December 6

How To Read Strumming Notation

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Most guitar players don't read sheet music. Instead, we have a few other methods to notate and write out notes, chords, and rhythms. One of those methods is strumming notation. It's a simple system that tells you when to strum down and when to strum up. I'll sum this up in a short and easy to understand format so you can get to practicing!

Standard Strumming Notation

There are two primary methods of notating strums: arrows and letters. They're both pretty straightforward.

Arrow Strumming Notation

The arrows will tell you when to strum down (down facing arrow) and when to strum up (up facing arrow). Take a look at the diagram below. You can see each beat of the measure (1, 2, 3, and 4) with the up beat (or "and" of each beat represented with a "+"). The arrows tell you when to strum up and when to strum down. If there isn't an arrow , you're ringing out the note.

Arrow Strumming Notation

If you were to count the strums as you played them, it would be "1, 2-and-3, 4-and". The down strums would be on the 1, 2, 3, and 4, with up strums on the "and" of 2 and 4.

Letter Strumming Notation

Using the same exact rhythm, let's use letters to notate the strumming pattern. The "D"s are down strums, and the "U"s are up strums. I've included the arrows to help with continuity, so you can see both methods.

Letter Strumming Notation

I typically use arrows when I'm writing these rhythms out by hand. It's a little easier and quicker for me to do. If I'm typing it out I'll use letters for the same reason, it's easier and quicker in that application.

Strumming Notation And Time Signatures

In the above example there are 4 beats, which implies a 4/4 time. If there were only 3 beats you would assume the pattern in in 3/4 time. Here's what that would look like. 

Strumming Notation and Time Signatures

Complex Strumming Pattern With A Pause

I should mention that strumming notations aren't perfect. They get close by they can leave some things open for interpretation. Another way to clarify notations is to add skips. The little dash under the 3 in the below image is a skip. It's not a stop or mute, but you'll skip the strum. This means you'll have two up strums in a row.

Additional Strumming Notations

Standard Music Notation

I also like to notate the skips like this, with the "and" of the 2 and connected with the 3 with what's called a tie. In sheet music when two notes are connected like this, it means the note is held out. 

Additional Strumming Notations

Mute or Slap

Muted strums can be represented on these charts with an X. In the below image the 2 is a muted strum.

Muted Strums

Standard Notation With A Mute

And using standard notation, the mute would look like this.

Standard Notation, Muted Strum

Accent

The final symbol I want to cover is called an accent. This tells you what strum to emphasize. I usually emphasize by strumming just a little harder. Not really hard, but just enough to make it stand out a little more. This is notated with a "greater than" sign (">").

Strumming Notation With an Accent

These accents can really change the groove of what you're playing so you want to pay attention to them 

Now like I said earlier, these aren't perfect notations. And I think there is a lot of value in learning to read sheet music, even in a basic sense. This is a really good start in the mean time and it's something you can start using right away!


Thanks for joining me today! Was this lesson helpful in understanding strumming patterns? Try to write out a strumming pattern and let me know how it went in the comments.

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How To Read Strumming Notation
How to Read Strumming Patterns on Guitar
Tomas Michaud

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