Do you get confused when you try to figure out how to strum a song on the ukulele?
Is a sheet of lyrics and chords confusing to you? Is sheet music confusing? Do you know your chord shapes, but not what to do with them?
If you are feeling confused about strumming patterns, don’t worry! This is really normal. We all get confused when we’re first trying to figure out which pattern goes best with a song.
When I was first learning the “island strum,” I was also teaching General Music to 3rd, 4th and, 5th-grade students. There were 45 students in my class and some of them were definitely more interested in looking cool than in learning how to play the ukulele. It took me 8 months to master the “island strum, because I was teaching and disciplining at the same time. I knew I had it when I could sing “Over the Rainbow,” strum the ukulele, change the chords at the right time AND discipline the kids who were acting out! It takes time for strumming to become that automatic!
In this article, I will give you 5 “go-to” strumming patterns that you can use when learning a song. Then I will give you some ideas on how to go about learning a new song and feeling confident with strumming.
Strum #1: All down strums on the beat
When you first start learning a song, start with all down strums like this:
Strum #2: Even strumming of down-up, down-up on every beat
When you get good at this pattern, add the up strums like this:
Strum #3: Uneven strumming of down-up, down-up on every beat
Sometimes you need to divide the beat unevenly, so the down is longer than the up. You can say the rhyme “Jack and Jill went up the hill” to get the sense of this beat. Here’s what this strumming pattern looks like:
There are two other “go-to” strums that I use which I will describe next. With all strumming patterns, you keep a down and up motion going all the time. The down movement is on the beat and the up movement is off the beat. You make some of the beats and some of the off beats silent to create the different strumming patterns.
Boom-Ditty Strum-Down, Down-up, Down, Down-up
The first pattern is Down, Down-up, Down, Down-up. It is sometimes called the “boom ditty” strum and looks like this.
The Island Strum: Down, Down-up, Up-Down-Up
The other common strum I use is sometimes called the “island strum.” It goes Down, Down-up, Up-Down-Up. It is quite syncopated because you don’t play on Beat 3, one of the strongest beats of the measure. Because you play on the off-beat of the third beat, the strum has a fun kind of feeling. It works for lots of songs. I’ve included two videos below where I teach this strumming pattern in the songs “Over the Rainbow,” and “Five Foot Two.” By watching these two lesson videos you will get the sense of this strumming pattern and how to practice it. The strum looks like this:
Here are two videos for learning “The Island Strum.” The first video has me going back and forth with Rebecca so that you can practice the pattern on each chord change of the song. It is the one that really breaks the strumming pattern down.
Learning the intro to “Over the Rainbow”
Five Foot Two is a great song to learn “the island strum”
You can get the sheet music to “Five Foot Two” with the strumming pattern written out in our book Easy Ukulele Songs: Five with Five Chords.
So, you’re pretty good at 3-chord songs now. You can do simple strumming patterns. You may even know some other chords. You’d like to take your playing to the next level.
Where do you go from here?
Varying Strumming Patterns Within a Song
When you change the strumming patterns within a song, it makes the song more interesting. Check out this video of “Red River Valley” where I change strumming patterns each verse. I will teach you how to do each pattern within the video.
Red River Valley – a different strum for each verse!
Three other ideas for practicing strumming pattens:
- Check out an app called Strum Machine that helps you hear the beat of your songs and play along.
- There are also ukulele play-along videos that help you to get the feeling for strumming. Here is a link to Stay With Me, a beautiful song with only three chords.
- If you’re trying to figure out how fast to strum, look at another article I wrote about strumming.
So, I hope you find these ideas helpful and have fun.