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Ukulele Strum Systems
by Bill Worsfold

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Triplet Strums

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Triplet Strums

  • F = fingers – use either index or middle finger or both, strum down
  • T = thumb down strum
  • t = thumb up strum

The basis of this pattern is a triplet: F T t –  i.e. strum down with finger(s), followed by a down strum with the thumb then an up stroke with the thumb. Practice this over and over until you can do it smoothly.

The basis of the system consists of a skeleton bar in 4/4 time of  [f t T F] Now I know that feels weird, but it’s rarely used – it’s just the skeleton that the variations are built on.

If we count a bar of 4/4 time as 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &, let’s superimpose our triplet pattern on that:

F T t F T t F -
1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 


For the moment we’ll just leave a rest on the last eighth note of the bar. Strictly speaking it should be a ‘T’ – a thumb down stroke, but I find a ‘t’, or a finger upstroke leaves my hand in a better position for the strong beat of the next bar. This pattern gives a feeling of three beats superimposed on the four beats of the bar – it’s called a hemiola, and is quite common in Caribbean and South American folk music. It’s also the basis of Scruggs style bluegrass banjo!

The rest of the system involves leaving some strokes out, while keeping the fingers in the right order so that strokes can be put in or left out at will. What we’re aiming for is a flow of rhythm rather than a rigid pattern.

Try these:

F - t F T - F -     F T t F T - F -
1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &     1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &


As you learn a new pattern, try switching it back and forth, and in rotation, with the ones you’ve already learned. Aim for a smooth unbroken flow of syncopated rhythm rather than a bunch of separate patterns forced together. 

Try to keep your hand movements neat and efficient. Don’t swing too far – you need to be travelling at the same speed as you cross the strings, but try to avoid too much movement outside the string area getting up to speed or slowing down for direction change. This just wastes time and will slow you down. At slow speeds you won’t notice any difference, but by the time you’re good enough to play at faster speeds, you’ll have gotten into bad habits that will make it harder for you! Good habits are just as easy to learn as bad ones! As your finger(s) strum down, your thumb is already following on, as your thumb strums up, your fingers should be retracting with it to be ready for the next ‘F’ stroke.

You can play whole songs using this rhythm, or throw it in as sort of a ‘gallop’ effect wherever you think it will fit. (For comic numbers, use it where you’re pretty sure it won’t fit!) You can actually just use the triplet pattern over and over – it will take three bars, or two bars with an eight note rest at the end, before it realigns with the on beat at the first beat of the bar. It’s also very effective to play this with a guitar or another uke playing straight 4/4 rhythm.

Here’s how you can use this system in 3/4 (waltz) time:

F - t F T -     F T t F T -
1 & 2 & 3 &     1 & 2 & 3 &

F - t F T t     F T t F T t
1 & 2 & 3 &     1 & 2 & 3 &


And in 6 / 8 (jig) time:

F T t F T t     F - t F T t     F T t F - t
1 & a 2 & a     1 & a 2 & a     1 & a 2 & a


For what it’s worth, these strums also work fine on guitar, and probably other strummed instruments. In fact, I first found the ‘F T t’ pattern while trying to learn an Argentinian malambo rhythm on the guitar, and extrapolated this system from there. I’ve since heard some George Formby recordings and, although I don’t know what he’s doing, this does sound similar.