"If I had one question about ukulele playing, it would be: what's the best strumming technique for the ukulele? I have been using my thumb, but I've seen some folks using their index finger, which I find a bit awkward. Is there a technique or trick I'm missing?"
No, Sharon, you're not missing anything. Here are a few tips I share with my students:
Thumb vs. Fingers: When starting, I teach all my students to use their fingers rather than their thumbs.
Using your thumb has some disadvantages. It can cause:
Excessive Wrist Rotation: This increases the risk of RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury).
Example: Think of it like turning a doorknob vigorously for an extended period; it can strain your wrist over time.
Slower Strumming: Thumb strumming tends to be slower due to wrist anatomy limitations.
Limited Versatility: While thumbs are useful for achieving a muted jazz sound, they're not ideal for beginners.
I am not anti-thumb as I do use my thumb when I want my strums to sound "Jazz", you use your thumb to achieve that cool muted sound jazz guitarists do by using the pad of their strumming thumb. And you have to have a good thumb for finger-picking. So the thumb does have its place in music and its time in the sun. Just not when you are shiny new and learning to strum.
Consider Everyday Tasks: Think about how we use our thumbs and fingers in everyday life. For instance, when typing, fingers are more versatile for intricate tasks like typing rapidly or hitting specific keys, thumbs hit the spacebar and that is pretty much it.
How to Strum: To practice strumming, imagine you've dipped your right-hand index finger into a pot of paint and want to flick the paint off your fingertip. This motion is similar to what you should recreate when strumming your uke.
Strumming is Counting: Start by strumming down and counting each strum as 1, 2, 3, 4, while tapping your foot and nodding your head to the same rhythm. Imagine you have an invisible string from your chin to your right foot toe, well that string also goes through your right-hand finger.
When you have the hang of playing the four downstrokes Then, add the up strums, counting as "and" between 1, 2, 3, 4.
Example: Try counting aloud while strumming to maintain a steady rhythm - "1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and."
10 Tips for a Rockstar Right Hand:
Learning Music Physically Changes Your Body: It builds timing skills, and nerve connections from your brain to your index finger develop over time.
Think of it like building the control lines between a car's accelerator, brakes, and steering wheel to drive smoothly.
Nerves Grow Slowly During Sleep: Nerve fibers take time to connect from the brain to the finger, and this process may take up to a month.
It's similar to planting seeds in a garden; they need time to grow and establish strong roots.
Always Count Out Loud: Counting helps internalize the rhythm and ensures consistency.
It's like a conductor leading an orchestra by counting to keep everyone in sync.
Get a Metronome (as Important as a Tuner): A metronome helps you practice strumming at a consistent tempo.
It's like having a musical companion that keeps time while you play.
Use the Metronome Daily: Consistent practice with a metronome helps improve your timing.
Just like regular exercise strengthens your body, daily metronome practice strengthens your sense of rhythm.
Play Slowly: Start by strumming at a slower tempo to build a strong foundation.
It's similar to learning to walk before you run; slow practice ensures steady progress.
Always Tap Your Foot on the Beat: Coordinating foot tapping with strumming helps internalize the rhythm.
Think of it like dancing to your own music; your foot keeps you in sync with the beat.
Always Nod Your Head to the Rhythm: This reinforces your sense of timing and rhythm.
It's like expressing agreement by nodding your head during a conversation; it reinforces your engagement.
Do This Every Day: Consistent practice is key to improving your strumming skills.
Similar to brushing your teeth daily to maintain good oral hygiene, daily practice ensures your strumming skills stay sharp.
Have Fun and Remember Progress Takes Time: Enjoy the journey of learning, and don't rush the process.
Learning music is like embarking on an adventure; savor each step, and you'll reach your destination with a smile.
I hope this helps.