UD#7 PAPER STRUM (Strum-without-a-uke)

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UD#7 PAPER STRUM (Strum-without-a-uke) 

from Ukulele in the Dark w/ Guido Heistek

Learning to strum can be a little daunting especially if you have never played a strummed instrument before. There is a lot to consider:

•What finger should I strum with on my right hand? Thumb? Index finger? Both?
•How can I change between the chords and keep strumming?
•How do I know which pattern to strum?
•How can I strum and sing at the same time?

I find that new players need a lot of experience with the simple act of keeping rhythm with their strumming hand. They need to build up endurance at just keeping the strumming hand going in rhythm and continuing to listen as they do so.

So, I developed something I call the PAPER STRUM GAME. I have beginning players spend a lot of time strumming on pieces of paper. They hold the piece of paper in their left hand (for right handed players) and hit the paper with down strokes and upstrokes. This way they can focus on getting the feel of strumming without being to concerned with the details we will add later.

Here’s a short clip from the Expansion Section of my DVD, Hear the Strum. In it I demonstrate how you can use the Paper Strum to strum along with any recording. In the clip I play what I call the BASIC FEEL of the song. That is the basic steady Down Up strumming movement that will work through the whole song.

Here’s the clip:

Try it! Grab a piece a paper and see if you can strum along with a song you like. Or try strumming along with last week’s “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” or this version of “Stand By Me”.


1. What to listen for. If there is a strummed instrument in the song focus of that. Try and find a steady right hand movement that fits what you hear. If their is a high-hat in the song it can be very helpful. Most of the time the high hat is playing exactly what the BASIC FEEL movement should be.

Here’s a clip of a drummer playing simple rock beats. The high hat is the cymbal that he hits with his right hand. It makes this sound: TSS  TSS TSS TSS…

Listen for the high hat in songs that you like. It tells you a lot about the basic feel.

2. If you find that what you are strumming doesn’t feel quite right and you are getting confused ask someone who has experience with strumming to show you what they would do. Ask for help if you need it.

3. If you find that you keep going out of sync with the recording try taking breaks as you strum. Strum along, stop take a break and just listen then go back to strumming. Generally beginning players are too concerned with the sounds that they are making. When it comes to playing along with a recording it the sounds that you are listening to that are the most important. Try making the rhythm of the recording more important than the rhythm that you are playing. See you if that helps you stay in the groove.

4. Once you got a good feel for strumming the BASIC FEEL on paper. Try it with the MUTED STRUM. Lay the fingers of the left hand lightly across your strings so that the strings don’t make any notes. Don’t push the strings all the way to the frets. Your uke should make a “chunking” sound. Here is another clip from Hear the Strum. showing the muted strum:

You can use the MUTED STRUM to get a feel for strumming the uke without having to worry about chord changes. Experiment with using just the index finger, just the thumb or both and stick with whatever is most comfortable to start.


1. Practice the chord changes to “You Ain’t Going Nowhere”  like we did in last week’s newsletter. When you are ready try putting it all together: chords and strumming.

2. Try strumming on paper or the muted strum while singing your favourite tune.


All for now! See you next week.


P.S. I am regularly adding new lessons to Ukulele in the Dark. Please subscribe to my mailing list below to receive every lesson right when it comes out. Be sure not to miss a thing!

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