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Strumming On The Ukulele

The Basic Ukulele Strum:

Hold your strumming hand in a “pistol” shape like you were pretending to shoot somebody and relax so that your index finger curls back to a loose 90 degree angle to the rest of your hand and the thumb rests (lightly) on the index finger’s 1st knuckle. This is the strumming position. Twist your wrist clockwise a bit when you strum down so your index finger hits the strings at an angle and rotate back counter-clockwise when you strum up. You don’t have to twist your wrist a lot – just enough so that you don’t jam your fingers into the strings. You want to strum somewhere in between the 12th fret and soundhole. Just practice going down and up evenly until you get the hang of it.

Strum Patterns:

Strums are one of the hardest things to explain. Everybody asks “how does the strum go?” the answer to that is probably: if you can’t figure it out by listening to it, you probably won’t be able to learn it online – or in person for that matter. It’s just one of those things that comes with experience. So if you want to learn more strums, you are going to have to work at it!

Once you get past the down, up and down, down, up, up, down strums, most of the time you just have to learn by watching and listening. But, the good thing about strums is that you can play them how you like as long as they fit the song. Strums can be played either swing or straight. Most of the time a swing strum is easier.

Swing is lopsided – it takes longer to come back up than it takes to go down (listen to almost any simple strumming Hawaiian song and they are probably using swing). Straight is even – going up takes just as much time as going down (practice this with a metronome: down on one tick, and up with another).

Here are some one-finger strum patterns (D=down, U=up, (space)=rest, X=chop).

  • DU
  • DDUUD (used in a lot of contemporary Hawaiian songs – i.e. “Surf”)
  • DXUUD
  • XDUUD
  • D UX XUUD DU (i.e. “Step it up” by Herb Ohta Jr.)
  • DDDDU (double time traditional Hawaiian songs – switch vamp chord for each rotation of the pattern)

The “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” Strum

Of all the ukulele strums people want to learn, it seems the one Isreal Kamakawiwo’ole used on Somewhere Over the Rainbow/Wonderful World is on the top of the list. It’s not hard, but combines both picking and strumming.

  • Pick the top (G) string with your thumb (the note will change depending on the chord).
  • Then strum DU DU
  • Repeat for the next chord

The chords for the intro are: C Em Am F. Apply the above strum to them and you should be well on your way.

Here it is in tab:

somewhere over the rainbow strumming tab

Chop Strum (chunking, muting)

The chop strum (usually shown as “X”) is used in many different strum patterns, especially in contemporary Hawaiian songs (”Surf”, “Honey Baby”, “Kiss You in the Morning”, etc…). The chop is pretty easy; you are already halfway there when you strum down. All you need to do is add your palm to the mix.Start by making your right hand into a very loose fist. Hold the chord of your choice. Then strum down with your hand in the same shape. When your finger nails hit the top string, open your hand so that your fingers are fully extended, striking the strings on the way by. As you follow through with the strum bring your palm down to mute the strings a split-second after they sound. You will need to do this quickly to make it sound decent. Chop strums need to be integrated into strum patterns. Playing chop strums throughout a whole song would sound horrible! Try adding chops to the DDUUD strum pattern. With chop strums it would go like: DXUUX.

Triplet Strum

Notably used by James Hill and Kimo Hussey, this is a nice addition to your strumming arsenal.

Strum down with your index finger. Then strum down with your thumb. Strum up with your index finger. Practice this over and over slowly. This takes a lot of repetition to learn, so I mean SLOWLY… Try starting the rotation with different fingers.

Ten Finger Strum

Note that I myself cannot play this, but I do know how it works.

Strum up with your thumb. Then roll/brush up on the strings starting with your pinky,and going to your ring, middle, then index fingers. Next you roll/brush down with all fingers starting with your pinky ending on your index. Then strum down with your thumb. Practice slowly until you get it and then play with blistering speed until you can’t see your hand moving.