Great, so you know how to tune your ukulele and maybe you’ve even learnt a handful of basic chords already – now it’s time to learn your first strumming patterns! In this blog, we’ll be teaching you how to play various rhythms by starting out with something simple and increasing the complexity as we go. Good luck and have fun!

Ukulele Rhythms: Learn Them Here!

How to Hold Your Ukulele

For the sake of convenience, this ukulele blog has been written with right-handed players in mind. If you’re left-handed, simply ‘mirror’ the instructions. The ukulele can be played either while standing up or sitting down and, when you hold the neck with your fret hand, you’ll want to place your thumb against the back of the neck instead of curled over it like some guitarists do (see photo below).

Ukulele Rhythms: Learn Them Here!

Playing Ukulele While Standing

Hold the ukulele in your arms as seen in the top image, pressing it against your body with the lower half of your right arm. You’ll immediately notice the ukulele sits fairly high up against your body. Since your right wrist needs to be flexible, the ukulele should be ‘locked in’ and remain in place when you remove your left hand from the neck. Make sure that the fretboard points upwards at a very slight angle.

Playing Ukulele While Sitting Down

If your ukulele is either too small or too big to play standing up, it’s probably better to play it sitting down as seen in the image below. Set the body of the uke on your right leg and keep it snug against your body using your right forearm. Make sure that the fretboard points upwards at a very slight angle and that you’re able to keep your wrist relaxed. Again, the ukulele should be ‘locked in’ and not slide down your leg whenever your left hand is not holding the neck. If you’re struggling to properly position the ukulele, try placing it a little higher up your right leg, or shift your leg just a little.

See also: How to Hold Each Size of Ukulele

Ukulele Rhythms: Learn Them Here!

How to Strum Your Ukulele

You can strum the ukulele in two ways, either by using a plectrum or by using your index finger. The choice is yours, but whatever you do, make sure you strum by only moving your wrist rather than your entire forearm – or elbow if you will. You’ll also want to keep the rest of your body as relaxed as possible, especially your right upper arm and shoulder.

Playing the Ukulele with a Plectrum

A lot of ukulele players opt for playing with a plectrum, which gives a little more control and will feel more natural if you’re already used to playing the guitar with a pick. This is perfectly fine, it’s just that a plastic plectrum can sound really loud and sharp against the nylon strings of your ukulele. For a warmer sound, we recommend trying a felt plectrum. If you want to learn how to properly play with a plectrum first, check out our dedicated blog.

Ukulele Rhythms: Learn Them Here!

Playing the Ukulele with Your Index Finger

This is how the ukulele is traditionally played and it will give you a more subtle and ‘relaxed’ sound compared to playing with a pick. Stick out your index finger and bend it a little while keeping the other fingers grouped together, then strum your index finger gently up and down the strings by moving your wrist up and down. And remember: keep your wrist relaxed!

Ukulele Rhythms: Learn Them Here!

Playing Rhythms (Strumming Patterns)

When you start playing rhythms, or strumming patterns, there are a few important things to keep in mind:

  • Most songs are based on a 4/4 time signature and as such, can be counted along to ‘in fours’: 1, 2, 3, 4 – 1, 2, 3, 4. This also applies to most of the strumming patterns we’re about to show you. At the end of this blog, you’ll also find triplet strumming patterns, which are played in counts of three: 1, 2, 3 – 1, 2, 3 – etc.
  • Try to play in time with the beat as best as you can. Getting the timing right is tricky at first, and it can help to count out loud while you play.
  • Strum exactly on the beat, so not right before or right after. This too can be difficult at first, so it can help to have someone with a trained ear to listen in and give you pointers.
  • An easy way to help you with your timing is to play using a metronome. This can be a real metronome or one of the many app-based ones (search for ‘metronome’ in the Play Store or App Store). Always start as slow as you need to in order to get the timing right and only speed things up when your timing is spot on.
  • Always keep experimenting to intuitively figure out which strumming patterns match the song you want to play.

Basic Strumming Patterns

Let’s begin with a couple of basic strumming patterns.

Rhythm 1

While not the most exciting or inspiring rhythm, this one makes for great practice. You’re going to strum down the strings once on every count. Here, the arrows indicate downstrokes only.

1 2 3 4

Now try adding a little more music to this basic rhythm by strumming a little harder on the first and third count. Make sure the downstroke on the first beat is even slightly harder than the one on the third. Visualised in writing, this is what you get: ONE – two – three – four, ONE – two – three – four, etc. These subtle touches are called accents.

Rhythm 2

The next step includes a downstroke immediately followed up by an upstroke, and should sound even more melodic than the first rhythm. Better yet, this rhythm can actually be used to play a song.

1 2 3 4

Try to make the rhythm sound a little more expressive by incorporating the accents used in Rhythm 1: ONE-and, two-and, three-and, four-and, ONE-and, two-and, three-and, four-and.

Simple Variations

After a while, the previous strumming patterns might start to sound a little boring. Let’s add some variation to shake things up!

Rhythm 3

If you look closely, you’ll notice that the rhythm shown below is a combination of Rhythm 1 and 2. Start off with two downstrokes followed by two downstrokes and two upstrokes. So, down – down – down-updown-up. Again, don’t forget to add the accents from the first exercise to the following rhythms!

1 2 3 4

Rhythm 4

There are lots of variations possible here. Try this one: down – down-up – down – down-up.

1 2 3 4

Rhythm 5

Or this one: down – down-updown-updown-up.

