Strumming: Do as little as possible- try to keep your right hand relaxed and don't move or flail it over the strings. Only move your wrist enough to cover the width of the strings, not the width of the ukulele or you'll never last more than a few songs, your rhythm will be off over time, and people tend to leave the room.
You'll have to find the best way to hold your fingers while strumming. Some make a loose fist while others pinch their index and thumb as though they were holding a guitar pick (which you should never use on a uke). Use the best method for you. EzFolk and Ukulele Hunt have great webpages for strumming patterns. (NEXT Post will include many great strumming patterns)
Speed: "Pop quiz, hotshot. There's a bomb on a uke. Once the uke goes 100 bpm, the bomb is armed. If it drops below 100, it blows up. What do you do? What do you do?"
Tap or clap along to your favorite song and you'll quickly realize that most songs follow a particular beat (tempo) throughout, and most songs will have four beats before repeating the pattern. Also, look at the opening of any sheet music or most music online and you'll see a # before the music begins. The top number tells you how many beats per measure. Four beats per measure = 4/4 time or "common time" while 3/4 time or "waltz time" has three beats per measure. The online metronomes to the right will help you keep a steady tempo. (Web Metronome & Metronome Online)
BPM (Beats Per Minute)
Very Slow: 40-50 bpm (Zzzzzzz)
Slow: 50-70 bpm (zone out / chill)
Moderate to Fast: 70-100 bpm (tap feet / energize)
Very Fast: 100-180 bpm (rev it up / on fire)
BPMs (Song, Artist) Examples
60- Mozart - Canzonetta Sull'aria / I Believe I Can Fly- R. Kelly
70- Bohemian Rhapsody- Queen / With Arms Wide Open- Creed
80- Halo- Beyoncé / Surfin' USA- Beach Boys
90- Waiting on the World to Change- John Mayer
100- Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)- Beyoncé
110- Set Fire to the Rain- Adele / Another One Bites the Dust- Queen
120- Poker Face -Lady Gaga / Don't Stop Believin' Journey
130- Paparrazzi- Lady Gaga
Basic Strumming: Strums mark the beats of a song and generally repeat creating a specific strum pattern over the length of a song. (Check out How to Practice Music for additional practice tips)
Simple Strum: Down, Down, Down, Down
Each down strum marks 1 beat in a measure: 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4 (common time) or 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3 (3/4 time or waltz time) and follows the same tempo. This is where a metronome helps. Start with it set to 70-80 bpm and slowly speed it up to 120 bpm to see the difference. (Check out It's All About Timing for a great exercise)
Now, let's add some chords to change things up a bit, but remember the... GOLDEN RULE and play as slowly as you can to keep a steady tempo AND change between the chords without stopping your strumming.
1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4...
d-, d-, d-, d-, d-, d-, d-, d-...
Simple Strum 2: The Ups & Downs of Life
Adding up strums is the next step since you're going that direction anyway, you might as well pick them up along the way.
The down strums still mark the 1, 2, 3, 4 beats of the song. The up strums split the count in half to...
...1 &, 2 &, 3 &, 4 &, 1 &, 2 &, 3 &, 4 &...
...d u, d u, d u, d u, d u, d u, d u, d u,
NOTE: there is not a pause between beats 4 and 1 of a new measure. Practice like you just did for the d, d, d, d strums but add in the up strums. Start at 80-100 bpm and work in the chord changes but remember to follow the Golden Rule.
Extra Credit: How to Sing and Play at the Same Time / Knowing When to Change Chords / Ukulele Strumming Patterns for Beginners