I'm a beginner trying to learn a song by Tift Merritt and can't seem to figure out the strumming pattern from the song. This is a good video that shows her playing it solo.


I think the song is in 4/4 time and I've already got the chords here:


Any help would sure be appreciated.

Hi Greg,

Let's see if we can work at figuring out the general strumming pattern together.

If you can tap your foot along to the song, you're off to a great start. We can call this the pulse, beat, or tempo of the song.
Most popular songs, including this one, are divided into four beats to a bar (bars, separated by bar lines, are a way to organize music). This means that we'd tap our foot four times before feeling another strong beat, or start of another bar, counting:

1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 |

What Tift is doing here is dividing her strumming pattern into values of crotchets and quavers. A crotchet lasts for the value of one beat, or one foot tap, while a single quaver lasts for the value of half of a beat. If we pair two quavers together, we have two strums worth half a beat each, which add up to one whole beat; we have two strums squeezed evenly within the space of one beat, or foot tap.
For interest, the image below shows what crotchets and quavers look like.

Throughout the piece, Tift is either playing one strum to a beat/foot-tap (a crotchet), or two strums to a beat/foot-tap (a pair of quavers).
Just like strumming, our foot-tapping can be divided into a down and up motion, or vice-versa.

Down motions land on strong beats, where we count 1, 2, 3 and 4, which is equivalent to playing straight crotchets.
Up motions land on the weak beats between those numbered counts. We count these as '&', as in '1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &', which is like playing straight quavers, or two strums to a beat.

We'll strum down on a crotchet or the first of two quavers, and up on the second of two quavers. This allows our strumming hand to stay in constant motion, and divide the beats consistently. This behaviour coincides with our foot tapping, with our foot touching the ground on the strong beats, and moving back up on the weak beats. Your foot and strumming hand can therefore by in-sync with one-another.

With this in mind, we can listen to a short segment of Tift's song, tapping our foot along, and seeing where her strums align with our foot; if she strums once on a foot tap, we have a crotchet, and so we strum down; if she strums twice for a foot tap, co-inciding with our down and up motions, we have pair of quavers, so we strum down and up.

As a hint, Tift starts each bar with two crotchets, taking care of beats 1 and 2. Try to tackle the second half of the bar yourself using the ideas above, and reply with what you come up with.
If I can clarify anything here, please feel free to ask. I'm sued to explaining these sorts of ideas in person with a pen and paper for illustration, so I admittedly might have breezed over something.
Thank you so very much!

I really, really appreciate you taking the time to help me with this song. I'm going to work right now on this and will update this post with my results tomorrow after I give this a few hours of practice tonight. Good night!
Great! I'll be sure to check back for your updates.

Again, if I can clarify anything, be sure to let me know; I'd be happy to give it another shot.

I found a better video to work from. This one shows the guitar the entire song:


I'm getting closer and closer. I'm going to post a video once I get this sound down. Thanks again!

Edit: Right now I'm using D D UDU and playing the C with a G in the bass.
Last edited by microguy at Dec 14, 2012,
Good to see another post from you, mate - keep up with that ambition!

The D D UDU pattern is exactly the sort of thing we're going for. Tift loosely strays from it at a couple of points, but in a live performance setting, you're welcome to take those sorts of liberties; that foundation will set you up very well to add embellishments or include rhythmic ''holes'' as you see fit.

As a side note, I'd recommend trying to notate any rhythms you figure out from existing songs, or any that you might stumble upon yourself. You'll build up a good internal library this way, and you'll have a conscious recollection of any ideas you like - neat!
This needn't be a chore, but if an idea grabs you, why not unravel its secrets?

Again, if I can help with anything else, be sure to let me know. I'll keep checking by this thread for any updates you might post in the future.

Last edited by juckfush at Dec 14, 2012,