1 2 3 4

Rhythm 6

Here’s another variation, but feel free to come up with your own! down – down-updown-up – down

1 2 3 4

Skipping Strums

A fun way to add some variation is by skipping a strum. Funnily enough, as a result, you actually emphasize the strum you’re skipping. This is a popular technique used in many styles of music.

Rhythm 7

This strumming pattern is almost identical to the last. The only difference is that you won’t be strumming down on the third beat. You’ll notice this actually makes the third beat stand out more.

1 2 3 4

Keep in mind that you should still strum down on the third beat, albeit without actually hitting the strings. This way, it’s easier to keep time since you won’t stop moving your hand. If this proves too difficult, just go as slowly as you need to until you no longer make any timing mistakes.

Rhythm 8

Here’s another variation. Notice there’s an extra strum at the end.

1 2 3 4

Feel free to experiment using this technique. Take any basic strumming pattern and skip any one of the strums.

Adding a Backbeat

So far, you’ve only put extra emphasis on the first and third beat as a way to add accents, but in styles like rock and jazz, it’s customary to emphasize the second and fourth beat. This is called a backbeat. When you’re trying to play along to a song, always listen closely to find out which beats are emphasized and try to catch on with your ukulele. You can even use the rhythms above – just make sure you put a little more emphasis on the second and fourth beat.

Ritme 9

Here’s an example of a backbeat. The yellow arrows indicate the accentuated beats. This rhythm might feel counterintuitive at first, but it’s really just a matter of getting used to it.

1 2 3 4

Bear in mind that this is just a single example. In reality, you can play almost every rhythm with a backbeat.

Strumming in Between Beats

As soon as you’re able to play a backbeat, it’s time to add a little complexity by strumming right in between two counts. It’s a great technique that fits styles like reggae or, if you prefer something faster, ska music.

Rhythm 10

To get this strumming pattern down, you have to strum exactly in between the beats as indicated by the yellow arrows.

1 2 3 4

Tip: Strum down twice on every beat but only hit the strings on the second downstroke. It can also help to count along out loud: one-and-two-and-three-and-four-and. Strum on every ‘and’. Start slowly and use a metronome for tight timing.

Rhythm 11

The previous strumming pattern is difficult to play in time perfectly, so don’t worry too much if you can’t get it right straight away. Alternatively, you may want to try this next one. Strum softly on the first beat, then do as you’ve done for the previous pattern. In other words, play: 1-and – and – and – and. By playing the downstroke at the start of every bar, you’re less likely to lose track. Please note that compared to Rhythm 9, the ‘and’-strokes are upstrokes here.

1 2 3 4


A widely used technique when it comes to playing the ukulele involves muting the strings with the palm of the strumming. When you then play the muted strings, you get a kind of ‘chuck’ sound. To play the often-heard rhythm outlined below, you’re going to mute the strings on the downstrokes of the second and fourth beat.

Rhythm 12

1 2 3 4
↓x ↓x

Tip: You can easily come up with a rhythm of your own by replacing one or more of the strums with an ‘x’.

How to ‘Chuck’ a Ukulele

To get that ‘chuck’ sound, let the palm of your right hand rest gently on the strings while you play a downstroke.

Counting in 3’s

While most pop songs can be counted along to ‘in fours’, there are also plenty of tunes made up of counts of three. Here, the rhythm is counted along to like a waltz: one-two-three, one-two-three, etc. To play the next couple of strumming patterns, it’s best to count along out loud again to make things easier and to make sure all counts last equally long.

Rhythm 13

Let’s start out nice and easy with a downstroke on every beat.

1 2 3

Rhythm 14

Now two strums per beat.

1 2 3

Rhythm 15

Now you can create your own variations. Try this one.

1 2 3

Rhythm 16

Or this one.

1 2 3

Now try coming up with a variation of your own!

Swing Rhythms

Every strumming pattern you’ve seen so far can also be played with swing. While hard to define, swing encompasses smooth, relaxed and groovy rhythms commonly used in blues, jazz and rock ‘n roll. Chances are, you’re able to play along without having to think about it all that much. If you do want to learn more, then read on.


So far, we’ve been dividing the beats into two parts, where both strokes take up an equal amount of time. This is called a straight rhythm.



Now let’s look at swing. To get a better idea, it can help to see swing rhythms in ‘threes’, meaning every beat is divided into three steps, like so:


Count out loud slowly and strum on ‘1’ and ‘3’: 1 – 2 – 3, 1 – 2 – 3. The second step only happens in your head: 1 – (2) – 3. When you get the hang of it, try upping the tempo. At a certain point, it’ll start to sound like swing!

It’s worth mentioning that in reality, musicians don’t play these kinds of swing rhythms exactly in counts of 3. In fact, the shorter the last strum, the ‘tighter’ the groove. The longer the strum, the more relaxed any swing rhythm will sound. Don’t overthink it, just trust your inner metronome on this one!

See Also

» Ukuleles
» Ukulele Bags & Cases
» Ukulele Strings
» Ukulele Stands
» Ukulele Straps
» Ukulele Books
» Children’s Ukuleles
» Plectrums
» Metronomes

» What’s the Best Ukulele for Me?
» Learn to Play Ukulele in 3 Easy Steps!
» Learn how to Play with a Plectrum!
» Playing Guitar Without a Plectrum: Fingerpicking
» Help! What Size Ukulele Should I Buy?
» How to Tune Your Ukulele
» Ukulele for Guitarists: The 4 Most Important Chords
» The Difference Between the Ukulele, Mandolin, and Banjo
» Chords: Theory and Chord Symbols
» Ukulele Strings that Are Right for You

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