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Ukulele bluegrass flatpicking

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Often times, versatility and innovation in music emerge in unexpected ways. Take for instance, bluegrass flatpicking on the ukulele. What may seem like an unusual combination can create a unique and enchanting sound that is completely its own.

The ukulele is a musical instrument that originated in the 19th century as a Hawaiian adaptation of the Portuguese machete, a small guitar-like instrument. Bluegrass music, on the other hand, is deeply rooted in American culture, tracing its origins to the Appalachian region. Combining these two seemingly disparate elements—Ukulele and Bluegrass flatpicking—has resulted in a genre-blending innovation in the world of music. Though the ukulele is traditionally associated with a fingerpicking technique, the incorporation of flatpicking, a method more commonly associated with guitars and banjos in bluegrass music, creates a distinct melodic line that adds richness to the overall sound.

Flatpicking is a term used in the string instrument community to refer to a technique of strumming the strings using a pick, or plectrum. Initially, bluegrass flatpicking was almost exclusively used for guitar and mandolin as the rapid note sequences added a dynamic and rhythmic layer to the overall bluegrass sound. By contrast, the ukulele, being a decidedly mellower instrument, wasn’t seen as a viable candidate for this technique, particularly in the context of bluegrass music where instruments with sharper tonal qualities dominated.

However, the turn of the 21st century witnessed increased interest in this unexpected fusion. This rise in popularity of ukulele bluegrass flatpicking is evident from the data provided by Google Trends which shows a significant surge in related searches since 2005. This is a testament to how musicians and music lovers around the world are eager to experiment with melding different styles to create something fresh and appealing.

The use of flatpicking on the ukulele not only renders a more percussive quality to the music but also allows ukulele players to play solos, much akin to mandolin or guitar solos in traditional bluegrass ensembles. Furthermore, it also offers the player a broader range of expression, by enabling them to control dynamics, create distinct rhythmic patterns and explore a wider range of melodies which are generally inaccessible with traditional ukulele fingerpicking techniques.

One of the most famous bluegrass ukulele pickers, Jake Shimabukuro, once stated in an interview that flatpicking opened up a whole new world of possibilities for him. With a single musical choice, he was able to shift from playing simple harmonies, to writing intricate solos, thus radically expanding the language of the ukulele. Indeed, this technique has added a whole new dimension to the repertoire of ukulele music, allowing musicians to venture into genres and styles previously considered incongruous with the instrument.

What is the Technique of Bluegrass Flatpicking in Ukulele Playing?

The technique known as ‘bluegrass flatpicking’ in ukulele playing is distinctive and typically used for high-energy acoustic music genres, particularly in bluegrass. This unique style involves using the flat side of the pick to strum the strings in a quick, rhythmic fashion. This results in a louder and crisper sound that enhances the overall tonal quality, making it a popular choice among both professional musicians and enthusiastic beginners. Bluegrass flatpicking on the ukulele also offers a unique advantage – it allows for faster playing speed, perfect for the energetic and vibrant song characteristics of the bluegrass genre. Stay tuned as we delve deeper into the intriguing realm of ukulele bluegrass flatpicking.

What is Ukulele Bluegrass Flatpicking?

Ukulele bluegrass flatpicking is a unique and fascinating method of playing the ukulele that’s deeply rooted in the traditions of American folk music, particularly the bluegrass genre. The term “flatpicking” was originally coined to describe the technique of striking the strings of a guitar using a flat pick. Over time, ukulele enthusiasts adopted this style, creating what is now known as ukulele bluegrass flatpicking. Unlike the traditional finger-picking method for ukulele, flatpickers use a pick to strum and pick individual notes on the ukulele, creating a crisp, rhythmic sound.

Techniques in Ukulele Bluegrass Flatpicking

There are several key techniques utilized in ukulele bluegrass flatpicking that any aspiring flatpicker should master to generate the unique sounds associated with this style of play:

  • Downstrokes and Upstrokes: Flatpickers use alternate downstrokes and upstrokes while maintaining a consistent hand motion. This ensures a steady rhythm and allows for quick transitions between notes and chords.
  • Cross-Picking: This involves playing three- or four-string patterns using alternating down and up strokes. It can create a banjo-like effect on the ukulele, very reminiscent of the bluegrass style.
  • Lead Lines and Solos: Much of bluegrass ukulele involves playing lead lines and solos. Mastering scales and learning how to transition between notes smoothly is a key aspect of this technique.

Learning Ukulele Bluegrass Flatpicking

Becoming proficient in ukulele bluegrass flatpicking requires practice, dedication, and ideally, the guidance of an experienced tutor. There are numerous resources available to assist individuals in mastering this unique ukulele style. These include online tutorial videos, published instruction books, and even specialized classes and workshops. It’s important to learn and practice not only the techniques, but also the specific bluegrass tunes and chord progressions that are characteristic of this genre.

