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D-D-U-U-D-D-U Chunk... Blah, blah, blah... This is no way to learn strumming on `ukulele or any instrument capable of strumming chords.

*A strum is simply the execution of a specific rhythmic pattern in tempo - in a particular style.

One of the first skills a ukulele player learns is the art and craft of strumming, playing rhythm. This refers to an accompaniment technique suitable for the singer, singer - songwriter or someone who plays a support role for another instrument. Strumming requires a specific set of skills. They are: 1) Memorization of chords 2) The ability to switch chords smoothly and 3) The ability to choose and execute a suitable rhythmic strum.

First and foremost, the subject of strumming is inseparably linked to rhythm. Though an ability to read rhythm is helpful, it’s not necessary to profit from learning strums.

Each strum is identified with a term that differentiates it from every other strum. This term is typically called a “feel”. Drummers learn these terms early in their studies so learning this language is not only helpful to learning the strums, it’s also helpful with communications among musicians in general and drummers in particular. Strumming can be executed with fingers or with a pick. Regardless of your own style of strumming, it ultimately involves combinations of down strokes and up strokes.

In the finger style, down strokes can played with the thumb or the nail side of your fingers. Up strokes can be played with the thumb or fingers. Any technique is usable as long as you can differentiate between down and up strokes.

A metronome is helpful to these studies but not mandatory. The purpose of a metronome is to help develop a steady sense of rhythm and to help increase your awareness of tempo in a beats per minute format. Terms like medium or fast tempo are approximate.

All strums can be executed at any tempo.

One strum is different from another based on the stroke direction, the stroke density, the subdivision of the beat and the accent pattern.

Preliminary Exercise

As a way to get started, set the metronome speed on 60 or just tap your foot slowly and evenly. Strike any chord with a down stroke (i.e. towards the floor) corresponding to the click or tap. Though this could be considered a strum, for our purposes, it’s just a way to get familiar with the relationship between tempo (speed of the beat) and the down stroke.

Next, try to coordinate an up stroke (i.e. towards the ceiling) with the space between the clicks or taps. Don’t be surprised that the up stroke is more difficult than the down stroke, There are two reasons for this discrepancy. First, the up stroke is anti gravitational (pulls away from the ground). The second reason is that the space between taps or clicks is more abstract and difficult to locate than the down and is consequently, more prone to error.

Go back to your metronome set at 60 or your slow even foot tap. This time, strike the up beats (space between clicks or taps) with down strokes. It’s also valuable to up stroke the clicks or taps (down beats). Though not as natural, there will be important applications for this seemingly “backward” stroking.

For more information visit the A Guide to Ukulele Strums book page and the lessons series Ukulele Strums - Getting Started.

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