How To Strum The Ukulele

I just started teaching my son Ben, who is five, to play the ukulele. He’s left handed so I first had to reverse the strings on my right handed soprano ukulele so he could play it. He was so excited that his ’daddy’ was finally gonna teach him to jam. As his father I was eager to see if he had raw musical talent since I had just binged clips of Billie Eilish and her just as phenomenal brother Finneas over the past two days. They honestly blew my mind! The musical talent between them could light up a city!

So as I stared into Benny’s big brown eyes thoughts crossed my mind…

“Is he the next Billie Eilish?” “Is he gonna buy daddy a big house on the ridge?”

I wasn’t even three minutes into the lesson before I hit bumper to bumper traffic. A full stop! I was able to teach him where to place his fingers to play the C chord, but he literally could not “play” the C chord. Here I was excited to teach him simple chords when he hadn’t learned how to strum. The lesson quickly shifted from holding the C chord to learning how to strum the ukulele. This got me thinking about writing a post on strumming. I learned how to strum so long ago that I forgot to teach it to my son! So here we go…

Strumming is among the most foundational abilities you will learn for your dominant hand on the ukulele. If you’re new to strumming, the concept might have you stumped. Have no fear! We will explore several techniques that you should be able to pick up. But right off the top, lets start with a pro tip….. RELAX!

As a beginner, it's common for your body to be tensed up as you're learning to strum. The best way to relieve tension is to stop playing, relax your hands, and begin playing again. Over time and with a bit of self-awareness, you'll learn to play more relaxed. Trust me, strumming with “frigid fingers” can be frustrating. So much so that you may want to throw in the towel but I promise, like learning how to ride a bike, you will get it!

But before you start strumming away, make sure that you :

  • Learn how to hold the ukulele properly. Your right elbow should cradle the body of the ukulele, giving your arm complete range of motion over the strings.

  • Don’t worry about playing chords while you practice basic strumming patterns. Just make sure that you hit all the strings.

  • Learn to keep time. Download a digital metronome. This will come in handy when learning to strum in rhythm.

  • Keep your wrist free and relaxed. The strumming motion depends on the flexibility of the wrist, especially for more advanced rhythms.

  • Know that this is a skill, so it will take time to learn. Don’t put pressure on yourself! Remember to relax and have fun.

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