“I need to learn some new strums! Can you teach me?”
This is one of the most common requests I hear from uke players who feel they have become stagnant and are not moving ahead with their playing.
And my answer is always the same: WORK ON YOUR RHYTHM!
That’s all “strumming” is – rhythm. So many people want to teach down-down-up-down… that sort of thing, but that simply teaches you to memorize a pattern. If you take the time to learn how to play with rhythm, I guarantee that you will have so many “strumming” options, you won’t know what to do with them all.
I have attached a video to demonstrate, but allow me to write out a little instruction to get you started:
Start by playing just ONE chord. Let’s make it a Bb. I choose a Bb because it uses all strings and because of that, you can dampen the sound as we go. (see video)
Strum “one – two – three – four” over and over, slowly, keeping a real even beat and knowing where ONE is at all times. Tap your foot with each count. Each time you strum the chord, lift up on your left hand just a little to stop the ringing of the chord.
This should sound like short little jabs at the chord.
Now accent on JUST THE ONE. (an accent means that you play it a little louder).
ONE – two – three – four – ONE – two – three – four – ONE – two – three – four – … and so forth. Do this evenly and cleanly. Do it until you can think of something else while doing it, like look around the room and notice what’s outside the window, yet still be completely aware of the accent and where the “one” is. (And continue to tap your foot right on the beat!)
Now without stopping, accent ONE – TWO – three – four – ONE – TWO – three – four – ONE – TWO – three – four – …
Can you guess what’s next? ONE – TWO – THREE – four – ONE – TWO – THREE – four – ONE – TWO – THREE – four – …
and finally, accent ALL FOUR BEATS.
Then, accent just the “two” and “four”: one – TWO – three – FOUR – one – TWO – three – FOUR – one – TWO – three – FOUR – …
Again, do this over and over until you can do it effortlessly. And if you’re one of those who get bored easily – DON’T! If you want to develop your sense of rhythm and learn to “strum”, then you need to pay attention to the details: listen for each stroke, are all the strings sounding nice and clean? Are you keeping an even rhythm? Can you do these exercises and keep your foot going while gazing out the window and imagining you are the best “strummer” in the world?
Until you can do all that, don’t you even think about being bored!
Here’s the video: