View Full Version : Strum pattern doldrums....ideas?

10-09-2015, 05:35 AM
Hi everyone,

I am a new mom who can't get out to jam sessions and doesn't have the funds or time for private lessons. I have been doing pretty well with Uncle Rod's Bootcamp, easy songs, UU, etc. I know maybe 12 chords well, can move through easy songs.


I am stuck with 3 strum patterns: ddd, udud, and dduudud (island strum). I know that only beginners obsess about strum patterns, and that you should find the rhythm, etc, but I have never studied music, so having a few more patterns in my pocket would be super helpful. Could anyone guide me? Thank you!

Purdy Bear
10-09-2015, 05:58 AM
Hi Welcome to the forum.

I've been playing about 2.5 months so far, and yes strumming can be difficult. I found writing them out differently certainly helped. For instance:

Using numbers for the down strokes with and as an up stroke - 1 and 2, 3 and 4 for dud dud

or 1,2 and 3 4 for ddudd

I have studied music before as I was a flute player to grade 5 level, so I had to read music. I still find learning the Uke hard as 99% of books concentrate on not using sheet music to teach.

10-09-2015, 06:14 AM
My advice would be the following .....

Initially stick to songs in 4:4 time and learn a few single-measure patterns - the standards are dudududu, d_dududu, d_du_ud_, d_du_udu, d_d_d_d_ and finally d_dud_du. Practice playing various full-measure chord progressions using all these patterns until you don't need to count any more but just know intuitively when you've reached the end of each measure. Keep practicing until they become second nature - it doesn't take too long.

Next, learn how to accent these patterns by playing certain single strums harder or softer or by experimenting with slightly longer gaps after the downs and before the ups than vice versa to create "swing". Try saying "Chattanooga" twice per measure as you strum to feel the swing.

Next, once the above is achieved, realise that the way one actually makes music is not to rigidly stick to the same pattern all the way through (which just sounds forced and boring) but switch between the above patterns as your mood and the mood of the song dictates. The above patterns are different tools to be used as and when they are required within each song, not just across different songs.

Next, figure out which of the above patterns are most suitable for chord changes mid way through a measure. Virtually all changes in 4:4 time will either be at the beginning of a measure or half way through (on the third down strum) so usually it is sufficient to restrict oneself to only those patterns which actually have a third down strum when changing chord mid measure (don't play d_du_udu in such circumstances for instance as the measure sounds a little lop-sided).

Finally, repeat the above for patterns in 3:4 time. This is easier because there are fewer of them and because chord changes tend to only be at the start of each measure.

All the above takes practice, maybe an hour a day for six months. But once it is in there it feels like second nature and becomes part of you. Then you can apply it to any song you choose in 4:4 and 3:4 time (which in practice is everything). Just break the song into full measures or half measures and play it differently each day if you so wish. To a listener it will sound good whichever way you play it if you keep a steady rhythm (not the same as a steady pattern) and make the correct chord changes at the right moments.

Hope that helps,


10-09-2015, 06:14 AM
Recently my homework was to make up 10 strumming patterns and then use them...

Here's how I did it --
I wrote out the numbers 1 through 8 (or I guess you could do 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &)

Then put d or u or x (for a chunk) or r (for a roll) underneath the numbers. Just remember chunks don't go on the 1. Leave blank spaces for a rest. Not every beat needs something.

10-09-2015, 07:52 AM
Also, if you aren't a member of UU+, you can get plenty of tutorials there ...

10-09-2015, 11:12 AM
Rather than limiting yourself to a strict "every beat needs a strum" regime, try changing the speed of some of the strums, for want of a better term ... for instance, brush down slowly, so every string is individually noticeable, then up twice at normal speed ... kind of dow-own up up or up dow-own up ... it's still four beats, but only three strokes. In various combinations this can bring a lot of variation to a tune.

Think "oh island in the sun" as dow-own down-up down-up dow-own and you might get the feel of what I mean.

Good luck :)

10-09-2015, 11:37 AM
Ditto Ernie's advice. I hesitate to suggest (d du ud), as I am stuck in a d du ud rut, but I would probably add this one next. It is a super useful strum for lottttts of songs. I've heard it called the "Swiss Army" strum because of its multi-purpose nature.

