Strum a Ukulele the Right Way

By Alistair Wood

You use your dominant arm (that is, the right arm if you’re right-handed) to strum your ukulele . The fretting hand may get all the glory and do all the fancy work, but the strumming hand is most important: You can finger a few fluffed notes or wrong chords without anyone really spotting them, but everyone is sure to notice when your strumming speeds up and slows down. Strumming is such a fundamental part of a song that strumming patterns vary between genres much more than chord patterns do.

To assume strumming position, put down your ukulele for a second — you can pick it up again in a minute. Put your strumming hand (right hand for right-handers, left hand for left-handers) in front of the middle of your body where your stomach meets your chest. Make your hand into a light fist so your fingertips are touching your palm but not pressing into it. Now use your index finger to point at your left shoulder (right shoulder for left-handers) and rest your thumb between the first and second knuckle of your index finger, as shown in the strumming position video.

Resting your thumb on the finger is important: it gives your finger an extra bit of stability so it makes a cleaner sound when you strum.

Strumming your ukulele in the right spot

Pick up your uke and position it so that your index finger is just above the g-string, where the neck of your uke meets the body. This location is known as the sweet spot. Each ukulele has its own sweet spot where the strumming sounds best. For soprano ukes, this spot is around where the neck meets the body. For larger ukes, the sweet spot is between the soundhole and the end of the body. Experiment with your uke and see what feels and sounds right to you.

Strumming your ukulele the right way

The best advice for strumming — and life in general — is to stay loose. Tightening up is a surefire way to sound robotic and tire yourself out quickly. The second-best piece of advice is to strum with your wrist rather than with your arm — moving your arm up and down gets tiring very quickly. So you want to move your wrist and do no more than rotate your forearm.

You don’t need to strum much more widely than the strings. Try not to make your strums too wide because maintaining a steady rhythm then becomes harder and you tire more quickly.

When you strum down, your nail hits the string first. When you strum up, the pad of your finger hits the string first. This pattern creates a nice balance between a more forceful down-strum and a softer up-strum.

Stay relaxed, not only in your hands and arms but also in your whole body. When you concentrate too hard on your playing, you can easily tense up without noticing, which can lead to getting tired and achy. So every so often, consciously relax your arms and shoulders before you get back to playing.