How to Read Ukulele Strumming Notation

Strumming, or playing each note in a chord quickly in rhythm, is a way to make your ukulele more interesting to play and to listen to. There’s no right way to strum any particular song, but make sure that the strumming pattern fits the song and emphasizes the right beats.

Picturing ukulele strumming notation

Like chord diagrams, strumming notation is an easy-to-read shorthand that gives you just the information you need to play. The notation is presented on a musical staff, but it doesn’t show the individual notes as in standard musical notation. Instead, you just get chord slashes, which show a vertical line for each time you strum:

  • The lines with a little tick at the top are slashes. Each time you see one of those you strum.

  • The slashes are divided into groups. To make the music easy to follow, the music is divided into groups known as bars, designated by a vertical line every few beats.

  • The chord names (in this case, just C) are directly above the first slashes. You play the same chord for each slash until you come to the next chord name.

  • The count (‘one, two, three, four’) is immediately below each slash. Counting these off (out loud or in your head) helps you to maintain the rhythm.

  • The strumming direction is below the count. A little letter ‘d’ means down and a little letter ‘u’ means up. In the figure showing strumming notation here, all the markings are ‘d’ for down.

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Strumming your ukulele up and down

You can make your strums much more interesting by putting some up strums between the down strums. You’re already moving your hand up and down, so you may as well make use of it.

This figure show how up and down strums look in slash notation. Where you see two notes grouped together, you do a down-up strum.

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You can play along with this audio file of the down-down-up strumming pattern. First you strum down then strum down-up and repeat that pattern. Don’t worry about changing chords at first, just get your fingers used to a strumming pattern. To really get into the rhythm, clap it out before even trying to strum it.

The down-up strum as a whole takes up the same amount of time as a single down strum. The down strum is a whole beat and each part of the down-up strum is half a beat. You can count these off by adding “and” between counts. In this case, you’d say “one two and three four and.”

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