You just finished your 3rd ‘ukulele lesson and you’ve gotten close to comfortable with playing basic 2-3 chord songs. So far you have been using either just downstrokes or alternating between upstrokes and downstrokes on a 4/4 rhythm. That’s great! Focusing on getting a nice clean tone and getting your basic technique is important. With an established foundation it is significantly easier to branch off and focus on your particular interests.
This doesn’t change the fact that after playing for a while you are going to want to expand on what you are doing. It seems one of the aspects people have difficulty with is figuring out a strumming pattern that fits to the song they are playing. I have heard many different techniques and styles to approach this issue and it seems to just boil down to whatever works for you. Wether you want to follow a specific pattern (ie. D DU UD) or freestyle it based on feel is purely up to you.
My personal take is you want to do a little bit of both. Practice various rigid patterns to build technique and expose yourself to different rhythms. If you don’t have an instructor to take you through the process you can find a lot of resources online. Amongst the plethora of tutorials online I found this great blog entry from the UK website, Uke Hunt.
Accompanied with each pattern is an audio file and some examples of songs that utilize that pattern. What I would do is first intently listen to the examples and try to remember the general feel or essence of it. Second either jump into it and try to capture that feeling or take the pattern and practice it one bar at a time. When doing the ladder I like to separate each pattern with the equal amount of rests. For example if you are practicing a 4/4 strumming pattern that last a whole measure, rest for a measure and steadily count the downbeats in between.
Ie. |D DU UD |Rest Rest Rest Rest|D DU UD |Rest Rest Rest Rest|
From there expand to looping the pattern until you have assigned it to muscle memory. When looping the strumming pattern, it is best to start over when making a mistake. This helps reinforce good habits and helps avoid any “deprogramming” in the future.
At that point start adding on some chord changes and practice making those transitions fluid. Our minds can really only focus on one thing at a time, so just like practicing your right hand technique independently it is also good to do the same with the left. Practice just your left hand movement between difficult chord changes (ie. C to Em), strumming occasionally to check if you’re are getting a clear sound. After a couple days of practice, you should notice your movements and motions to be more fluid.
While it is easier said than done, it is a very satisfying feeling to be able to call upon a new strumming pattern and to be able to readily apply it to your next song. While practice makes perfect is a little antiquated of a mantra, a small revision is enough to modernize it:
Practice doesn’t make perfect: Perfect practice makes perfect.
Let us know how strumming is going along for you or if you have any other tips/techniques to becoming a proficient rhythm ‘ukulele player!