Playing Your Ukulele Using Strumming Notation

After you master the basics of playing your ukulele, you’re going to want to fancy things up a bit with some strumming. 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 the way standard musical notation does. Instead, you just get chord slashes, which show a vertical line for each time you strum:

Down-down-down-down strum notation.
Down-down-down-down strum notation.

The main parts in a chord notation diagram are

  • 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.

  • The chord names (in these cases, C and F) 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.

No single right way exists to strum any particular song, but you have to make sure that the strumming pattern fits the song and emphasizes the right beats.

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.

Where you see two notes grouped together, you do a down-up strum. So, following the slash notation here, you strum down, and then you strum down-up and repeat that pattern.

Down-down-up strum notation.
Down-down-up strum notation.

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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