is really appriciated.

  73. Woodshed February 11th, 2013 7:01 pm

    Ukuloco: You’re very welcome.

  74. Rocio March 23rd, 2013 7:09 am

    Hi,I’m having a hard time figuring out how to chnk- do you also pluck the strings when you chnk? what part of your hand hits what parts of the uke?
    Thanks so much, this website is so much help!!!

  75. Woodshed March 24th, 2013 9:20 am

    Rocio: No, you don’t pluck anything. You do the normal down strum but turn your hand so your palm is slightly upwards. Then when you strum down hit the strings with the karate-chop bit of your hand at the same time as you strum.

  76. Gidge May 12th, 2013 2:34 am

    I don’t like the harsh sound using my fingernail and prefer to strum with the pad of my thumb. I tried felt picks but even these are stiff and give a harsh sound. For me, it just sounds softer and better using the pad of my thumb. If I want a twang, I can always use my fingernail.
    Gret website, Woodshed. Thanks.

  77. Woodshed May 12th, 2013 1:54 pm

    Gidge: Thanks!

  78. Angie June 28th, 2013 7:11 pm

    Hello :)
    I just started playing the uke a few days ago and have checked out quite a few websites on strumming and I usually get the same answer – Strumming down with nail of index finger and strumming up with the fleshy tip of index finger.
    For me, I strum with my index as well but I just find it difficult to position my hand to be able to strum down with nail and up with fleshy tip. (I use the side of my index finger for both up and down)
    Also, I’m having difficulties strumming without getting my finger stuck. :/
    How? :(

  79. Woodshed June 28th, 2013 10:47 pm

    Angie: Yep, that’ll happen if you strum sideways. Your finger doesn’t have any give in that direction so it gets stuck.

    You don’t have to hit with the middle of your nail and thumb. You do it semi-sideways.

  80. Anita August 10th, 2013 3:01 am

    I have been playing the ukulele for some time, though not too good. I have been playing with a plectrum, but because it seems to clunk a bit when I play, I have decided to strum with my finger, which I am finding difficult, but thanks to your site, I am improving although I revert to a plectrum for a break at times !!

  81. Andy October 19th, 2013 9:57 am

    I am very keen to play the ukulele but I seem to have a terrible sense of rhythm. I really struggle with most of the strumming patterns. Plain up down is not very intersting for the listener. But there are two or three patterns (which are not any of those you describe) which seem to work for me. So does it really matter?

  82. Woodshed October 20th, 2013 4:51 pm

    Andy: If it is the rhythm that’s letting you down. I’d isolate your rhythm practice. Try clapping out rhythms instead of strumming them.

  83. ukuloco October 21st, 2013 2:05 am

    Anita, I think those of us who are used to the felt picks sometimes fail to develop a good technique as to strumming height. With the pick, heigth is not all that important and the clunking sound that you are hearing could be the pick slapping the body of the uke at the bottom of the strum. I have shiny areas on several ukes from being polished by my felt pick. It took me six months of playing with my fingers to get comfortable with finger picking. I had to just put the pick down and stink at playing for a while. It was worth it.

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