Struggling with Strumming? How to Develop a Sense of Beat on Ukulele

On the ukulele, it’s your strumming that creates the beat of the music. If you have been struggling with strumming on the ukulele, don’t worry, you are not the only one.

Quite recently, I received this email from a customer:

Hi Jenny,

I’ve purchased your book 21 Songs in 6 days: Classroom Edition. Love the book and all the information with it! My question is I’m having trouble with my strumming and keeping a good solid rhythm. Is there any method or exercise that would help me out? Thanks!

Music must have rhythm. To quote a Duke Ellington song title:  “It don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got that swing.”

Developing a sense of rhythm or beat can be quite a tricky business for beginners. It can take quite a bit of slow and patient practice before you can develop that great solid sense of beat.

When I started playing the ukulele, my biggest frustration was with strumming. I was frustrated because I did not sound good and I had no idea on how to get better. I took a class in Hawaiian ukulele, and from there developed my method of teaching ukulele strumming to everyone.

In this blog post, I’ll share some great practice tips and tricks I use to help my students to get the sense of beat on the ukulele.

1. Start with down strums

First, make sure that you can play down strums evenly with the beat while staying on one chord.  Use a metronome to keep yourself steady. The video below is a ukulele tutorial for learning to play with a metronome.

Be sure to use your index finger or all the fingers of the right hand on the down strum.The best ukulele players use all four their fingers and their thumb on the right hand to create interesting strumming, fingerpicking, and claw hammer techniques when they play.

Do not use the thumb for down strums. Training yourself to use only your thumb is a difficult habit to break later.

2. Add up strums and increase tempo

Next, add the up strums. You can add them either evenly on the subdivision of the beat, or unevenly. Gradually increase the tempo so that you can strum more quickly. You can go ahead and download some cool beats to strum to. Watch the video below to get an idea of what am saying.

The guitar beats start at 80 beats per minute and gradually move to faster speeds.

Although the video says the beats are for the guitar, it will work with the ukulele as well. Be sure to stop the strings with your left hand so that you can hear the video.

You can put the video on for 3 to 4 minutes. Begin with all down strums. When you feel comfortable, add the up strums.

Here is another video with great beats you can use to practice with.

There are many  such strumming pattern videos. Youtube is a very good place to search for these videos.  You can choose rock, hip-hop, disco, whatever style you want and then practice with them. Play with a different video every day and pretty soon your strumming will be automatic and consistent.

3. Practice with your favorite songs

If you enjoy certain ukulele songs, find a song on YouTube and strum along with the artist. You probably won’t be able to keep up with both strumming and chord changes, so stop the strings with your left hand and practice strumming along with the song without worrying about the chord changes.

Next, try adding the chord changes while you keep your steady strums going.  You can download the chord changes from the Internet. Just type the name of the song you want on Google followed by ‘ukulele tab’(for example I’m Yours Ukulele Tab) and the song with chords will come right up.

You can download the song and then play along with your favorite artist. Many times you can find tutorials on how to play the song. Online teachers will often show you simplifications to make the song easier to sing and strum.

Speaking of teachers and how they can be helpful, watch the video below as Jenny takes Rebecca through the intro of Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

You can watch the full Somewhere Over the Rainbow  song tutorial with chords here.

Start off by playing the chords with a simplified strumming pattern along with the video. Gradually put strumming and chord changes together until you master the left and right-hand coordination.

Another great practice technique is to practice your strumming pattern as you speak or sing the words. Working this way will make it easier to learn the song later.

Have fun playing I’m Yours below. This song has a lot of words. It would be a good one to practice strumming to just the words. The chord changes are shown in the video.

Buff up your strumming with 21 easy

well known songs.

Video lessons for every song!

4. Join a club

Another fun thing to do is to join a ukulele club. Clubs sing and strum songs together which will give you a boost of confidence in your new-found musical ability.

Many clubs often have open-mic sessions where you can perform once you have learned to sing and strum a song well.

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Most clubs offer some instruction, so you can go with your ukulele and learn how to play better. Singing and strumming with others build a sense of community and fun. You will be inspired to practice your ukulele and become a better ukulele player.

5. Practice makes perfect

When all is said and done, the old saying remains true: practice makes perfect. You need to keep practicing regularly to master fully the sense of beat on the ukulele.

Practice 10 minutes a day, and you will see a significant improvement over time. Don’t give up just because it appears difficult at first. Keep at it until you are comfortable that your strumming is satisfactory if not excellent.

And remember, many other ukulele players had the same problem when they were beginners but with patient practice they were able to become experts.

You can get much more information on strumming through our Youtube channel.Click here to view the playlist on strumming. You can also browse the channel for loads of other amazing ukulele videos and tutorials. Don’t forget to subscribe.

Have fun with all these suggestions and happy practicing!

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