I confess. I wasn’t always good at strumming. In fact, when I first started, I sounded terrible. I was about as coordinated as a bag of cats. My elbow was locked, my shoulder tense, and I was anything but consistent. Plus I would hit the wrong strings. Not good.
It’s been said that you can play wrong notes, be in rhythm, and still sound good to most people. But play the right notes with bad rhythm and even the most non-musical person can tell. I agree with this statement.
That’s where I was. I could play the right chords. But I couldn’t get the strumming right. After months of struggling, I almost gave up. I just figured “I don’t have rhythm”. Some people got it and some don’t. Right?
I couldn’t have been more wrong. Let me explain.
One day, I was watching a video of my favorite guitar player (Eric Clapton) and I noticed something about his strumming hand. It never stopped moving when he was playing. His arm moved steadily up and down. This seemingly simple realization led to a profound breakthrough for me. I’ll tell you about it in a minute. But first, I want will prove to you that you do have rhythm.
Put on your favorite song. Clap your hands to the beat. Don’t worry about time signature or theory or any of that stuff. Just clap your hands where it feels natural to you. If you can do this, you can strum your guitar confidently in time with any song…eventually!
Once I got this (and the other big “secret” that I explain below), I realized that I could strum to pretty much any song. Don’t get me wrong, it didn’t happen overnight. But I eventually got good enough at strumming that now I can pretty much strum along to any song I want within a few minutes of listening. After I learn the chords of course.
Many of the things I discovered during my strumming trials weren’t easy to figure out. Luckily for you, I’ve put everything into this easy to use guide for free. This should cut your guitar strumming learning curve dramatically. You’ll be playing your favorite songs in no time!
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Step 1: Holding The Guitar Pick
Hold your guitar pick so that it comes out the side of your thumb as in the picture below. Make sure your hand and arm are relaxed. Pay special attention to your shoulder and keep it relaxed.
Choose a pick that is .38mm to 46mm. Lighter guitar picks sound better for strumming on acoustic and electric guitars.
Step 2: Solidify your Strumming Sense
Ted Ed Video:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2UphAzryVpY
Don’t worry about rhythmic notation or understanding theory of this right now. Get a metronome. There are tons available for your phone, or you can use Google.
Set it to 60 bpm and start it. Now start trying to clap with the sound of the clicks.
Try little tiny claps where you barely move your hand. You’ll find that it’s pretty easy to match the click. But open your hand wider to a normal clap and it can be tricky. You might even fall behind the beat. Don’t let that happen, adjust your speed so that you stay with it.
This next part is KEY. Do not stop moving your hands. Make the time between each clap equal. Don’t clap, then pause, then raise hands and swiftly clap again. That is what you do not want to do. Instead, think of this as a cycle. There is equal time between closing the hands and opening them. Got it?
Now open the distance between your hands even wider. About the distance your arm travels when you strum the guitar. It’s even more tricky. But again, focus on adjusting the speed so that you stay on the click.
And finally, extend one of your arms all the way out in between claps. Do this until you feel like you are in a groove. Congratulations! You have rhythm!
Now let’s move that rhythm to the guitar.
Step 3: Strum Downward to a Metronome
With your metronome at 60 BPM, start to strum your guitar every time you hear a click. Choose any chord you want, it doesn’t matter. We are just focusing on your strumming consistency and timing.
Pay attention here… this is HUGE! Don’t stop once you’ve strummed through. Just like your clapping was on an even timed cycle, so is your strumming. Even though we are only doing down strums here, you still want to start moving back up IMMEDIATELY after you’ve reached the end of your down strum. But don’t hit the strings on the way back up!
1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4
Do that until you feel like you’ve stayed on the click for a minute. Now let’s add up-strums!
Step 4: Strum Upward to a Metronome
On now let’s do the opposite! Do the exact same thing as in step 3 but strum upwards instead. If it feels awkward, that’s normal. It gets easier. Angle your wrist slightly so that your pick is slanted downwards towards the floor. This makes it easier for the pick to slide across the strings on the way up.
Again, try to make the motion as if it’s on a cycle. Like a planet orbiting the sun and lining up with another planet consistently.
Step 5: Strum the Guitar Up and Down to a Metronome
Keep the tempo at 60 BPM, but we are going to alternate a down strum and an up strum ONCE per click. This effectively halves the speed at which we were strumming. But that’s ok. Slow is good… in the beginning!
Practice strumming up and down. Keep the motion smooth and consistent. It takes a little bit to develop this feel. But after a little bit of time, just like clapping, you will think about it less and less. It will just be natural!
Ok, once you can do this fairly consistent at 60 BPM, then move it up by 10 BPM and try again. Keep moving it up like this in intervals of 10 BPM until you reach 140. Make sure to keep your motion smooth and consistent. If it starts to feel rushed, back it down 20 BPM and get back on the click.
Congratulations! You are now strumming like a pro!
Step 6: Learn The X Must-Know Strumming Patterns
You may have heard of the term “Strumming Patterns”. Once you have been playing for a little while you won’t really need strumming patterns. But they are excellent learning tools when just starting out on guitar.
Here’s how strumming patterns work:
You take the down up down up strumming that you’ve mastered already. Then you remove various up and down strums. These give your strumming various rhythmic feels. Different songs have different feels and you use these patterns to match the song. There are dozens of strumming patterns that you could learn. But I’ve found that most songs use 1 or 2 of these foundational strumming patterns. I call them the “must-know strumming patterns for guitar”.
Start with the first one and practice it to a metronome. Focus on keeping that up and down motion consistent while selectively raising or lowering your hand from the guitar based on what the pattern tells you to do.
I know I’m beating a dead horse here but this really is the key. Never pause movement in your strumming hand. You “miss” strums but you never actually stop.
[Pictures of strumming patterns]
Step 7: Strumming that Emulates Drumming
Here is where your ear starts to take over. You start adding dynamics based on what you are hearing in a song. You want to lock in your dynamics with the drums. Look at your E, A and D strings as the bass drum. And your G, B and E strings are the snare drum. Strum the bass strings harder with the kick of the drums. And strum the higher strings harder with the snare drum.
By combining various strumming patterns with dynamics, you will be able to strum along to any song out there.
Have a question? Leave me a comment. I love reading and responding.