There is nothing more beautiful than fingerpicking, and it’s easier to learn than you think. All you need is a place to start. Below are 6 essential ukulele fingerpicking patterns in 4/4, 3/4, and 6/8 time signatures that could be used for dozens of your favorite songs. Let’s go over some terminology and some tips that will help you navigate the fingerpicking patterns below.
The Chording Hand
Each finger on the chording hand, which is usually the left hand, has a label:
Thumb = T, Index Finger = 1, Middle Finger = 2, Ring Finger = 3, Pinky Finger = 4
The Picking Hand
The fingers on the picking hand are labeled as follows:
Thumb = T, Index Finger = I, Middle Finger = M, Ring Finger = A
Tips for Fingerpicking
Keep your hand and fingers curved and soft.
If your picking hand feels unstable, place your pinky, ring, or both on the lower part of the ukulele body to anchor your hand.
The following picking patterns can be applied to hundreds of songs in common time. Common time is also known as 4/4 time, which means that there are 4 beats counted in a single measure, and the quarter note gets the beat. Essentially, you count to 4 and then start over with each measure.
The next step would be to subdivide, or to break the larger beats into smaller parts. A quarter note split in half now becomes an 8th note, which creates more rhythmic variation.
Note: You will notice that each finger is “assigned” to a string, which takes the mystery out of which string is plucked, in what order the strings are plucked, and what finger to use.
Below are 4 fingerpicking patterns that feature 8th notes and some song examples where you can apply them. The following patterns are all on open strings; however, the rhythm and suggested fingerings could be used and applied to any chord.
Picking Pattern 1 – 4/4 Time
Song Example: “Stand by Me” – Ben E. King
Picking Pattern 2 – 4/4 Time
Song Example: “Hey there Delilah” – The Plain White Ts
Picking Pattern 3 – 4/4 Time
Song Example: “Hey Jude” – The Beatles
Picking Pattern 4 – Travis Picking
Song Example: “Someone Like You” – Adele
Picking Patterns for 3/4 and 6/8 Time
Because not all songs are in common time, it is essential to introduce other time signatures used in music such as 3/4 time and 6/8. Common time, or 4/4, time contains 4 beats in a measure, and the quarter note gets the beat. 3/4 time contains 3 beats in a measure and the quarter note gets the beat. It’s also known as the “waltz” meter. Below is a common fingerpicking pattern that could be used for dozens of songs in 3/4 time.
Picking Pattern 5 – 3/4 Time
Song Example – “Amazing Grace” – John Newton
A song in 6/8 time has 6 beats in a measure and the 8th note gets the beat. The strumming pattern sounds very similar to the strumming pattern in 3/4 time; however, they are counted differently.
Picking Pattern 6 – 6/8 Time
Song Example: “Hallelujah” – Leonard Cohen
Fingerpicking with a simple 8th note pattern rather than strumming can add new life to a familiar song. Start with one pattern and then experiment with the patterns above with different songs and chord progressions. Now that you’ve mastered the 6 essential ukulele fingerpicking patterns you’re ready to jump into barre chords.
To explore more techniques, check out the next post on How To Improve Your Barre Chords.