Guitar Strumming Techniques

I’ve been trying to teach myself to play guitar for a while now… It’s been a slow progression, but I’m finally able to play some basic songs, and it feels wonderful!

I’m not great by any stretch, but after I learned a few stroke techniques and some scales/arpeggios, I’ve found that I can play (basic, slightly out of tune) recognizable songs!  It’s pretty awesome.  I use UltimateGuitar to find all the tabs I want to play… If you play guitar, you’ve no doubt heard of it!

Of course, the best way to learn is to get mentored by someone who knows what they’re doing.  I got some lessons from a guitarist in Austin, TX. If you live in the area and are looking for guitar lessons in Austin, schedule a session with him, you won’t regret it!

Guitar strumming may seem like a basic part of playing guitar, but the basic techniques involved can be used  in unique ways to make even the dullest chord progression come to life. This article will discuss the most basic techniques involved in guitar strumming and provide some basic strumming patterns you can use to learn the techniques. Learning these techniques is important, as they can be put together in all kinds of interesting ways to create an endless variety of strum patterns.

Down Strokes

The easiest strumming technique to learn is the down stroke. This involves moving the pick in a downward direction across the strings and is usually the most natural way of strumming for beginners. Down strokes can be used to  create a variety of interesting patterns and provide a steady chugging pattern.

You can practice a simple strumming pattern by counting out 4 steady down strokes and tapping your foot every time you strum. Once you reach 4 strums, go back to 1 and repeat the pattern. This is a 4/4 rhythm, which means there are 4 beats in every measure, with a strum on every beat. Remember to keep a steady rhythm, and start slowly.

v     v     v     v

Up Strokes

The opposite of a down stroke, an up stroke is simply beginning with the pick underneath the guitar strings and moving upward across them. Most strumming patterns involve a mix of down and up strokes, but getting used to up strokes can be a little difficult at first. This makes it useful to practice an all-up-stroke pattern to get the hang of them.

Try repeating the same 4/4 pattern above, but with all up strokes instead of down strokes. Don’t worry so much about the rhythm at first; just focus on getting used to playing up strokes.

^     ^     ^     ^

Alternating Strokes

This is how most guitar strumming patterns are: a mixture of both up and down strokes. Because the guitar’s strings are struck in a different order with up strokes, it can provide a different sound to alternate strokes rather than just using all down strokes. It can also make your strumming faster, as no movement is wasted and sound is produced on both up and down movements.

Because alternating strokes can be difficult at first, start with the basic 4/4 rhythm and play a down stroke on the first beat, up on the second beat, down on the third beat, and back up on the fourth beat. Take it slowly at first.

v     ^     v     ^

Eighth Notes & Emphasis

Those are the 2 basic strumming strokes, but so far all of the patterns have been very basic. A way to make a strumming pattern more interesting is to strum both on and in between every beat. These are called eighth notes, as they cut each beat of a 4/4 rhythm in half.

To play this more complicated rhythm, say the word “and” between every beat. So instead of counting “1 2 3 4”, count “1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and”. Whenever you say a number, play a down stroke. And whenever you say the word “and”, play an up stroke. You can see that this squeezes two strokes into the time where there was just one beat before.

Emphasis is important here. In most rock and pop strumming patterns, the “down beat”, or the in-between strums, are emphasized. This means you should emphasize all of your up strokes, the ones you play when you say the word “and”.

v ^ v ^ v ^ v ^

Once you get this timing down, you can mix it up by mixing and matching emphasis on different beats. This is one way guitarists add variety to the rhythms they can play.

Stroke Skipping

One last basic technique used to create interesting strumming rhythms is to skip strokes. This is done by keeping a steady strumming motion with your hand, but occasionally letting your hand “glide” over the strings without touching them with the pick. This adds more variety and interest to a rhythm by creating small pauses in the strumming sounds.

v ^ v ^     ^ v ^

Notice that in the pattern above, the 3rd down stroke has been taken out. This means that when you say the number 3, let your hand glide over the strings without playing them. Then resume the pattern like normal by striking the strings on the next up stroke. It can be difficult at first, but if you master the art of not striking the strings, this is the most important part of any strum pattern you will play. Practice is key.

By mastering these basic techniques, you’ll be able to play all kinds of patterns. The techniques are what’s important; don’t stick to the basic patterns shown here once you become more advanced in skill. Even more advanced patterns are built just by re-arranging the building blocks discussed above.

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