I'm self taught and poorly self-taught that is. So far when learning new songs, I tend to memorize the actual strumming pattern that goes along with the song.

I have just started learning Stairway to Heaven and the hardest part (not including solo obv) has been trying to learn the rhythm for strumming.

Should I just watch videos and memorize the strumming pattern or should I go about this differently. Is there a certain way to practice so that the strumming pattern comes natural?
Since no one has replied I'll chime in. If you want to play it exactly as recorded, best to follow the strumming pattern you see/hear. If you have another interpretation, then go ahead and change it. I think what you are doing is good. With more practice, this may come naturally. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong
Here's my advice regarding strumming rhythms:

Most strumming patterns are either simplified versions of a more complex (or "complete" might be a better word) patter or, if you want to look at it from the opposite perspective, are more complex versions of simpler (less complete) patterns.

I prefer to look at it the former way, because that seems to make the most sense.

In regular 4 beat time, there are 4 beats. But each beat can be divided into 2 parts (making a total of 8 "things" per 4 beat measure.

Now think about this for a second:

When you strum down (towards the floor), your hand has to move up again to get ready for the next down strum.

If you strum on beats 1, 2, 3, and 4, you'd have:

Strum Strum Strum Strum.

But between each of those, which are down, you have to move you hand up. So your motion is:

Down Up Down Up Down Up Down Up

You're strumming where the "Down" is, and just passing by the strings on the "Up" to get back into position for the next strum on the next beat.

But, suppose you DID actually PLAY on the Ups! You're already moving your hand that way anyway right?

So try this. Play 4 down strums and strum up between each one, making a total of 8:

Down Up Down Up Down Up Down Up.

Now the MOST IMPORTANT THING is that it's EVEN - the Down strums and Up strums need to be of equal duration.

Needs to be : D U D U D U D U, not

D.....U D......U D......U D, etc.

Once you get your hand moving up and down evenly, strumming 8 "things" per measure (every 4 beats) you need to COUNT!

This is easy, because the "downs" are numbers: one, two, three, four, and we generally say "and" for the ups. So D U D U D U D U counts like this:

One And Two And Three And Four And

And each word above represents a strum; the numbers are down strums, and the "ands" are up strums.

Now, the next trick is to LEAVE OUT something. But, you still MOVE YOUR HAND as if you were going to strum.

So let's go back to the beginning. If you were only going to play 4 beats, you'd strum on the numbers (downs) and you'd "skip" the "ands" (ups) - you'd still move your hand up to get ready for the next down, but you just don't play the strings.

But instead of calling this:


I'm going to put an "up" in parantheses as a place holder where your hand moves, and where there's a beat or portion of a beat, but no strings are played:

D (U) D (U) D (U) D (U)

If you were counting, you'd say the numbers and "ands", but only play on the numbers:

1 (& 2 (& 3 (& 4 (&

Now, what you want to do is come up with as many variations of patterns as you can think of and play them. You also want to try to find patterns in songs and see if you can figure out which of the 8 units strums are played on.

Let's take a simple one: playing on the upbeats.

(1) & (2) & (3) & (4) &

So you only play on the "ands". You still count/say the numbers, and you still move your hand *down* on the numbers, you just skip over the strings on the downstroke and only strum when coming up. This keeps downs on the numbers and ups on the "ands" (which is important at first for consistency's sake).

Let's try another common one:

1 (& 2 & 3 (& 4 &

So on this one, you play on the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 7th, and 8th "things" of our 8 units.

But a better way to look at it IMHO is say you DON'T PLAY on the 2nd and 6th out of 8 units. Musically we say, you don't play on the "and of 1" and the "and of 3" (which means the and after each of those beats).

So broken down, you have:

"One" - Strum on it, and say it.

"and" - say it but DON'T strum it.

"Two" - strum it, say it.

"and" - strum it, say it.

"Three - strum it, say it.

"and" - say it, DON'T strum it

"Four" - strum it, say it.

"and" - strum it, say it.

Again, this all has to be very even, and the "ands" you don't play need to be given the same amount of time as every other "count" (each of the 8 things per measure).

One thing that used to help guitar students was to whisper those things you were to say but not strum. Another thing that helped was to physically do something else, like tap the top of the guitar, or tap your foot (if saying a word isn't enough). You could even do something like:

Down Skip Down Up Down Skip Down Up

I found it much easier to teach strumming patterns by starting with 8 Eighth Notes per measure and "removing" the ones you don't play, as opposed to trying to start with only 4 Quarter Notes per measure and then "adding in" additional ones. Get your arm moving up and down regularly in 8th Notes (4 ups and 4 downs in alternation for a 4 beat measure) and then "skipping" the strings when you don't want a sound is far easier. Plus, it has the advantage of keeping your hand moving in the right direction.

Try to exhaust all kinds of patterns, like for the first 4 strums you could have:

D U D (U)
D U (D) U
D (U) D U
(D) U D U
D (U) D (U)
(D) U (D) U
D U (D U)
(D U) D U
(D) U D (U)

And so on. I would practice first with the 2nd 2 beats being the same as the first:

D (U) D U : D (U) D U

but you should also try patterns that aren't the same for each "half", like the very common:

D (U) D U : (D) U D U

Once you get these down with 8 8th notes per measure, you can easily double it up and do 16 16th notes per measure, which are twice as fast, but if you keep speeding up the 8th note ones and just do two of them within a measure, you have 16.

So, for example, at the end of Stairway to Heaven, you'd have:

D (U) D (U) xd xu xd xu D (U) D (U) xd xu xd xu

(xd and xu is a muted strum meaning it is played but the fretting hand mutes the strings - and you still keep the down up direction going).

Almost every complex pattern can be broken down like this - there are 8, or 16 "subdivisions" of the measure ("one and" or "one e and a") we count, but we only PLAY on some portion of them (you can of course play all of them as well but that's not a "complex" pattern to me ;-)

As time goes on, you won't necessarily have to keep moving your hand up and down - for example, if we only have to strum on beat 1 and beat 3, it's unlikely we're going to move our hand up and down for the "and Two and" between 1 and 3 because it's a little unnecessary. But at the beginning, it's a good idea to do it so you keep your motion consistent and it agrees with your counting.

Last edited by levets at Jun 24, 2015,