Beginners Guide to Strumming

A beginners guide to strumming and creating your own strumming patterns. From the very basic to creating your own patterns.

Ultimate Guitar
Hi I'm Jim McGrother and this is the first lesson I've submitted on Ultimate-Guitar so be gentle! As an experienced guitar teacher I find that for many new students beginning guitar lessons, learning to strum a simple chord sequence is one of the toughest barriers to over-come. While not quite as soul destroying as the moment that the importance of barre-chords dawns upon a bright-eyed "newb," the struggle to strum fluently can significantly sap a novices confidence. For me, strumming in a wide variety of rhythms was very natural and practically second nature straight away but for many it isn't. So here are a few easy steps to get you going. When learning a technique I believe that it's important to start right at the beginning. So here's as simple as it gets. Many of the most popular songs are in the time signature 4/4. This means that each bar has four beats or four "Quarter Notes." As the name suggests each note lasts for one quarter of the length of the bar. Think about a band counting in at the start of a song ("one, two, three, four").

Level 1

We're going to take a G major chord and do four evenly spaced down strokes or strums. Counting to four, strum downwards on each new beat. To get the right tempo let's count at the same speed as seconds on a clock.
Ace! That was one bar of G. Ok, not that difficult so let's add an extra bar in.

Level 2

On this exercise count from one to four twice putting a down strum on each new beat.
Again, pretty easy.

Level 3

So let's add up-strokes into the first bar. To do this we need to divide up the bar into eighths rather than quarters. Count at the same speed as before (each new number a second away from the last) but this time between the numbers say "and." So the count goes: "one and; two and; three and; four and;" So for the first bar strum a down-stroke on the number (on the beat) and an up-stroke on the "and" (off the beat). In the second bar strum just down-strokes "on the beat."
Ok, a bit trickier but maybe it doesn't sound great yet? The trick when creating a strumming pattern is variation!

Level 4

Try this strumming pattern. It starts with down-strokes on the beat and includes an up-stroke off the beat right at the end of each bar. By continuing straight into the next bar you'll have 3 quick strums together which breaks up all the down-strokes.

Great! When you get this flowing we can start to add in some other chords. Sticking with simple open string chords at first or apply this to chord progressions you already know and feel comfortable with. It will fit many different songs at different speeds and is one of the stock strumming patterns I teach to my students.

Level 5

Here's an easy chord progression with a strumming pattern that misses out a down-stroke and adds an extra up-stroke every so often. Remember not to skip beat two with the missing strum but wait for beat three.
Now you should have some stock patterns that can be combined in different ways and an idea of how to create your own patterns.

What Now?

Experiment building your own patterns a bar at a time. Eventually strumming will become an intuitive process and you'll be able to improvise around the basic groove or rhythm of a piece. The main thing is to keep your arm going at a constant pace down and up, down and up. To add interest try accenting certain beats by hitting particular strokes harder or softer. This can add interest to your playing in the form of dynamics.

10 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Sure appreciate your suggestions about incrementally building strumming prowess. I'm also interested in your comment about common stumbling blocks that sap the confidence of new students, such as barre cords. I'd like you to expand on that theme a little more, with suggestions for coping with those hurdles. Thanks again!
    A very comprehensive lesson, but was expecting there to be something along the lines of the best way to actually strum (with and without pick) good overall