Mastering the Basic Techniques of Playing Cuatro – Strumming and Fingerpicking

Course: Introduction to the Cuatro for Ukulele Players



The Cuatro is an exotic instrument that’s highly popular in Latin America. It’s a unique stringed instrument with four strings and has a big body that enables musicians to apply percussive resources, making it impressive to the public. In this article, we will walk you through the basic techniques required for strumming and fingerpicking in Cuatro playing.


At its very base, strumming is similar to Ukulele using down/up movements with your index finger or all fingers at once. However, the bigger body of a Cuatro allows musicians to utilize percussive techniques that are impressive to audiences. There are different types of strumming for cuatro players, including Frenados and Repiques.

The following video shows a basic strumming with the Cuatro, using some of the percussive techniques and also frenados and repiques:


There’s a whole science behind Frenados and people spend months trying to master them. The two basic ones include Frenado up and Frenado down. While most people are familiar with the latter as it’s used on Guitars and sometimes Ukuleles, you can also use it on Cuatros. It involves chunking the strings when doing a downward movement. On the other hand, Frenado up is made by using both thumb and index fingers together. Both techniques serve as bases for many different percussive resources that combine rhythm patterns.

You’re maybe familiar with the Frenado down, as this one is used on the Guitar, and sometimes on the Ukulele, it consists of chunking the strings when doing a downward movement. Let’s see this frenado being made with a Cuatro:

The other basic Frenado is Frenado up, this one is probably the one you’ve never used before. This technique would take you a little bit to master so don’t worry if you cannot get it at the first try.

The frenado up is made with both thumb and index fingers together.  In the following video you’ll see how this technique is executed for the cuatro:

Both Frenados are the base for many different percussive resources and they combine to create interesting rhythm patterns.  The double frenado, for example, is used in a particular genre called “Gaita” which is played in the west coast of Venezuela.

Try to master the frenado up and you will be able to navigate the world of Cuatro Genres and Rhythms with ease.  In the next lesson, we will see a few of the popular genres that are played with the Cuatro.


Fingerpicking is another crucial technique for mastering Cuatro playing like professionals do. The instrument plays both roles as a harmonic and melodic instrument, so learning how to mix these two techniques: fingerpicking and strumming with frenados helps make great music from the instrument. You can watch one of our teachers demonstrating how to properly execute the fingerpicking technique with a Cuatro.

Listen to one of our teachers explaining how to properly do the fingerpicking technique with a Cuatro:

Fingerpicking by Professor Adriaan Van Nieuwkerk

Listen to this fingerpicking example:

Mastering these basic techniques prepares you for practices, some exercises, and popular songs to play with the Cuatro. In subsequent lessons, you can learn what different music genres you could play with the Cuatro. You will see and listen to popular Cuatro songs and watch videos of professional players playing both accompaniments and instrumental versions.

The Cuatro is an excellent instrument that produces exceptional music when played well. With a combination of strumming frenados, fingerpicking techniques, practice, and mastering different genres, anyone can become a skilled Cuatro player.

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