Learn how to strum! This article covers the basics of strumming, as well as a few easy strumming tips that will help you improve your technique.
Let’s get you started strumming that guitar!
The fun part in playing the guitar is when you start strumming, bringing every note to life with a sound. If you have tapped your foot or nod your head when you hear a song played, then you’re engaging yourself with the rhythm of the song. And that’s where you start feeling a natural sense of rhythm to strum a guitar.
Practicing daily and applying proper technique, you’ll find yourself strumming songs naturally.
Strumming is an act of sweeping by brushing your fingers or guitar pick across the strings, either downward or upward. The goal is to vibrate the strings accordingly to make a fine sound.
Rhythm & Strumming
You can’t find a good strumming without rhythms in place. Strumming primarily involves playing a certain rhythm. Understanding rhythm will make you successful in strumming your guitar. It puts everything in order, specifically the output sound.
If you can count then you can understand rhythm. In strumming, rhythm is any recurring motion with organized beats, accented or unaccented (strong and weak beats).
Rhythm is the placement of sound in a certain length of time. Rhythm involves the pulse or beats, bar/measure in a meter and notes.
The pulse or a beat is simply like the pulse of the heart. You hear a beat in a steady length of time in between them. The speed of the beat is measured in “beats per minute” or bpm, like the clock at 60 bpm. To effectively play the guitar, it’s not just hearing the beat but actually feeling it to keep yourself in step with the tempo. You are not just moving your arm to strum but you’re grooving along the specific beats per minute.
Meter is where you find rhythmic patterns in groups and time signatures are notations describing the meter where it tells the musician how many beats are there in a bar or measure and what kind of note gets the beat.
Usually the beats are organized into groups of four and each group in a meter is called a bar or a measure. These will give you direction in strumming every chord.
The notes in a bar, the actual arrangement or groupings, give shape to the sound you’re making when strumming. It can be a whole note or rest and it can get challenging but fun when you’re hitting eighth and sixteenth notes later on.
The rhythm makes your strumming more defined and refined.
Easy Strumming Tips
Now that you have an idea of what strumming is and how rhythm affects it, here are easy tips for better strumming.
- Use a guitar pick.
A guitar pick gives you more control over the strings. When you use your fingers, there’s a tendency that your nails will get in the way and affect the sound negatively.
While you can still use your fingers to strum, it’s recommended that you use a pick as you progress with your playing.
- Hold the guitar and the pick properly.
The way you hold the guitar and the pick will also affect your strumming. Make sure that you’re holding the guitar properly and that the pick is positioned in between your thumb and first finger.
You can also try different grip styles to find what’s comfortable for you.
Don’t grip the pick too tightly.
Gripping the pick too tightly will only make your strumming sound harsh. Relax your hand and let the pick do its job.
The right way to hold a pick is by placing it between your thumb and first finger, then slightly curling your fingers. You can also try holding it between your thumb and middle finger.
Experiment and see what’s more comfortable for you.
- Strum all strings with equal weight.
The key to a good strumming pattern is evenness. Make sure that each stroke is the same volume and speed. This can be tricky at first, but with a little practice you will get the hang of it.
Relax your hand and use your wrist to do the strumming. Do not use too much pressure or you will end up muting the strings.
Start with the most basic pattern, which simply strums down on all of the strings before strumming back up.
Just remember to keep that even strumming motion going!
- A good strum is all in the wrist.
Use your wrist to do the strumming, not your arm. You should be able to move your wrist up and down fairly easily. If you find that you are straining your wrist, take a break and try again later.
- When you strum, do it nice and relaxed.
You should not be tense at all. If you are, it will show in your strumming and make it sound choppy.
Practice strumming with a light touch to get the hang of it. As you become more comfortable, you can start increasing the pressure. Just be sure not to overdue it or you will end up muting the strings.
- Never stop strumming even when having difficulty in forming and changing chords.
This way, you will be able to train your muscle memory in order to develop good strumming habits. You had your left hand on focus at the very start of your lessons, now it’s time to pay attention to your right hand.
The key to playing well with both hands is to start slow. This will allow you to form and shift chords while keeping your strumming hand in motion.
Again, if you know how to count then you will know the rhythm of your strum. Let’s use the most common time, 4/4 time signature where you find 4 beats in a bar. For the strumming patterns below, just focus on your right hand. You can form only one chord all throughout the exercises.
Downstroke. Everyone starts with a downward strum.
Count one to four and strum on a certain beat, the highlighted and underlined numbers, while resting on the rest of the beats.
Strum on the first beat: | 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 |
Strum on 1st and 3rd beat: | 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 |
Strum on all beats: | 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 |
Mix patterns: | 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 |
Alternate Up-Down Rhythm
Before we explore other upstroke patterns, learn the most basic alternating up-down rhythm first to practice. It is basically moving your arm naturally when strumming, going down and up, only this time you’re hitting the strings when you’re moving up.
In a measure, this is where you strum twice for every beat or simply divide the quarter notes into eighth notes with the same tempo. For your tempo, you can start with tapping your foot at the same rate or use a metronome for accuracy.
- This is how you should count 4 beats with eighth notes: 1 n 2 n 3 n 4 n
- Strum downward on all numbers and strum upward on every “n”.
- D – down | U – up
Strum all strokes. Accent on first beat.
D U D U D U D U | D U D U D U D U | D U D U D U D U | D U D U D U D U |
- As a rule, the first beat of a measure receives the strongest accent. This also determines the beginning of a measure. Do this exercise several times with the accented first beat.
Strum all strokes. Accent on the first and third beat.
D U D U D U D U | D U D U D U D U | D U D U D U D U | D U D U D U D U |
- You can also accent the third beat but still give the first beat the strongest accent.
Other upstroke strumming patterns using eighth notes in a 4-beat measure.
Strum on “1 and 2 n” only.
| 1 n 2 n 3 n 4 n | *down, down up
Strum on “1, 2 n and n 4”.
| 1 n 2 n 3 n 4 n | *down, down up, up down
Strum on “1, 2 n and n 4 n”.
| 1 n 2 n 3 n 4 n | *down, down up, up down up
For these strumming exercises, start at 60 bpm or slower, whatever is comfortable for you.
Finding Your Natural Rhythm
The patterns in the latter part can be a little complicated for you as an absolute beginner but consistent practice can make a lot of difference for you to get the rhythm in your system.
You can create more patterns as you listen to the song. You have to find the natural sense of rhythm to strum the guitar. Hear it in your head before you play it.
When you hear a song playing, at any time or anywhere, sing the rhythm, tap, nod or say it. Practice the rhythm in your mind. This is how you start strumming your song even without knowing some patterns yet.
Believe that you have that rhythm in your core and confidently strum the guitar!