Learn this Arpeggio Exercise to Improve Your Fingerstyle Uke Technique


Arpeggios are broken chords that can be played in a vast array of different sequences or patterns. Typically, we use our thumb (p), index (i), middle (m), and ring (a) fingers to play this kind of sequence, though there may be instances when it’s more convenient to use just two or three fingers for a specific pattern.

“Blue Arpeggio #19: Shuffling Along” follows a standard 12-bar blues form in F, with a quick change to the IV chord (B♭7) in the second measure. This is a great lesson if you’ve been looking for something different to do other than strumming the standard down-up, down-up, down-up thing that most of us often default to when singing or accompanying a blues.

Practicing the exercise will teach you a cool arpeggiated pattern that can be played alongside any 12-bar shuffle or boogie groove, and the best part is that once you get the picking pattern down, the shapes are moveable up the neck into a variety of other keys; thus, the patterns can be transposed and recycled when playing in some of your other favorite keys. 

Here’s how to play “Blue Arpeggio #19: Shuffling Along.” The notation is included below.


Picking the F7 Shape

In the first measure, the thumb picks down on the two eighth notes (second fret A) followed by the index finger picking the third fret of the C string and the middle finger picking the first fret of the E. Lastly, your ring finger picks on the third fret of the A string. 

Picking the B♭7 Shape

Think of the B♭7 shape as a G7 moved up to the fifth fret. Once you get this form under your fingers, it makes for a tasty moveable seventh anywhere up the neck. 

Use your thumb to pick the third fret of the G string (B♭) two times, followed by the triplet phrase 5-4-5 on the C-E-A strings. 

Picking the C7 Shape

The C7 (V) form uses the same shape as the B♭7, so once you get used to that, just imagine moving it up to the seventh fret with your first finger on the G string at the fifth fret. 

The Bottom Line

Though this pattern sounds better when played on a low-G uke, it’s just as tasty on a high-G. It offers beginning and intermediate fingerstyle students a great opportunity to improve their ability to pick triplet phrases, while also reinforcing moveable seventh-chord forms. Overall, this type of pattern is what you might hear a good blues bass player use, and it affords us the chance to back up other players with a more authentic groove than just strumming or adding basic boogie notes to our down-up strum.

A long-time teacher and fixture on the ukulele festival, club, and workshop circuit, Lil Rev (aka Mark Revenson) is also the author of more than a dozen instructional books. His latest is called Blue Arpeggios: Exercises to Foster Fingerstyle Proficiency, which contains 24 short, easy-to-follow skill-building exercises covering “over a dozen core concepts that every beginning fingerstyle player needs to know prior to becoming a good picker.” Also aimed at intermediate players, the book covers such diverse topics as common blues chords and progressions, creating solos using arpeggios, use of moveable chord forms, alternating thumb patterns, and playing in different time signatures. This piece from the book, called “Blue Arpeggio #19: Shuffling Along,” is “a fingerstyle alternative to strumming with a shuffle feel.” —Blair Jackson