Tackling Strumming As A Beginner Guitarist. Part 1

This lesson is aimed at those of you who haven't quite learned how to play rhythms in time. If you want to improve your skill in this area from the basics, this lesson is for you.

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Most beginner guitarists soon find out that one of the hardest things to do once they have some chord shapes down is to actually strum in time. Aside from the difficulty of chord changes, comes the additional challenge of using the opposite hand to strum the strings and play a rhythm without stopping. In this article I will discuss a few tips that will help you to separate the left and right hands so that you can properly play in time. First off, this lesson is not going to focus on chord changes at all. Second, this lesson is aimed at those of you who really haven't learned how to strum in time on the guitar yet. Even those of you who think you can already strum in time will benefit from playing along to the videos that I will be linking to. We will only be using one chord E minor. If you don't know how to already play this chord, here is a tab the numbers signify which fret to play, with a 0 representing an open string:
1E |--0----||
2B |--0----||
3G |--0----||
4D |--2----|| <-- middle finger
5A |--2----|| <-- index finger
6E |--0----||
For a video demonstration of how to play this chord We're also going to be using two letters to signify whether we are going to strum down on the strings (D), or up (U). D = Strum down, from the 6th string to the first string U= Strum upwards, from the 1st string to the 6th string The first tip when it comes to strumming, is that you want it to be a continuous rhythm. This means that your strumming hand should be constantly in motion as this will give you the best feel and sound. For each example in this lesson, I am going to provide a link to a video demonstration played along to a backing track on YouTube. For a copy of this backing track, please visit my website Guitar Lessons Mississauga and head to the 'Free Resources' section. All these example are going to be in 4/4 time. If you don't understand or know what that is, to put it simply, each measure of music will have 4 beats. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- STEP 1 The first strum we're going to start off with is just a down strum on an E minor chord. If we have 4 beats in one measure, we will just be strumming down on the first beat of each measure. This is considered to be a whole note, or a note that lasts 4 beats. In the video I will repeat this a number of times, so try to play along.
     D       D       D       D     
   
E |--0----|--0----|--0----|--0----||
B |--0----|--0----|--0----|--0----||
G |--0----|--0----|--0----|--0----||
D |--2----|--2----|--2----|--2----||
A |--2----|--2----|--2----|--2----||
E |--0----|--0----|--0----|--0----||
For a video demonstration of this, CLICK HERE ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- STEP 2 For the next step, we are going to strum downwards on every two beats. This means that in a measure of music with 4 beats, we are strumming on beats 1 and 3. This is twice as fast as our first step, and each strum will last half of a measure. We will be strumming 'Half Notes'.
     D  D       D  D       D  D       D  D
 
E |--0--0----|--0--0----|--0--0----|--0--0----||
B |--0--0----|--0--0----|--0--0----|--0--0----||
G |--0--0----|--0--0----|--0--0----|--0--0----||
D |--2--2----|--2--2----|--2--2----|--2--2----||
A |--2--2----|--2--2----|--2--2----|--2--2----||
E |--0--0----|--0--0----|--0--0----|--0--0----||
For a video demonstration of this, CLICK HERE ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- STEP 3 For this next example, we're going to strum downwards on every single beat. We will be strumming 'Quarter Notes' here.
     D  D  D  D       D  D  D  D       D  D  D  D       D  D  D  D 

E |--0--0--0--0----|--0--0--0--0----|--0--0--0--0----|--0--0--0--0----||
B |--0--0--0--0----|--0--0--0--0----|--0--0--0--0----|--0--0--0--0----||
G |--0--0--0--0----|--0--0--0--0----|--0--0--0--0----|--0--0--0--0----||
D |--2--2--2--2----|--2--2--2--2----|--2--2--2--2----|--2--2--2--2----||
A |--2--2--2--2----|--2--2--2--2----|--2--2--2--2----|--2--2--2--2----||
E |--0--0--0--0----|--0--0--0--0----|--0--0--0--0----|--0--0--0--0----||
For a video demonstration of this, CLICK HERE ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- STEP 4 For the next step, we are going to add in 'upstrokes' in between each quarter note. This will sound twice as fast as the previous example, and will be a little harder to stay on time. In this example, we are strumming 'Eighth Notes'. If you find upstrokes to be hard, practice doing this a number of times by yourself before you try playing along with the video below.
     D  U  D  U  D  U  D  U       D  U  D  U  D  U  D  U 
       
