Every song has a unique feel to it that sets it apart from all others, and the
best way for you to differentiate one song from the other, is with your
For you to do this you will need to develop a flexible and broad strumming
style. Even songs of the same genre (shit I hate that word) are unique. The
point being that one strum doesn’t fit all. So whether the song is reggae,
calypso, swing or whatever; a reggae strum will not fit all reggae tunes and
so on. It is not enough to learn a reggae or calypso strum and play it
throughout a song, for it will soon become a cliché and lose all its punch.
Flexible strumming starts with a broad and varied palette of strums that
you develop and fix in your fingers muscle memory so that you can play
them automatically and without much thought. The best way to do this, is to
practice each strum until you have it fixed, and then gradually introduce the
different strums into your playing. If this is to work you will need to
practice, sorry, there is no way round this but to practice.
Start blending the different strums into your songs, one or two at a time and
try different combinations. The important thing here is to learn to change
from one strum to another within a regular time signature, the most common
being 4/4 and 3/4, without losing the timing. That may sound difficult, but it
will fall into place as you practice with your new strums when playing
To apply these strumming techniques to a song you first need to find the
rhythmic pattern of the song by studying it carefully. YouTube is a good
way to do this, because you are able to watch the singer, backing vocalists
and band members to see how they move. As you listen pick out the rhythm
of the song by accompanying percussion, drum, fingers, hands, back of your
uke....it doesn’t matter, but get in and develop your own version that you
can use as the driver of your strumming. Pick up the uke and hold your
strings loosely with your left hand and transfer the rhythm into a percussive
strumming pattern with your right hand.
Let’s look at some of the simple strums as a basis for this exercise. Be
inventive and develop each one further to suit your style of playing.
o Down, using thumb. Brush your thumb across all of the strings,
which tends to leave your hand low down for the upstroke. You can
also use your thumb to strike the G string on the way down. If you
were to play Am you can hit the G string and hammer down at A.
That sounds pretty good if you follow it with a strum. A thumb
strum on its own can also be used in a triplet (more about that
o Down forefinger. This is the most common strum and often forms
the rhythmic structure to add other strums. It can be made to sound
more varied than the thumb strum, either by using the finger pad or
nail to strum the strings. Because your finger is flexible, you can
add variation to the arm movement by varying the flick speeds. See
how many variations of this strum you can make by using flexible
finger wrist and arm movements.
o Down/up. Another good combo that you can put to good use.
Practice this 2 part strum in one beat so that it becomes one-and or
down-up. Practice adding it at different places into a series of
down strokes in a bar till you can manage all the options.
o Soft strum. This can be a quiet down, or down/up done with the
fleshy part of the finger or thumb. This softer version makes a nice
contrast to some of the other strums in your kit and on its own can
provide a good rhythmic backing for vocals or lead.
o Fingering. This is where you hold the chord shape and peck at a
string or strings on the way past. Peck like a chook and don’t worry
too much where you will land, because if you are holding the
correct chord shape, every note will be a winner. You will find,
however, that some notes will work better than others in certain
places, and here’s the bonus. You don’t even have to remember
which notes fit best, because your fingers and ears will pick it up
and automatically repeat anything that sounds good. To get this, you
need to stop thinking about it and relax into the music. The less
control, the better the music.
o Pull off. This is where you grab 2 or more strings and pull them up
and let them go. It’s a good one to do on the back beat (that is the
and as in one and two and etc), also a good way to add tension to
the vocals when there is a gap.
o Uncurling all the fingers with a nice wristy action is a nice addition
to your collection.
o Choke. Simply drop your hand on all the strings to mute the sound
as soon as the chord is played.
o Triplet. This is three strums made on one beat; the down stroke is
finger followed by thumb, the up stroke is finger or thumb. When
you practice this strum go slowly so that you can easily manage the
whole strum in one beat and repeat the word tomato as you play it.
To-ma on the down stroke and o on the up stroke.
o Hammer on. Strike and open string and then hammer on at the
appropriate fret positon.
o Slide. Hold a chord postion one fret away from its true postion,
strum then slide into positon.
Learning the chords
Try playing without a
songsheet, if you get stuck,
take a look and run through
the song again without the
When you are walking,
driving, gardening or
whatever, run the song
your head and
imagine you fingers making
the chord changes. Keep
going when you cant
remember a chord, next time
round you may find that the
right chord comes to hand.
When you get the next
opportunity, play from the
songsheet and the chords will
have a good chance of