`Ukulele Strums - Getting Started

The art and craft of strumming – playing rhythm on `Ukulele.

Published: Jan 2, 2005 Updated: Dec 20, 2017 • Visitors: 30 • Page Views: 1

ukulele | Subjects: rhythmstrumsbeginner

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An Introduction to Strumming

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.

A Strum is the execution of a specific rhythmic pattern, at tempo in a particular style.

Strumming requires a specific set of skills. They are:

  • Memorization of chords
  • The ability to switch chords smoothly and
  • The ability to choose and execute a suitable rhythmic strum
  • And, most importantly do ALL of this in tempo.

Though strumming looks natural to the casual observer, it is anything but natural to the beginning ukulele player. Even experienced players have difficulty in identifying and executing certain strums or rhythmic patters. Though this is one of those topics that is typically taken for granted, there is much to learn about rhythmic feels, accents, dynamics, strum direction, feel, percussive accents, idiomatic styles and tempo variation.

First and foremost, the subject of strumming is inseparably linked to rhythm. Read that last line again. 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 these lessons.

Many people fall into the trap of mixing up play by ear with learning by ear. Learning by ear is a hit and miss, hunt and peck proposition with more misses than hits.

The goal is to play and perform with the inner ear in control - that is “Playing by Ear”. Learning is better suited with a system and plan of attack.

I've seen it way too many times with my own private students. They insist on trying to learn a specific strumming pattern by their intrinsic stroke directional pattern - the down and up pattern. For only the basic, simplest of strums this might work at times. But, it falls apart for really learning rhythm, which is directly linked to strumming. It is helpful when training the strumming hand to place to emphasis on the downbeats or pulse of music with a down stoke.

Cutting to the chase - You CAN learn any rhythmic pattern by it's standard music notation and the counting pattern used to recreate the sound of the pattern.

For years, early in my development I had several teachers that tried to teach me the quarter note triple rhythmic pattern by rote. I'd get it in the lesson and 20 minutes after the lesson - at home I wouldn't be able to duplicate what I had learned in the lesson. No fault of the teacher, they just didn't have a system for effectively teaching rhythm and give their students the ability to accurately reproduce any rhythmic pattern on their own without needing a teacher or coach or to even have to hear it first.

Then finally studying with Chuck Anderson the creator of the Modular Phonetic Rhythm System I now use. In 30 seconds I could play the quarter note triplet and more importantly reproduce it myself - on-demand when needed. Plus even teach it to others. It's all based on learning any rhythmic pattern by knowing how it relates to the beat and the subdivision of the beat. It's actually that simple. The hard part is getting the hands and fingers to get with the show.


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