View Full Version : Where to pick and strum on the uke? Does it matter?

12-12-2016, 06:49 PM
The general consensus is pick over the sound hole and strum where the neck meets the body, right? Or wherever you please?

I just worked up an instrumental arrangement of "Jingle Bells." To play it, I got to fingerpick and strum, all of which I do over where the neck joins the body. It was only after practicing the arrangement and modifying it a number of times did I realize maybe I should be moving my picking/struming hand forward and backward accordingly. I experimented with that, and found it hard, as I've worked all the movements into my muscle memory, and I play standing up sans a strap. All this moving about destabilizes the uke.

What do you think, guys? Should I make the effort to play "properly"?

Oh, one more thing. It's been bugging me! I find when I'm playing, and I lift up a finger from the fretboard, the string gives off a "boing." I thought I was pressing too hard, but no matter how much I ease up, inevitably a sound is created by my finger leaving the string. What is up with that?

12-12-2016, 08:10 PM
The leader of our group, actually classes she gives through the senior center, specifically says to strum on the neck and pick over the sound hole. To be able to do both as you describe, I would absolutely use a strap (I use a strap with all my ukes and basses, added buttons myself to them too).

I don't get a noise when I lift my fingers from the strings. I use Aquila Nylgut, and also fluorocarbons, and just tested Worth browns. Could you have worn out strings?

12-12-2016, 08:17 PM

You mean the noise I get from lifting fingers off strings is indicative of worn strings? I'm relatively new to the uke world and have never changed uke strings before. Maybe it's time!

Croaky Keith
12-12-2016, 10:54 PM
Play where it is comfortable for you, there is no 'proper way'. :)

Getting a noise when lifting off your finger suggests to me that you are either twisting the string or slightly pulling on it as you release it, although when I started out, the strings did tend to stick to my fingers as well, & I think I was pressing down too hard. ;)

12-12-2016, 11:14 PM
Every positions has its own "voice". It is true that a lot of uke teacher says that "the sweet spot is where the neck meets the body", and it is true for me. There is the better balance of volume/sustain/tone/"feel" etc.
But I personally find that for some songs/arrangement, different positions are better.
Going up to the neck is going to produce a mellower sound, while going down produce a "percussive" strum.
Same with pick. I usually do on the soundhole just because I have more space, but if you use a lot of harmonics you'll probably find yourself better a little more up to neck.
I personally found that I go up to the neck while pick when I want to produce a more controlled sound or use harmonics.
So "where to strum and pick" is just a matter of "convenience" for me : it depends on what you want to achieve and feels best.

And if I can understand that "boing" (but I am not so sure) probably you lift your fingers too quickly/pressed earlier with too much strength and thus create an unwanted "pull-off effect".

12-12-2016, 11:28 PM
I've also heard someone say the sweet spot is halfway between the nut and saddle. I think the "sweet spot" is anywhere on the fretboard that gets the sound you want for the song you are playing..

12-12-2016, 11:33 PM
What MrStones said. In classical music playing near the bridge is called ponticello (in one of John King's book he directs you to do this), and is often paired with playing up the neck for contrast and emphasis. Both sound good for different goals.

12-13-2016, 03:10 AM
As has been said, different locations yield different sounds, so it depends on what you want. When you watch expert players, they'll not always pick (or strum) in the same places. Just do it by ear.

The finger noise, in addition to what Phil wrote, may also come from your finger tips still being soft (especially if you are pressing hard). When the tips get rougher and firmer (not necessarily calluses), it will go away.

12-13-2016, 02:31 PM
I've also heard someone say the sweet spot is halfway between the nut and saddle. I think the "sweet spot" is anywhere on the fretboard that gets the sound you want for the song you are playing..

Half way between nut and saddle is about the 12th fret isn't it ? Which on a lot of ukes is where body meets neck which is where those who do professional expertising tell us to strum... maybe thats where the advice to strum there comes from the "sweet spot" rather than just the position where neck meets body. Harmonics pops to mind - not sure exactly why... Personally I strum where neck meets body because thats where my strummin fingers falls easy, I pick (badly) over the soundhole because I brace my fingers Scruggs banjo style on the ukes edge at the waist.

12-13-2016, 02:39 PM
In regards to strumming, you will generally want to do it above the sound hold, preferably on the bottom of the fretboard area. While expert players can play the ukulele just about anywhere to achieve different sounds, beginners often try to strum above the sound hole, and then their fingers slip between the strings as they play.

I'm teaching ukulele to about 400 students. I see this ALL THE TIME. It is as if they were all taught guitar at some point, where strumming does occur over the sound hole.

As for picking, I use my pinky as an anchor point and generally pick over the sound hole. At that point, my fingers are intentionally going between the strings.

12-13-2016, 02:48 PM
Yes, it matters. I always teach beginners to strum where the neck meets the body, that's where you get the biggest bang for your buck. I pick just behind that, closer to the soundhole.
A buzz can occur for lots of reasons. There are several threads on it here.

Brad Bordessa
12-13-2016, 02:54 PM
I almost always fall back down the string towards the bridge when I pick. Strumming sounds good in one place, picking sounds good in another. To me. I strum between the edge of the body and the soundhole depending on what tone I want (or further up along the neck on occasion). For picking I usually end up from the middle of the soundhole to an inch away from it on the bridge side.

Another thing to think about: tone is relative to the place you pick on the string. If you pick 25% of the way along the string when it's played open, you should be picking 25% of the way along the ringing length of the string when played at any fret. Not saying 25% is the best spot, but if you float your picking hand according the where your fretting hand is, you'll get a more consistent sound. This is super detail oriented and not something a beginner should worry about, but little stuff adds up.

12-13-2016, 06:48 PM
Yes! Different spots produce different sounds. Thanks for the reminder! At the same time, I get that the general principle is strum where the neck meets the body and pick over the sound hole. It all comes down to the sonic effects you want to achieve.

I took a moment to review online clips of Azo Bell and Ukulelezaza, two of my soprano heroes. The former seems to always play strapless and standing up. Both move their picking/struming hand forward and backward to get the sound they want without fumbling the uke. I'm gonna aim for that! Oh, and I noticed Azo Bell braces the uke with his pinky when he's picking over the sound hole. I'm so copying that.

Thanks again to all who shared their experience and wisdom!

12-13-2016, 07:39 PM
On second thought, I agree with the possibility that you're pressing too hard on the strings.

12-14-2016, 02:19 PM
I've also heard someone say the sweet spot is halfway between the nut and saddle. I think the "sweet spot" is anywhere on the fretboard that gets the sound you want for the song you are playing..

Exactly - I change my location based on the sound I want.