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Picking Patterns For The ‘Ukulele

Sometimes a chord is just too much. Too many notes at once, too loud, too happy. But you usually can’t afford to drop a chord, can you? If you’re playing a song you still need the ever important harmony aspect. However, that doesn’t mean harmony has to be a strummed chord. A cool thing about the ‘ukulele is that we have two hands doing completely different things on the instrument at the same time. One holds down frets to create notes, the other controls when they sound. Let’s exploit both hands for this lesson and examine how to play picking patterns.

A picking pattern is a repeating string order that your right hand picks in sequence. Meanwhile, your fretting hand continues doing whatever it was doing. Nothing new to learn there. All that changes is how you attack the strings.

Discrepancies in musical terms are all too common and one appears here between “picking pattern” and “arpeggio.” They are related, but for ease of naming aspects of playing ‘ukulele, I think of them as different things. As I refer to them, arpeggios are the notes of a chord played in some sort of order – one at a time. A picking pattern contains natural arpeggios, but the notes usually ring into each other and are only four in number (matching the strings). An arpeggio usually spans many notes in order, not just the ones held in a chord shape.

Here are some picking patterns for ‘ukulele in tab format. Hold any chord with these patterns, C is just an example. Repeat each pattern as long as necessary. Above each tab are fingering suggestions: P = thumb, I = index, M = middle, A = ring. Follow them, or come up with your own. This is just how I would probably play each one.

    P I P I
A |-------3-
E |---0-----
C |-----0---
G |-0-------

    M I P M I P
A |-3-----3-----
E |---0-----0---
C |-----0-------
G |-----------0-

    P P P P
A |-------3-
E |-----0---
C |---0-----
G |-0-------

    P I P M P I
A |-------3-----
E |---0-------0-
C |-0-----------
G |-----0---0---

    I P I P
A |-3-------
E |-----0---
C |---0-----
G |-------0-

    P I P I
A |---3-----
E |-------0-
C |-----0---
G |-0-------

    M P I P I P
A |-3-----------
E |-----0---0---
C |-------0-----
G |---0-------0-

    M P I M P I P I
A |-3-----3---------
E |-----0-----0---0-
C |-------------0---
G |---0-----0-------

A couple more song-specific examples

The sky is the limit. With every note you add to a pattern, the options multiply by huge numbers. Create your own and experiment. These are just some ideas to practice getting your fingers moving independently. The best picking pattern is the one you can pull out of thin air to suit the song.

To give you an idea of 4 string picking pattern possibilities, here is a list of all the options I could come up with. Most sound pretty boring, but maybe you’ll find a couple you like the sound of. Read each pattern from left to right. One string number is shown per letter space. (A string = 1, E string = 2, etc…)

1234 - 2134 - 3124 - 4123
1243 - 2143 - 3142 - 4132
1342 - 2314 - 3214 - 4213
1324 - 2341 - 3241 - 4231
1432 - 2413 - 3412 - 4312
1423 - 2431 - 3421 - 4321

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‘Ukulele Chord Shapes

  • 115 Shapes X 12 Keys = 1380 Chords
  • 30 Chord Types
  • Easy-to-Understand Theory
  • Tips and Tricks for Fingerings, Inversions, Slash Chords, and More