Happy Helpful Guide to the Ukulele – Step 8: Popular Strumming Patterns

Step 8: Popular Strum Patterns

Now that you’ve mastered three chord combinations, numerous songs are at your fingertips! At this point, the trick is not only switching between the chords, but also strumming the correct pattern to accomplish the style you are looking for. Strumming patterns are an opportunity to be creative and bring your own style into a song. In Step 8, Bernadette takes us through popular strumming patterns to get your creative juices flowing.

Besides the up and down strokes introduced so far, there are two other strokes essential to master: the air stroke and the wham stroke.

air stroke

  • A movement of the wrist (either down or up) whereby the strings are not struck.
  • When you play consecutive down strokes, you are effectively executing the upward air stroke in between.
  • Observe what you’re doing when you do a series of down strokes. Your
    wrist necessarily has to come back up after a down stroke before it moves downward again. For slow songs, you might be tempted to leave your hand lingering below the ukulele and only come back up to do the next down stroke. However, it’s important to practice getting your right hand to move like a metronome, in regular and even beats (down, up, down, up) without lingering at the bottom of a down stroke or so that the wrist movement becomes irregular.
  • Instead of counting 1, 2, 3, 4, add an “and” in between the numbers.
  • Count 1 &, 2 &, 3 &, 4 &. The “&” acts as a placeholder for the upstroke.
  • Relax your left hand to hold the neck of your ukulele so the open string chord Am7 resonates or close your left hand so it’s allows a percussive sound. No string should vibrate.
  • The air stroke is represented with a hyphen (-)

air stroke ukulele

The air stroke is used in more complex strumming patterns. The so-called calypso strum or island strum is one of the most popular patterns used in ukulele group playing. The basic pattern is D-, DU, -U, DU. Variants include

• d-, DU, -u, DU

• du, DU, -u, DU

• d-, D-, -u, DU

exercise 27: the calypso strum

• After playing the song using d-, D-, d-, D- the first time through, try the calypso strum. You can use either G or G7.

Oh I [C] come from Alabama with a banjo on my [G] knee, I’m [C] going to Louisiana, my true love for [G] me to [C] see

[F] Oh, Susanna, now [C] don’t you cry for [G] me
For I [C] come from Alabama, with my banjo [G] on my [C] knee.

It [C] rained all night the day I left, the weather it was [G] dry
The [C] sun so hot I froze to death; Susanna, [G] don’t you [C] cry.


I [C] had a dream the other night when everything was [G] still, I [C] thought I saw Susanna coming [G] up the [C] hill,


The [C] buckwheat cake was in her mouth, the tear was in her [G] eye, I [C] said I’m coming from Dixieland, Susanna [G] don’t you [C] cry.


wham stroke

  • The other important stroke is the wham stroke, indicated by a capital X.
  • Tilt your right hand at an angle so that the hand is diagonal instead of parallel to your ukulele.
  • Use your entire right hand to slap the strings so you hear a percussive sound. See illustration.
  • Your hand has to be diagonal so that you can carry on next with an upstroke with the flesh of your index finger.
  • The wham is another sort of downstroke.

Do not lift your hand to execute the upstroke next. Rather, immediately use the flesh of your index finger to strum the 1st to 4th strings in an upward movement, with no hesitation.

To practice the next strum pattern of D-, DU, XU, DU, break it down into two parts: D-, DU, X-, – counting 1 &, 2 &, 3 &, 4 &. Then do the second part: XU, XU, XU, XU repeatedly. Put these together: D-, DU, XU, DU.

A variation of this strum pattern is to use the side of your right hand (little finger down to the wrist) to mute the strings instead of the entire hand to slap the strings. We indicate this muting by the small letter x.

wham stroke ukulele

country strum

  • The country strum pattern consists of using the thumb to pick the 3rd and 4th strings.
  • Using T to represent the flesh of the thumb to pluck one string, T4 means pluck the 4th string, T3 means to pluck the 3rd string.
  • Use only the thumb to pluck one string and then follow with a downstroke to strum the remaining strings: T4, D, T3, D.
  • This strum pattern can be used on country songs like “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” and “Banks of the Ohio.”

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