26 June 2008

How to Get in the Guitar Strum Groove

A short while ago I got a request for some guitar strumming lessons. Guitar training often focuses on the fingering hand (the left hand for right handers out there) and much less on the strumming or picking hand. It's time to restore the balance a little on this blog with a short series of strumming lessons.

As with any guitar skill learning to strum requires practice and patience. It can take a while to find a good sound and get rhythm and timing right. So, don't worry if you don't catch on immediately. Perseverance will pay off.


Strumming is a skill in itself that requires focused effort to learn. You'll progress best with strumming if you practice it separately. Eliminating other distractions will make it easier for you to work on your strumming. The following tips will show you how to do that.

If you try to learn to strum while you play a chord progression that you are learning you won't pay full attention to your strumming hand. So, forget the chord progression, you are going to practice your strum with no chords.

Get with the beat, Baggy

Baloo the bear knew all about rhythm, and as he says "You gotta get with the beat." You can practice rhythms with your strumming hand without playing any chords. This practice develops your sense of rhythm. It will get your hand moving in time so that you don't need to think too much about that when you try to play chords and songs.

Block the strings

Practice rhythms by blocking the guitar's strings with your left hand. Rest a finger of your fretting hand across all six strings. Use just enough pressure to stop the strings from sounding when you strike them. Don't press them down to much or you will start to sound them - like when you play a bar chord.

With the chords blocked like this strum down across all six chords. You should get a dry, percussive sound, "chick". This is the sound you use to develop your rhythm skills.

Rhythm chops

Now you can go ahead and have some fun making up rhythms. Use the percussive "chick" and aim to create rhythms that make you want to get up and dance.

Play different strumming patterns based on four beats to the bar. The most obvious is to strum down on all four beats, but you will soon get bored with that and it won't do much to get you dancing.

Divide each beat into two strokes. Strum down and up four times, once on each beat. Use a metronome to develop the habit of playing in time. Count the beats "1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and" as you play.

Starting from this basic up - down pattern make up your own variations. Skip a whole beat leaving out a down and up, skip half a beat - either the up or the down, skip the up of one beat and the down of the next. Skip some downs and play only ups on certain beats.

You can create an enormous number of rhythms. Make up some of your own and play them over and over keeping time. Create some more rhythms over two bars or four. Just choose a different pattern for each bar and play them one after another.

Try this exercise a few minutes every day and develop a feel for rhythm and train your hand to perform a steady down and up movement in time with the metronome.

Share your specific strumming problems in this post's comments.

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