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/Muted 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

87 Comments

  1. 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

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

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

  3. 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!

  4. 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!

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

    The page is failing to load for me

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

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

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

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

  8. 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.

  9. 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!

  10. 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’.

  11. 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!

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

    Might you still be working on the dead links?

    Thanks.

  13. 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?

  14. 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

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

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

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

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

  17. 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. :)

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

    two*

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

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

  20. 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!

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

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

    Ukuloco: You’re very welcome.

  24. 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!!!

  25. 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.

  26. 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.

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

    Gidge: Thanks!

  28. 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? :(

  29. 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.

  30. 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 !!

  31. 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?

  32. 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.

  33. 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.

  34. PJ July 18th, 2014 7:27 pm

    I’m a newbie and this is just great. I was starting to get frustrated with my tinny strumming noises. I sound better already after one viewing!

  35. Woodshed July 19th, 2014 11:04 am

    PJ: Great! Glad it helped.

  36. Neko July 26th, 2014 2:11 am

    Hiya ! Just got my first uke today ! I haven’t even seen one in person nor ever played an instrument … And I can’t strum at all . Like I could strum with my thumb down but every way to strum feels awkward … Please help !

  37. Woodshed July 26th, 2014 6:31 am

    Neko: It will feel awkward at first. But keep practicing strumming with your finger and it’ll start to feel more natural.

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