Importance of Ukulele Bluegrass Flatpicking

Ukulele bluegrass flatpicking is more than just a novel way to play the ukulele. It’s a gateway to an essential part of American musical heritage. It’s an opportunity to keep the vibrant spirit of bluegrass music alive while exploring new dimensions of the ukulele’s sound and capabilities. It also presents an exciting challenge for ukulele players seeking to expand their range and skills.

Popularity of Ukulele Bluegrass Flatpicking

In recent years, the popularity of ukulele bluegrass flatpicking has been on the rise. More and more musicians and music lovers are discovering the distinctive sound that this playing style can bring to the ukulele. According to a 2020 survey by the Ukulele Music Association, around 5% of ukulele players now use flatpicking techniques regularly, suggesting a growing interest in this highly engaging style of play.

What is flatpicking in the context of playing the ukulele?

Flatpicking is a technique used primarily in bluegrass music, which involves striking the strings with a flat pick (also known as a plectrum) rather than plucking them with your fingers. In the context of playing the ukulele, this refers to a style of playing borrowed from guitar music where the melody is played by picking individual notes rather than strumming chords.

Is flatpicking difficult to learn on the ukulele?

The difficulty of learning flatpicking on the ukulele can vary between individuals, based on their prior musical experience or familiarity with similar techniques on other string instruments. The learning process typically involves practice and patience, particularly in coordinating the pick with songs or pieces of music.

Do I need any specific kind of pick for flatpicking on a ukulele?

While any standard guitar pick can be used for flatpicking on a ukulele, some people might prefer using a thinner pick as it often produces a softer and more nuanced tone that can suit the character of the ukulele better than a thick pick.

What’s the difference between flatpicking and fingerpicking?

Flatpicking involves using a pick to strum or pluck the strings, while fingerpicking involves using your fingers to pluck the strings. Both techniques offer different tonal qualities and control over the instrument, and can suit different styles of music.

Can you play any song with flatpicking on the ukulele?

Yes, technically you can flatpick any song on the ukulele. However, some songs might lend themselves better to flatpicking than others, particularly if they utilize a single-note melody rather than complex chords or if they fit within the bluegrass genre.

Is flatpicking on ukulele common in bluegrass music?

Yes, flatpicking is a common technique in bluegrass music, which has its roots in traditional American folk tunes. It allows for the playing of fast, complex melodies that are characteristic of the genre.

Can I use flatpicking in other music genres?

Absolutely! While associated with bluegrass, flatpicking is a versatile technique that can be applied to other music genres as well. It can bring a unique tone and texture to a variety of musical styles.

Are there any specific exercises for improving flatpicking skills on an ukulele?

Yes, there are several exercises you can use to improve your flatpicking skills on an ukulele. These may include practicing scales, arpeggios or specific picking patterns to increase dexterity and precision.

What type of ukulele is best for flatpicking?

Technically, you can use any type of ukulele for flatpicking. However, larger ukuleles like tenors and baritones might offer a wider range of notes and a fuller sound.

Where can I learn more or get lessons on flatpicking the ukulele?

Many online platforms offer video lessons and tutorials on flatpicking techniques for the ukulele. Moreover, local music schools or private instructors might also provide ukulele lessons that cover flatpicking.


Ukulele bluegrass flatpicking is a remarkable blend of two popular music genres that comes with its unique set of skills, techniques, and rhythms. A distinctive feature of this style is the rapid-firing picking patterns which are executed with remarkable precision and speed. This, coupled with the unique tonal qualities of the ukulele, brings a refreshing twist to the traditional bluegrass tunes. Furthermore, mastering this style requires a deep grasp of certain flatpicking techniques like alternate picking, crosspicking, and playing in different positions that increase the versatility and adaptability of the player in different musical contexts. Investing time in learning these techniques can significantly improve one’s flatpicking skills, enhancing musical prowess and versatility.

Moreover, Ukulele bluegrass flatpicking enhances one’s musical interpretation, expression, and improvisation. It requires a keen sense of timing and rhythmic precision, which can also help improve general musicianship skills such as timing, rhythm, and aural skills. The technical nature of this music style can seem daunting at first, but consistency, dedication, and practice can lead to significant progress over time. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced player, exploring Ukulele bluegrass flatpicking can be an exciting journey into a unique musical style. Therefore, it’s not only about the new boundaries you can push with your skills, but also about enhancing your musical palate and finding whole new ways of enjoying playing the ukulele.