A gripe - don't get hung up by uke strum patterns

2 Aug 2011

A gripe - don't get hung up by uke strum patterns

One of the most common questions I get asked (and, indeed one of the common questions I see on many ukulele discussion boards) is, 'what is the strum pattern to that song?'.

It niggles me. It shouldn't but it does. Now this post may actually cause a little debate to rage and it might even lead to a few people telling me I am plain wrong, but I dislike the idea of recommending strum patterns to beginners.

Don't get me wrong, I couldn't be anti anything as daft as strum patterns, and they have their place. The place they have is showing a player EXACTLY how to replicate a song to sound just like the original or the video cover they are learning from. My secondary gripe in this regard is, 'where is the fun in that?'. Where is the desire to try to put ones own feel and spin on a track. At the end of the day, I believe music is there to be sculpted, played around with, messed with. Put your own stamp on things, it's where you get really creative! If you want to cover a song what matters is you learn the words, the chords / notes, the melody. The timing is important too if you want to sound like the original, but timing can also be played with to put a new take on a song, give it a different feel (try it!). Going so far as mimicking strum patterns however, to me, just makes things too restricted and closed in. Music shouldn't be like that.

That whinge out of the way, I'll move on to my main problem with it. This blog is for beginners and away from the site I also teach a fair few people. It can be a struggle enough for a beginner to hold even a basic rhythm let alone knowing that this bit goes 'up down down up down down up'. If you are new to uke and have some key chords mastered, you would do better playing the songs you love in a basic rhythm until you have it down pat, and then start to really listen and feel what you are doing. Start working on your rhythm and your OWN strum patterns. Get your playing into a groove that YOU LIKE AND FEELS GOOD TO YOU. So long as you keep to the basic timing and beat of a song, many strum patterns will work, each putting a different style on the music. These patterns you create should sound far more natural and swingy than any forced pattern.

Don't get me wrong, when a beginner has advanced, has a sense of rhythm and can play basic stuff competently, sure, try to copy exactly then. It will probably teach you some nice new techniques, but try not to run before walking.

Imagine you get to the stage where you have a good range of songs you know and are playing with friends. Let's say a friend starts playing at a slower tempo, with a swingier style, something that changes the fixed strum pattern. Would you be able to adjust?

Rant over. And I never tell anyone on this site you MUST do this or that. Just think about what you are learning and consider becoming more comfortable with your own rhythms and playing styles first!

Good luck as always!

EDIT! Already had some people disagreeing! I am NOT suggesting there is anything wrong with beginners starting with up down up down strums, nor do I think beginners should get stuck in that rut - they should experiment! I just think it's more fun and rewarding to experiment by working out your own style!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


  1. Great advice! It took me a good couple of months after picking up a uke for the first time to decide that not only would I be incapable of exactly replicating whatever song, but more importantly, that wouldn't necessarily be desirable. The best cover versions never sound like carbon copies of the original.

  2. When I first attempt a new song I will use the basic down up down up etc.Just to get the chord changes into my head. Once I've conquered them I will play around with the strum.
    I'm guilty of asking what strum pattern is being used, mainly because I like the build up a mental library of different strums to use on future songs. I have to ask because it's difficult to work out a strum pattern of a video, perhaps as I progress, I will be able to hear it and be able to replicate. It's still early days yet.

  3. This is just plain ironic, but I found your post while searching for the strum pattern for "Don't get me wrong". Ha!

    I do hear what you are saying though. "Make it your own" is fine advice.

  4. Speaking as a beginner, everything I try to create on my own sounds the same. I need strumming patterns to vary up the sound!

  5. Yes, but I'm not saying dont play patterns I'm saying don't get hung up playing what someone else dictates is the right pattern.

    Any strum is a pattern, just more fun and better in long run if you work on your own style. Experiment.

  6. Missing the point completely. Some people don't play music to create something entirely new. Some of us use it to relieve stress, to REcreate, to enjoy what we've been able to do. For some of us, it's more fun and better to learn it the way we're used to hearing it -- this means knowing the strum pattern!

  7. No I disagree - I have come across many beginners who have side stepped learning basic rhythm and timing and jumped straight to strum patterns and then struggle. If you read again, I am not saying not to bother with them but a more rounded appreciation of the song is more productive. Besides - who says the strum pattern someone else dictated is correct? (Many of them on line are not!)


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