10-09-2015, 03:34 PM
Suggest Lil' Rev's videos: https://www.youtube.com/user/lilrevdotcom/videos

10-09-2015, 04:10 PM
Ernie and Sukie really hit on something.
You can also begin to incorporate different strum "accessories" like chunking, triplets. fan strums, and tremolo. I like to pluck a single string between chords on certain tunes
I try to listen to each song's melody and rhythm and get a feel for it's own personal strum pattern.
And use rests, what you don't play is as important as what you do play.

10-10-2015, 03:54 AM
I am working my way through Essential Strums for the Ukulele a DVD by Ralph Shaw. I am stuck a bit on the triplet strum (mostly due to speed) but I really like his teaching style.

10-10-2015, 08:24 AM
To be honest, I have never worked out what strum patterns I play, in terms of "U" and "D" - I just play what feels right. And I know people who write "DUDUDUDD" at the top of their sheet of music, and play it all the way through. To me, it just sounds dull.

Here's an idea - just for 20 minutes, don't worry about chords. Mute the strings by laying one finger right across them, and then strum, so you just get a "thrunk" sound. Now put some of your favourite music on, and strum along. Try and hear the rhythm in the music, and strum along. Sounds weird, but it works. As others have said, leave gaps, vary it, emphasise some down stokes, just make it interesting. Try to carry on that strumming when the music stops. And then do that when you are playing C, F, and G.

If this seems like it might work, take a look at Guido Heistek's website (http://ukuleleinthedark.com/paper-strum-strum-without-a-uke/) and his Hear The Strum DVD.

Kayak Jim
10-10-2015, 09:23 AM
If this seems like it might work, take a look at Guido Heistek's website (http://ukuleleinthedark.com/paper-strum-strum-without-a-uke/) and his Hear The Strum DVD.

This. Absolutely.

10-10-2015, 04:30 PM
Strum patterns are just notation - they are an attempt to write down the rhythm of a piece of music. Like Ernie said, you'll want to focus on 4:4 songs at first. If you don't know what that means, you can listen to just about any pop song - while you're listening, try to identify the chord changes (harmony) within the song. It's easiest to do this before the singing (melody) begins.

Once you're hearing the changes, count 1-2-3-4 on each chord such that every chord transition in the song is on a 1. This is breaking the harmony into measures, where each measure begins on a 1 beat. Since you are counting to four by ones, you're playing four quarter notes per measure. If you count out loud (and you should!), this will sound like 1-2-3-4 | 1-2-3-4 | 1-2-3-4, etc... Practice this without the 'uke for a while until you have the tempo down.

Next, pick up the 'uke and strum as you say 1-2-3-4. Since you cannot down-strum twice without up-strumming in between, let's keep it simple and alternate. Now our 1-2-3-4 looks like DUDU. Listen to how this sounds compared to the song you're learning. So long as you're using quarter notes to express rhythm, you cannot add or change any of the strums here, only remove them. DDUU is not valid, for example, because you have to move your hand up between down-strums. Every odd beat is a down-strum, and every even beat is an up-strum. You can also skip strums by moving your hand up or down without touching the strings. We can call this an air-strum. Air-strums are denoted by a -. With this in mind, the list of possible strumming patterns using quarter notes is:


One of those "strumming patterns" will sound the most like the rhythm of the song you are trying to learn. If none of them are exactly right, you can move to using eighth notes to represent your rhythm. Using eighth notes, there are 256 (2^8) possible strum patterns, instead of the 16 (2^4) possible patterns that can be represented by quarter notes. As you can see, rhythm quickly becomes difficult to notate, and small changes will not change the overall feel, especially if you're using sixteenth notes and beyond.

To summarize, strum patterns are just a way to notate rhythm. Learning how to count in 4:4 and approximate the strum pattern by breaking measures into quarter and eighth notes will give you an "intuitive" sense of rhythm. Learning specific strum patterns is great for beginners, because it helps you play songs that you like! But to move forward, you have to lose the strum pattern mentality and fix your attention on rhythm.

I've been working on this myself - it's hard work at first but it helps take the magic out of strum patterns. And that's a good thing! Because it means that you can build your own strum patterns by simply subtracting quarter or eighth notes from a measure.

