Real Guitar Adventure for Grownups

The BEST Guitar Strumming Lesson

in Chords And Strumming | 0 comments


How To Strum A Guitar

Strumming on a guitar is one of the most fundamental techniques. But when you’re first starting out it feels so unnatural. It’s kind of like dancing for the first time. It feels awkward and can be hard to stay on time. 

But don’t worry, that’s all part of the process. The more you do it the easier it gets. If you’re armed (no pun intended) with a few easy techniques this happens much quicker. Let’s take a look at those techniques.

A strum should be a fluid motion. That means you shouldn’t be tensing anywhere in your body. This is true for every guitar technique actually. It’s hard to do when you’re learning something new. But being aware of it will go a long way. 

When you’re strumming your arm should be constantly moving. Down-Up-Down-Up-Down-Up with no stops. Even if you’re not actually strumming on every ‘Down’ or ‘Up’. 


Think about it like walking.

 

You don’t take a step and stop. Then take another step and stop. It’s fluid. Left foot, right foot. Left foot, right foot. The concept is identical for strumming.

These are fluid strums. The ‘down’ and the ‘up’ are at the same tempo and speed. At first you’ll probably hit your strings really hard. That’s totally normal. Over time you’ll be able to control this and have strums with the intensity you want. 


Strum with your elbow and your wrist.

 

Think about your pick being an extension of your hand, and your hand an extension of your arm. Your arm (elbow and/or wrist) will take care of the movement. Your hand is just along for the ride.

Your elbow will provide the main movement. As you strum down rotate your hand down (or inward). When you strum up rotate your hand up (or outward). A strum is a combination of all of these things. Elbow, wrist, and rotation. 

Remember the old phrase, loosey-goosey? Try and stay relaxed in your whole body when you strum. Especially in your arm. This will make the strums sound way better and more natural.


How to Strum With a Pick

You don't have to play with a pick. I personally think there’s a lot of value in learning to strum with both a pick and your fingers. They both do different things. 

But since we’re on the topic, here’s how your should hold your pick:

  • Take your right hand and curl your index finger into your palm.
  • Place the wide end of the pick on your first finger in the middle section (in between the two joints). The pointy end should be facing away from your palm.
  • Put your thumb on top of the pick so you’re “pinching” it between your thumb and index finger.
  • Move it around until you find a comfortable spot. It’s different for everyone.
  • Try to have only enough of the pick tip exposed to strum. This gives you more control over what you’re playing.

The trick is to pinch it only hard enough so you don’t drop it when you strum. If you squeeze/pinch too hard your strums might sound too rigid. And your hand will get tired very quickly. 

As you’re strumming remember to rotate your hand downward and upward. Position your arm and hand so the flat part of the pick is striking the strings. This gives you the best tone and projection.


Guitar Strumming Tips

To recap the previous two sections, here are a few tips for success.

  • Stay relaxed as you strum. If your hand or arm is getting tired you’re probably tensing somewhere.
  • Don’t squeeze the pick too hard, but not too soft either. Find that sweet spot. 
  • Strum with fluid motion. Keep your arm moving up and down at an even tempo. 
  • Use your elbow and wrist together. Most people use a combination of these two joints.
  • Rotate your hand as you strum. Rotate it inward with a downstroke, and outward with an upstroke. 
  • Play with the flat part of the pick. This gives you the best combination of tone and projection.


Guitar Strumming Techniques

I'm going to teach you a simple but extremely useful strumming pattern. It’s used throughout popular folk and acoustic rock music. 

Even more importantly I'm going to use this lesson to teach you some of the more subtle techniques that make a strum flow and have “groove”.

I’ll divide it into 4 steps. Each step is a useful strum in and of itself. Each step will build on the one before it. 

A quick demonstration.

  • Play basic strum 
  • Play enhanced strum

The second strum has the same basic down-up motion plus several techniques. Can you hear and feel the difference?

Let's get started…


STEP #1

The strum is built on what’s called 4/4 time.  This means each complete strum has four beats or pulses. The simplest version would be 4 down strums like this…


D D  D D

1  2  3  4


For the first step, we're going to add something to make it sound a little more interesting.

Hit the lower strings on 1 and 3. Strum the higher strings on 2 and 4.

 Let's try this out together using a G chord.


l   h    l  h

D D   D D

1  2   3  4


STEP #2

Let's add some down up motion to the strum. Add an up strum to beat 2.

Continue hitting the low strings on beats 1 + 3.  Hit the high strings on both the down and up of beat 2 as well as on beat 4.


l    h h  l   h

D  DU D  D

1   2 + 3   4 

 

Try it with me.


STEP #3

We’ll add even more motion by adding down-ups to beats 3 and 4. 

Continue hitting the low strings on beats 1 and 3, but all the other strums will be on the high strings. It sounds like this.


l   h h  l h  h h

D DU DU  DU

1  2 + 3 +  4 + 

A lot of that feeling of motion is created by alternating between the low and high strings. But there’s one more thing we can do.


STEP #4 

For the final version, we’ll add an accent on beats 2 and 4.

Here’s what it sounds like…


l   h h  l h  h h

D DU DU  DU

1  2 + 3 +  4 + 

    ˃            ˃  

Now there are 3 elements to the strum.

1. There's the up-down motion of the pick.

2. We are varying the tone by hitting the high strings and low strings.

3. And there are accents on beats 2 and 4.

Let's compare the strums again with and without these elements.


Without:

D DU DU  DU

1  2 + 3 +  4 +


With: 

l   h h  l h   hh

D DU DU  DU

1  2 + 3 +  4 + 

    ˃            ˃  

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