E |--0--0--0--0--0--0--0--0----|--0--0--0--0--0--0--0--0----||
B |--0--0--0--0--0--0--0--0----|--0--0--0--0--0--0--0--0----||
G |--0--0--0--0--0--0--0--0----|--0--0--0--0--0--0--0--0----||
D |--2--2--2--2--2--2--2--2----|--2--2--2--2--2--2--2--2----||
A |--2--2--2--2--2--2--2--2----|--2--2--2--2--2--2--2--2----||
E |--0--0--0--0--0--0--0--0----|--0--0--0--0--0--0--0--0----||
For a video demonstration of this, CLICK HERE ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- STEP 5 Now that you can play Eighth Notes along with me, we're going to go into a new rhythm where we will cut out certain strokes from STEP 4. The strums that will be cut are the upbeat of beat 1, and the upbeat of beat 3. This ends up being a repeated pattern of D-DU.
     D     D  U  D     D  U       D     D  U  D     D  U  
 
E |--0-----0--0--0-----0--0----|--0-----0--0--0-----0--0----||
B |--0-----0--0--0-----0--0----|--0-----0--0--0-----0--0----||
G |--0-----0--0--0-----0--0----|--0-----0--0--0-----0--0----||
D |--2-----2--2--2-----2--2----|--2-----2--2--2-----2--2----||
A |--2-----2--2--2-----2--2----|--2-----2--2--2-----2--2----||
E |--0-----0--0--0-----0--0----|--0-----0--0--0-----0--0----||
For a video demonstration of this, CLICK HERE ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- Now that you have the ability to play these rhythms in time, I'll leave you and let you practice this as much as you can. In part 2 we will go into some more rhythms, and eventually learn how to combine the rhythms with chord changes. If you have any questions, feel free to post them in the comments and I will try to answer as quickly as I can. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- Jason Wilford is a professional musician and guitar teacher in Mississauga, ON (Canada) Check out the Pro Guitar Studio website for more free resources, and to sign up for a free newsletter with tips for guitarists at any level.

9 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    altinertia
    I can see these series of tutorials are going to help me out greatly. Ive been playing (not enough time a day though, unfortunately) for about a year, ive tended to concentrate on the other hand and learning chords and being able to barre a chord etc. Great tut, easy to follow and vids are a plus. Looking forward to the next
    ProfessorNoob
    Great help, made me less scattered and strum to the beat. On your Youtube channel it says you have only 2 videos, yet you have more o.O
    jasonwilford
    To anyone working on this - it came to my attention that the video for the 'eighth note rhythm' wasn't rendered properly, so to watch the proper full-length video, head here:
    Laura_B2011
    I'm going to work on these. I can play pretty well but i can't make up strumming patterns worth shit or think of any so thank you!
    matav
    nice, good practice for me although easy but anyways i'll spend 2/3 days practicing this. i hope part 2 will solve my problem of strumming complex patterns and singing at the same time. i can do the latter fine and the former somewhat sometimes thnx
    Houssain Xp
    thank you for the lesson its nice one , but can i ask you how long time should we do those exercices
    andyerskine
    I dont kow if this is the right place to ask, but I'll try anyway. I have been teaching myself for about 4 or 5 months now, and while my chord changes are coming along, my strumming is sadly lacking. I am ok when I first start, but as I play, I start to raise my hand away from the strings, so they dont seem to ring as clearly. To correct this I try and bring my hand back down, which then results in me playing louder on the next stroke. Is this a normal thing that will pass over time, or is there anything I should be doing to sort it out now? I try and play slowly, sometimes just sitting strumming with the strings muted to train my hand to travel at the same distance over the strings, yet it still happens. Also, will my grip on the pick improve over time? Just now it is moving around in my hand, and twisting.I am using a 0.5, 0r 0.66 Dunlop pick. Should I try a larger sized one as opposed to thicker one?