How do I strum properly on the guitar? How do I hold the pick? Which way do I strum? All are valid questions when learning how to get started with strumming on the guitar, and are important to think about when learning the basics.
Strum Some Simple Open Chords With A Plectrum
Strumming can be a strange concept to a beginner guitarist who has perhaps played more simple riffs and single note melodies on the guitar. Many beginners will start off by learning a few simple open chords (such as C, G, Am, D, Em ect.) and may be strumming these with their thumb or with their other fingers on their strumming/plucking hand to begin with. Although this can help them get started, where you will find your chordal playing start to sound more like the real thing is when you start to use a plectrum (or pick) to strum these chords, which will give the chords a crisper and clearer sound overall! This can feel very strange at first, since you may be used to strumming with the flesh on your finger, so using a foreign object to now do this can be awkward at first. In my experience of showing many guitarists how to use a pick for the first time, this awkwardness doesn’t usually last for very long at all, and you’ll most likely feel much more confident with the pick by the end of your practice session!
Strum Once Per Bar, And Keep The Pulse Going!
Let’s take those simple open chords that you’ve been learning for a while and string them together to make a chord progression. A very simple and extremely popular one that is heard in many many different songs is | C | Am | F | G | (one bar each). Since each of these chords will last for one bar each, we will be counting to four in-between each chord, since there are four beats in a bar (most of the time!). A great exercise to get you started with strumming is to give each chord a nice strong down-strum, wait four beats, then move straight onto the next chord to do the same. There may be a bit of a gap in-between chord changes at first, or perhaps just between some of the trickier chords, but with practice these gaps will go away and you’ll be able to keep the pulse or the beat going throughout the entire progression. When you reach the last chord (G) go straight back to the first chord (C) after four beats, since in an actual song this chord progression will repeat around and around for the entire time with no delay.
Four Times Per Bar
Once you’ve got the hang of strumming each chord once, let’s make things a little busier. Since there are four beats in a bar, we can strum on every beat for our next step, so four strums per chord. Just like before, keep the pulse going between chord changes. This may be a little trickier now since you’ll only have one beat between your current chord and your next chord once you reach your last strum, so you may want to bring the overall tempo down a bit to start with.
Now if it weren’t already obvious, our most common strum is a down-strum, which will occur on every ‘down beat’ (1 2 3 4). These down beats feel like natural strong beats to use, as these are great anchor points in a piece of music which give the feeling of resolution. In between each of these downbeats, we have what is called an ‘up beat’ or an ‘off beat’, which is sometimes vocalised as the “and” in-between each beat e.g. 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and. These are sometimes written as 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + to make things a bit easier to note down. This can also be a great way to pinpoint a specific part of a bar, for example you could say “play an up strum on the 2+ of this bar”.
So if we strum the pick downwards on a downbeat, which way do we strum the pick on an up beat/ off beat? You guessed it, upwards! So if you wanted to constantly strum all down and upbeats in a bar you could constantly strum down-up-down-up-down-up-down-up.
Once you have gotten your hand used to this down-up motion, you can reintroduce some space in between these strums, as a constant down-up-down-up strumming pattern could get exhausting to both play and listen to! Try this simple patter that will give your chords a nice bit of rhythm, whilst also giving some space:
Once you’re comfortable with this, why not add in a few more strums? After your up-strum on beat 2+, you’re going to rest for half a beat (and quaver rest) then come in with another up-strum on beat 3+, immediately followed with a down-strum on beat 4. This is a much busier strumming pattern, but will sound good over just about any chord progression! Tip: make sure that your wrist is constantly moving in a down-up-down-up motion even if you aren’t making contact with the strings. This will allow your hand and wrist to stay relaxed, and can simply make contact with the strings when needed, but will also constantly be travelling in the correct direction with the corresponding beat (down or up), so you’ll never mess up a down beat with an up-strum for example. This can feel very strange and like everything has gone out of sync, so you’ll know if this has happened.
The Worlds Most Popular Strumming Pattern!
Now by adding in one final up-strum at the end of each bar, on beat 4+, we have the worlds most popular strumming pattern! Down down-up up-down-up. This is heard on countless songs, one very popular example being “Take It Easy” by The Eagles. Once you learn this strumming pattern, it will never go away, and you’ll hear it everywhere! But for good reason. This strumming pattern provides plenty of rhythm to keep your song chugging along, with a few gaps to break things up. As with all of these examples, you should start very slow at a tempo where things aren’t becoming messy, and where you can change to your next chord without too much of a gap. Put this strumming pattern to your C, Am, F, G chord progression, and you have a song!