How To Strum On Guitar – Techniques and Patterns

Last blog we talked about basic acoustic guitar chords. This blog is also about the basics, but instead of the left hand, we’ll be talking about the right hand now, and why the right hand is just as important as the left hand.

I Strum, Therefore I Am

What is strumming? A strum is the motion of sweeping your fingers or a guitar pick over several strings to generate sound. Doing this repeatedly in a deliberate rhythm is called strumming.

For beginning guitarists, it’s hard to concentrate on both the left hand and the right hand at the same time. It’s like rubbing your belly and patting your head at the same time. Your hands are not used to doing these completely different motions at the same time.

That’s why I always advise beginning guitarist to focus on chords first. Practicing rhythm is a lot more fun when you already know some chords. The chords I’m going to use later on in this lesson are very basic and can be learned here.

The Percussive Guitar

How to strum on guitar

The acoustic guitar is a very percussive instrument. Most people aren’t aware of that. When they think of rhythmical instruments they always think about something that can be hit, like a drum or a tambourine. But a strumming pattern can really define the rhythm of a song. The acoustic guitar is a beautiful instrument to play alone because of that.

How To Strum?

When I first started strumming I just took a guitar pick between my fingers and started playing. A year later somebody asked me why I was holding it so awkwardly. I couldn’t really answer because I never really gave it a second thought.

I was never taught to hold it the proper way. I don’t think there are wrong ways to hold your guitar pick. If you want to do it your way, that’s great. But the way I’m gonna teach you will be a lot more efficient when you’re going to learn more advanced strumming and picking techniques. Especially when you’re going to build up some speed.

Use only two fingers. The thumb and the index finger. In the beginning, it will feel like you’re going to drop the pick a lot (and you probably will). But using three fingers, like I did when I started out, will make your strumming motions less flexible.

How to strum on guitar

When you hold your thumb horizontally the pick should come out underneath, as shown on the picture. It should not point sideways along with the thumb. Holding it like that will force you to make a bending motion with your wrist to reach the strings. This will lock your wrist and maybe even damage it.

Start out by playing above the sound hole. The sound will be the most balanced if you play here. Playing closer to the fretboard will make your guitar a bit muddier, and playing closer to the bridge will give your guitar a sharper sound. This is something you can experiment with.

Playing Time!

There are many metronomes on YouTube. I find this one really helpful for beginners, because it doesn’t just beep, but it also counts along. Click: Talking Metronome 1

Exercise 1: Take an E minor chord with your left hand. Take your guitar pick. Check if you’re holding it correctly and start strumming along with the counting. Strum gently. Let your wrist do the movement, not your fingers, not your elbow.How to strum on guitar

Down on 1, up on 2, down on 3 and up at 4.

This is a really straightforward strumming pattern. Repeat this a couple of times, until you don’t have to think too much about it.


Exercise 2: Again, same video, same chord. This time we’re not going to strum the strings on the fourth count.

How to strum on guitar

Down on 1, up on 2, down on 3, NOTHING at 4.

You still have to make an upward movement with your hand at 4, but you’re not supposed to touch the strings. This is really important. Your hand is supposed to move on every count. Practice this a few times.


Exercise 3: One last exercise before we speed it up a little.

How to strum on guitar

Down on 1, NOTHING on 2, down on 3, up on 4.


Getting the hang of it? Time for something groovier then. The next link will bring you to a faster metronome: Click: Talking Metronome 2

Exercise 4: Let’s try the last exercise again.

How to strum on guitar

Down on 1, NOTHING on 2, down on 3, up on 4.

Can you feel the difference in speed? If this is too fast for you, you can go to this site, where you can choose different tempos.


Exercise 5: Now something reggae.

How to strum on acoustic guitar

NOTHING on 1, up on two, NOTHING on 3, up on 4.

Feels weird to play no downward notes right? Your right hand should never stop going down and up. You skip the notes you’re not supposed to play, but you never stop going down and up.


Exercise 6: Last one.

How to strum on guitar

Down on 1, NOTHING on 2, NOTHING on 3, up on 4.

Leaving notes open can really help to make a song become very dynamic. This is a great example of that.


Can’t Stop Strumming?

You’ve made some amazing progress today. Be proud of yourself!

If you want more patterns, Ultimate guitar is not only a wonderful site for chords, but they often post strumming pattern as well. You can press the play button, see what’s happening and play along.

How to strum on guitar

 

I absolutely recommend you do this. It’s free, it’s very helpful, and it makes things a lot easier for you. Search your favorite songs! Find a way to make your exercises as fun as possible.

Just don’t forget these techniques:

  • Hold your guitar pick correctly
  • Always keep your hand moving down and up
  • Move from your wrist, not your elbow

Next time we’ll go a bit groovier and faster, and we’ll do some chord changes between the strumming as well. But for now, this should be enough information for you.

If you need help or have any comments, please leave a message below.

Happy strumming,

Timo

4 thoughts on “How To Strum On Guitar – Techniques and Patterns

  1. I used to just use my thumb and fingers to strum the guitar but just recently I’ve moved onto a pick, the sound is much more direct with it. 

    The only problem I have is that I strum too strongly – I feel I am hitting the strings too hard. Is this down to the thickness of the pick? Should I get a thinner pick for strumming?

    1. Hi Chris. Thanks for the comment!

      Fingers will always have a softer sound, so if you prefer that sound, there’s nothing wrong with just using your fingers. Mark Knopfler almost never uses a pick and I’d say that worked out pretty well for him.

      If your not using a nylon guitar pick, you might like those better than the plastic ones. I think those are less harsh and direct.

      I personally use guitar picks that are around 0.8-1mm. Those feel the most natural to me.

      I hope that helps 🙂

      Timo

  2. Hi Timo,

    I have an acoustic guitar that I play now and then.  I learnt how to strum and improvise while listening to a song on my Hi fi system.  I have had a few lessons as well.  However, as I find it difficult to do bar chords, I guess I am still classed as a beginner!

    I am also being given an electric lead guitar for my birthday.  Looks like I really should get serious about playing!  My first instrument is voice followed by keyboards. I find instrument playing useful for crafting songs and also music arranging..

    Your article has piqued my interest again.  Thank you!

    1. Hello Stella!

      Barre chords are dreadful to learn. Don’t let those hold you back from picking up the instrument. I will do a blog on barre chords sometimes in the following weeks. Maybe that will help 🙂

      Thanks you for being a part of this blog!

      Timo

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