How do you make strumming patterns more dynamic and not so rigid in rhythm?


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Jan 9, 2024
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Hello! Just signed up for UU. Been looking at this awesome forum for several years---love it!...and I finally have a question:
So, I cannot replicate other peoples songs (just can't) so I look up various chords to various songs and take the chord those progressions that melodically transition well/fit to the melody I am trying to put together. I strum my Bari to create percussion---but I am so stuck in this strumming pattern that feels that same with every song. It also feels a bit too busy because I struggle incorporating rests. I tend to play my uke like a rhythm guitar while hitting certain strings to stand out as if it would be the Vocal/lyric rhythm, within the strumming rhythm (if that makes sense). It kinda works with every song I've come up with...but, I am stuck in this pattern. I am also struggling to incorporate arpeggios---feels clumsy. I think I have just gotten into bad habits that limit my ability to create flow that makes a song interesting/dynamic. Geez! I did a horrible job explaining this (lol), but, I guess my question is: How can I work on combining strumming/rests/arpeggios to make things more interesting in rhythm and flow, rather having the same busy strumming? (maybe I just need to take lessons??) Anyone have any ideas on exercises to put these techniques together? Thanx! :)
Metronome! set it absurdly slow and between certain beats strum, between others arpeggiate, and do nothing a.k.a. rest at other times. Eventually speed things up.

By the way, are you playing established songs where the strum pattern is already a done-deal or are you improvising? I almost always improvise and I just do what I want, repeat whatever I thought up, and then it is music. I know that isn't helpful at all, is it? I will give a few concrete examples of what I like to do. First thing is successive upstrokes. For some reason, that really adds least to my ear. It would be something like down up down up down up up up. I also like sound board thumping. Throwing that percussion into the mix varies things a bit. Lastly you can experiment with which fingers you use to strum as they all have different sounds. Just as an example, on my down strum, I use my ring finger and on the up strum I use the thumb. That leaves my index and middle finger free to do other things like triplets or picking a note that adds some texture to the strum. I feel like I'm starting to blabber. So I'll leave it at that.
You actually explained it very well. Singing while strumming is kind of a right-brain left-brain thing to me. I can concentrate on one... well, they seem at times to be mutually exclusive. I've heard that you need to practice enough to have your rhythm hand on autopilot as you sing or play "around" the time signature. That's easy to say, but seek out UU member Yukio (and his metronome) - he has some terrific YouTubes on that!

I too have limited strumming variety as I try to focus more on correct chords and delivering the words, though keeping a steady tempo is essential in order to sing with "musical" phrasing around the beat. Playing in groups doesn't help much because there is rarely an established pattern. Everyone just does their own thing. I often opt for arpeggios (in quarter notes only) or backbeat chops to get away from that chaos. Those I can generally do, but then often cannot sing well at the same time.
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I agree that many people are stuck in the "Swiss Army Knife Strum" pattern. However, there are many videos of esteemed instructors that show alternative strumming, some specific to genres like reggae, but this helps building skills. Also some lead sheets also have a strum pattern included in addition to chords and lyrics. So when looking for songs it's a good idea to keep an eye open for versions that include strumming patterns.
Look at "Similar Threads" below.
Lots of strumming discussions there.

<edit> I need to revisit those, also ;)
Total immersion:
UU's Devin Bender Music recommended:
9 different exciting strumming patterns
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Spank the strings, flick them and rap on the top of your uke at regular intervals in your strumming. Check out one of the many Rhumba strumming tutorials online. There are plenty of Flamenco patterns that sound cool. Learn a few and make your own. Experiment with different dynamics on unexpected strums. Combine strumming with plucking. What most people do is learn other peoples songs and use the parts they like in their own song without copying them note for note...make strategic changes.
I know that many ukulele groups strum in unison which can be kinda boring. You can change strums, add fingerpicking & arpeggios to suit the music, cuz not everyone has to play the same way. You can also vary how hard you play - use dynamics to play some beats/notes louder & others softer.

Often, verses can have a different pattern from the chorus so you can adjust what you play. Concur w/ kkimura & merlin666. There's lots of ways to break the monotony.

Find it interesting that there are names for different strums on the ukulele. When I learned to play the guitar, it was just 'play it like this'.
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I forgot to mention to change where you strum. And I don't mean to go to the kitchen instead of the living room. But I mean where you contact the strings. I know the ukulele police say it is traditional and legitimate and proper to hit your strings around the 11th fret give or take 1/248 of an inch. However, play a strum ponticello--right at the bridge. It is a very striking sound and good for an occasional accent.
Thanx to everyone who replied! I am in the midst of re-tiling my bathroom so this is the first I've checked back. So many great tips and ideas from you all. When I can spend more than two minutes on the computer, I will send some replies---plus, I have more curiosities on the topic! Hope everyone is staying warm in this crazy freeze!
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