Strumming? Is it something that only beginners, or the "friend" who comes over to your place and messes with your guitar? You know, the one who grabs the expensive 1967 Gibson Flying V or the vintage 1961 EB-0 1961 Gibson bass guitar, thinking that they're cool by fooling around on such high profile equipment with their potato chip, greased-up hands after raiding your cabinet for food. No, but chord strumming is a skill most short-lived guitarist and bassists know. Strumming can produce amazing sounds with little ease.
According to Dictionary.com, strumming is defined as:
"strum (strm) v. Strummed, strumming, strums
v.tr. 1. To play (a stringed musical instrument) by stroking or brushing the strings: strum a banjo.
2. To play (music) on a stringed instrument in this way: strum chords on a guitar.
v.intr. To play a stringed instrument by strumming.
n. The act or sound of strumming."
This is an accurate textbook definition, but it lacks all the intimate details on how a simple C Major Chord turns into a masterpiece by Yngwie Malmsteen, who is THE guitar god of sweep picking (more on this later).
Many guitarists and bassists don't think too much about the action of strumming because of it being one of the most basic techniques. We can get into an indepth detail about many different types of strumming, however, we'll only talk about the 3 most basic.
"Strumming with a guitar pick", or plectrum, is the most basic type of strumming on an instrument. Typically, a pick is made out of plastic, but they can be made of stainless-steel, stone, or the first small thing that you can find in the radius of your bedroom, just kidding (not really... (;). The guitar pick would be placed inbetween the fingertips of your pointer-finger and thumb on your dominant hand, although this is an personal prefrence and isn't standard. Try "gripping" the pick just enough that it won't slip away. Then, once in place, gently move your dominant hand up and down guitar strings as if you were rubbing your stomach.
"Strumming with your fingers," most common in classical guitar. Unlike using a plectrum, you'll use your fingers on your dominant hand to strum, or plung, the notes. For beginners of this technique, you'd gently brush the strings with your a single finger, or your whole hand for a "dramatic" sound when playing a chord. However, it's recommended to start only with the pointer-finger and/or thumb. A good way for utilizing both the finger and thumb is by down strumming using the thumb and upstroking the pointer-finger. Finger-style is more "free" when it comes to experimenting.
"Strumming with both fingers and plectrum," known as chicken plucking, hybrid picking, etc..., is more advanced than either of the two mentioned above, but can yield interesting strumming patterns. This style of strumming isn't normal "strumming," though more of standard picking. Jazz, funk, and country guitarists use this style to give an instinctive "pluck" sound when strumming, which it typically sounds like a chicken picking at food in country music. This is known as hybrid picking because you'd hold the guitar pick as you'd would if you were using a plectrum in the thumb and pointer-finger, in addition to using your free fingers to pick. Only guitar players of the bravest and pure of heart should attempt such a technique... Haha!
None of this styles are written in stone, they're only a personal preference on how to play the guitar. Feel free to try any of these techniques to spice us that boring I-IV-V chord progression!
Cool Tip! Try breaking a song you like, or already written, by trying to figure out whether it was played using a finger-style or plectrum. And, then use a different technique to play it.
About the Author:Matthew Delano is a musician, songwriter, and teaches guitar lessons in Syracuse, NY. His music is a boiling pot of folk music to death metal. Visit Carrion Symbol to hear an example of his band's death metal music. Also, go check out Matthew's teaching site for more information about his teaching.