Good luck!

10-11-2015, 08:24 AM
Just checking back into this thread and thought I'd make some further points ....

Many songs in 4:4 time are structured in the same way with individual verses / the chorus being made up of three or more commonly four lines of four measures each (so 12 or 16 measures in total per section). Very often these four measure lines (usually corresponding to a line of lyrics) are repeated time and again during a single song. So it pays to think a little bit about how one plays four measures together using different strumming patterns.

In these four measure lines it is very often the third measure that has a different rhythm to the first, second and fourth. The first two measures set the feel, the third switches things around and the fourth resolves things back to the beginning. From time to time this third measure also has a chord change mid way through (on the third down strum) so it is useful to play a pattern with a third down strum for this third measure.

Two examples ...

First try playing the chord progression CFGC (a measure of each) using the Swiss Army strum d_du_udu for all four measures, then try playing this strum for measures 1,2 and 4 but switch to d_dududu for measure 3. I think you'll agree it sounds better.

Next using the same two strumming patterns as above, try playing ADC/FA, that is a measure of A using the Swiss Army strum, then a measure of D using the same, then a half measure of C using d_du, then a half measure of F using dudu then resolve to a full measure of A using the Swiss Army strum again. Starting to sound pretty cool !

This is how I think about all this stuff. They do say that music is the most mathematical of all the arts and I am a maths nerd so it's no surprise really :o



10-11-2015, 12:06 PM
Strum patterns are just notation - they are an attempt to write down the rhythm of a piece of music. Like Ernie said, you'll want to focus on 4:4 songs at first. If you don't know what that means, you can listen to just about any pop song...

This is very true as is linking the 'd' and 'u' to the beat and half beat - (counting 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &...).

The problem with this is that it can become mechanical as the notation, like much musical notation, does not capture the subtleties of rhythm which is what makes music interesting.

I'm with York Steve. I don't pay much attention to strum patterns but basically do what I feel sounds right for the song. But to do this you need to do some serious listening. When you're learning a song, find a good recording and listen to it paying attention to the rhythm section - drums, bass, piano (if there is one) and pay particular attention to the drummer. How do they create interest yet maintain a regular rhythm?

Once you have the feel of how the rhythm of a song is being expressed, then follow the tip of muting your strings and trying to capture it in your strumming. Think of the right hand as having the role of the rhythm section and use it to to try and create an interesting rhythm for the song. I think of a strummed ukulele as being at least in part a percussion instrument and the right hand is playing the role of percussionist.

Another way I use to get the rhythm of the song is to use the natural rhythm of the words. I sing a lot of [traditional] folk songs and folk bands tend not to have percussionists so the natural rhythm of the words is what I work on.

One last thing: if you are accompanying your own singing, keep the strumming simple while you are singing and save any fancy strum patterns for fills between verses.

10-12-2015, 04:03 PM
WOW. Thank you SO much, everyone! I wasn't getting notifications about these replies, for some reason I only received one for the first reply, so I just worked through the thread and will do so several more times. Checking out the Guido Heistek DVD now and will try people's other recommendations. Thank you SO, SO much!

10-12-2015, 04:16 PM
The problem with this is that it can become mechanical as the notation, like much musical notation, does not capture the subtleties of rhythm which is what makes music interesting.

I completely agree.

I personally find that my own creativity is derived from the desire to break out of structure; by forcing myself to adhere to a artificially strict rhythm, I become acutely aware of the effect that small changes or irregularities have on my music. My breakthroughs tend to originate from the tension between the discipline and freedom.

My most productive practice sessions begin extremely rigidly while I work on a particular technique; then I introduce a larger dose of freedom while I practice the new technique on known songs and progressions; and finally I remove all discipline and allow myself to break every rule that I enforced up until that point. Some of this rule-breaking feels and sounds spectacular, and I try to repeat it. Some of it does not, and I ignore it.

Sorry that this post devolved into a amateur philosophy! Like my improvisation though, the reader is free to learn from it or ignore it, as they see fit.

10-13-2015, 07:16 AM
Anyone by chance have the Hear the Strum DVD they want to sell? Looks like it takes 2 to 3 weeks for delivery and is 28 bucks plus 5 dollars shipping from Canada. I am in PA.