If you're a beginner guitar player, strumming with your thumb can be a great way to get started. You don't have to worry about your pick flying across the room (or worse, in your acoustic guitar's sound hole!), which frees you up to focus more on your fretting hand.
Even if you've been playing guitar for a while you can benefit from strumming with your thumb. It offers new tonal options and can be a foundation for more intricate fingerstyle strumming. It's something I use all the time.
I'll show you the proper technique for thumb strumming, then I'll show you two bonus techniques you can use to up the game a little. And ultimately have more fun.
The Classic Thumb Strum Technique
I'm going to use a D chord for this demonstration. When you're strumming down you want to use the fleshy part of your thumb, the pad. Most of the motion should come from your elbow, with just a little coming from your thumb and wrist. When you strum, don't go too far up or down. The farther you go the farther you have to come back, which will slow you down.
The up strum is the reverse motion, but you'll use the top of your thumb in between the knuckles.
The trick is to brush against the strings and not dig in too much. If you do that you'll hear more individual notes instead of a smooth strum. Give it a try. Adjust how your elbow moves and try to find that sweet spot. This strum is a good way to play quieter, or play with less pick attack. Just make sure that the down strums and up strums are about the same velocity. This will take some practice but it comes with time.
The Pick-Like Thumb Strum
This next strum is a little more interesting, and gives you something in between a pick and a thumb. Grab a D chord again. The down strum is the same, but the up strum will be a little different. On the up strum you're going to use the outside of your thumb and nail to hit the strings.
To do this you'll have to rotate your wrist a little as if you had a pick. This technique adds a little brightness to the overall tone of the strum.
The Bass Note Thumb Strum
For the last technique you're going to add a bass note to the strum. This is a good way to add something interesting to your thumb and it's not terribly difficult. You'll see that it's a lot easier to find the bass note of a chord with your thumb as opposed to a pick.
You can use either strum for this. Instead of doing a full down strum you play just the bass note of the chord. Using the same strumming pattern as before, replace the first strum with the single bass note of the chord.
Jump to 4:22 in the video to hear this.
This small change makes a big difference in the sound, doesn't it!
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