1 October 2008

Beginner Guitar, How to Play Bass Strum

Bass strums are an easy way to improve on basic guitar strumming and provide a stepping stone to more advanced techniques. This article tells you what it is and shows you how to do it. The bass strum technique builds your picking skills as a simple first step to more advanced strum patterns and techniques.

In this lesson, we're going to introduce the bass strum style so you know what it is. Then you're going to learn two different ways to play it, with a guitar pick or with your thumb and fingers. Once you know how to do it you'll discover how to put it into practice with common strum patterns.

Let's get started by defining just what a bass strum is.

What is bass strum?

Bass strum is a technique that mixes picking of a single bass string with chord strums. It is one of the simplest ways of moving beyond the basic strumming up and down usually taught when you start playing guitar. The bass strum emphasises bass notes and gives you music a fuller sound.

The bass strum style requires you to pay a more attention to your picking hand. You must accurately hit just one string on the bass strokes. This might be new for you and take a little practice. Stick with it as it is a useful foundation other rhythm guitar techniques you can add later.

Now let's take a look at two ways you can play bass strums. First, with a pick, then with your fingers.

Bass strum with a pick

To play bass strum with a pick you pick just one string on certain strokes instead of strumming. Start by picking down the bass string. At the end of the stroke the pick should come to rest on the string below, but without sounding it.

Practice this pick stroke on its own a few times without chords. Start on the sixth string, then try the fifth and fourth strings. Aim to finish the pick stroke on the neighbouring string without sounding it.

When you're comfortable with this bass stroke follow it up with a strum across the other strings. Repeat this pick - strum action to build fluency and speed. You don't have to finger any chord to do it. If you want you can use just one chord without trying to change it. Focus on the pick - strum action.

Bass strum with thumb and fingers

You can also play bass strum style with your thumb and fingers. Your thumb picks the bass note and then the other fingers strum the remaining strings. As with the pick your thumb should strike through the string and come to rest on the one below it. Practice your thumb stroke on its own at first until you can play the bass note cleanly. You can add the finger strum later, alternating bass strokes and strums on one chord.

Bass strum patterns

Once you have mastered the pick - strum, or thumb - strum action described above you can add it to the familiar strumming patterns you've been using.

In the common four beat, or 4/4, time you can choose to pick the bass note on the first or the first and third beats, like this:

First beat: bass - strum - strum - strum
First and third beat: bass - strum - bass - strum

In 3/4 or 2/4 time, play the bass note on the first beat, bass - strum - strum (3/4), or bass - strum (2/4).

Practice playing the bass strum pattern with both a pick and your fingers. Work slowly at first and concentrate on hitting the bass note cleanly. It can be hard at first so don't worry if you hit the wrong string from time to time.

This lesson has shown you the bass strum style of guitar playing. You now know how to play bass strums using either a pick or your fingers, and you can include them in all the common rhythm patterns. Now take some songs or chord progressions that you know and play them again in bass strum style.

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Patick D said...

Should the strum just be one direction, e. g., one down strum, or an down and up strum?

Gary Fletcher said...

Hi Patrick, thanks for your question. For the simple patterns shown in this post start with a down strum. When you've mastered this you can try down and up strums instead.


Laura said...

Is there a rule for which base string to use for each chord.... G versus Am?

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