Strumming is an essential skill all guitarists must learn. It is the foundation for many musical pieces and songwriting. Today we are not only going to be covering all the benefits of strumming, but also teaching you how to strum on guitar.
Why Is Strumming Important
Learning how to strum well on guitar is important for many reasons. First, it helps to develop your rhythm. Strumming patterns start out simple but quickly get more complex with concepts like ghost strums and syncopation. Don’t worry, though. We’re going to walk you through all the progressions to make you a pro strummer in no time.
As you get more comfortable strumming and with different strum techniques, it will become second nature to you. This muscle memory will help you develop much more consistency in not only your rhythm, but your chord progressions as well.
In my previous lesson on guitar chord transition exercises I talked about how building proficiency with strumming can help boost your ability to smoothly transition from chord to chord. Since you will not need to focus as much on your strumming hand you will be able to put more focus on your chord changes.
Additionally, as your strumming and chord progressions tighten up and you get more comfortable, the synchronization between your left and right hand will strengthen. This will help you in all facets of your guitar playing, not just rhythm or acoustic guitar.
Finally, learning how to strum on guitar will help you get your timing down. Since a lot of strumming work involves working with a metronome, you will be actively and passively developing your ability to keep time while practicing your strumming techniques.
Posture Points: Hold the Guitar Properly
Before you even begin to strum, there are a few points on your posture that are worth taking note of.
First, make sure you’re sitting up and your back is straight and that you aren’t hunched over your guitar.
Second, rest your strumming arm’s forearm on the top corner of your guitar.
Third, keep your wrist straight and relaxed.
Finally, have a proper seat. Make sure that seat has no arms and that your feet touch the ground comfortably. I cover all the above points in detail in my lesson on How to Hold a Guitar Correctly.
Let’s Talk Guitar Picks
The pick you use can and will impact your playing, including your strumming. A heavier, thick pick will produce much louder strums with more “attack”. A thinner pick will produce softer strums and gain some tone from the pick, as well.
You can learn all about how to find the right guitar pick for you and your play style in my lesson How to Choose a Guitar Pick.
What About String Gauges?
You will want to use lighter gauge strings when working on your strumming. That’s not to say there is anything wrong with heavier strings when strumming. However, starting with lighter gauge strings, such as 9’s or 10’s will make learning how to strum on guitar a much easier experience for you.
Depending on your guitar you will either want to get steel or nylon strings. Classical acoustic guitars almost always have nylon strings where most modern, dreadnought style acoustics have steel strings.
There are tons of options out there from dozens of brands. Finding the right set of strings is an ongoing process and you will likely go through many kinds throughout your time playing guitar.
What’s most important in the beginning of learning to strum is the gauge, though. Grab a light pair of string and swap them out if your strings are too old or heavy for you.
If you’re not sure how to change the strings on your acoustic, check out my lesson on How to Change Guitar Strings.
How to Strum on Guitar: Where to Strum
While there is no “right” place to strum, where you strum does make a difference. Strumming closer to the bridge will produce brighter tones, while strumming closer to the neck will produce darker tones.
Try to vary where you strum during your practice sessions to get a better feel for the different tones the strum location makes. Over time, you will start changing up where you strum based on the music you are playing (contextual strumming).
Strumming is all in the wrist, so it’s important to make sure you have proper wrist positioning and mechanics.
First, always keep your wrist loose and relaxed. It is easy to want to tense up when you start strumming faster with more advanced chord progressions. However, in those moments, it is important to pause for a moment, relax and go back to the piece you were working on. A tense wrist will ultimately slow you down and can lead to injury.
Second, keep your wrist straight. Do not bend your wrist at an extreme angle while strumming. Your hand should be almost parallel with the strings when you strum. If your hand is angled away or dramatically towards the strings, you’ll want to adjust the angle of your wrist.
Finally, initiate all strums and movements with your wrist. Do not strum with your forearms, or whole arm for that matter. Try to keep your arms as still as possible and only strum with your wrist. At first, it will be uncomfortable as your wrist develops its strength in this position. Over time, though, it will become much more natural and comfortable for you.
Upstrokes and Downstrokes
In the beginning you will be working a lot on just your upstrokes and down strokes. That’s all strumming is, really. Just a series of upstrokes and down strokes in varying patterns. However it’s important to master those upstrokes and down strokes first, before moving on to more advanced rhythms.
Neglecting to master your up and down strokes will ultimately lead to much sloppier sounding strums with erratic notes and pressure.
To begin, set a metronome to a slow, comfortable tempo, say 45-60 BPM. Choose a chord progression and play only quarter note down strokes. That’s once per beat, 4 times per measure.
Once you get comfortable with this increase to playing 8th notes with down strokes and upstrokes. (1 and 2 and 3 and 4)
Now that you are incorporating upstrokes into your practice, pay attention to the volume of both strokes. Is one much louder than the other? Try to focus on applying the same amount of pressure and accuracy with each strum.
Don’t worry, this takes time but you will get it.
Once 8th notes become easy for you, move on to 16th notes (1-e-and-a-2-e-and-a-3-e-and-a-4). Again, pay close attention to the pressure and consistency of each stroke’s volume.
Syncopation is a musical term that means to combine a variation of rhythms to create a piece of music. This variation of rhythms results in a part of the music sounding off-beat. (Source: WikiPedia)
When you perform a syncopated piece, it is important to keep your hands moving at the same tempo as if you were playing the same riff with all the same note speeds (say, all 16th notes).
As your hands move in a consistent pattern of upstrokes or down strokes, you will “skip a strum” either on the way up or down while maintaining the same tempo. This skipping of a strum instantly creates a unique rhythm and is what makes the music sound “off beat” for a moment. This practice of skipping strums is also referred to as “Ghost Strums”.
Mastering ghost strums, and syncopation as a whole, will do wonders for your rhythm guitar playing and your ability to keep time.
How to Strum on Guitar: Basic Strum Patterns:
Quarter Note, Downstrum on the beat:
Eight Note, Down, Up on the beat:
16th Note, Down-Up-Down
Practice Chord Changes
If you are struggling with your strumming and your hands just don’t seem to be synchronizing, you may need to go back and work on your chord transitions.
It is very difficult, if not impossible, to really work on strumming patterns if your chord changes are falling behind.
Don’t worry, there are tons of great tips and tricks to get your chord transitions buttery smooth in no time.
Want to learn more? Check out my lesson on Guitar Chord Transition Exercises and start letting your chords flow freely!
Wrapping It Up
At this point you know why strumming is important, as well as how to strum on a guitar. What are some of your favorite strumming patterns? What was the first strumming pattern you learned? What songs did you learn to master your strumming? Leave any questions or comments down in the comments section below!