8 June 2009

3 Steps to Better Guitar Strums

When you begin guitar you can obtain a better sound and make your songs sound more interesting by improving your guitar strumming skills.

You might have started with simple down strums as you learned your first chords and songs. This lesson shows you three simple steps with which you can build your strumming skills on simple two or three chord songs.

Eighth Note Strums

The first thing to master after the basic down strums is eighth note strumming. To understand eighth notes you must know that musical bars are most commonly divided into four beats, or four quarters. So each of these beats is called a quarter note. When you strum down four times on your basic open chords you are playing quarter notes.

Eighth notes are what you get when you divide these quarter note beats into two. The simplest way to play them is to strum down and up. You count eighth notes by saying "one and two and three and four and" as you strum down on the one, two, three and four, and up on each and.

Practice eighth note strums by taking a series of simple chords or a song you know and playing through it with up and down strums. Aim to develop a steady rhythm with evenly spaced down and up strokes.

Make Some Space

Once you've got the hang of strumming eighth notes up and down you can make your rhythm patterns more interesting by leaving some space in them. Keep your hand moving up and down in the steady eighth note rhythm, but instead of strumming the strings on each stroke you pass by them without striking on some strokes.

Here are some examples for you to try. The beats shown in brackets are not played, simply pass by the strings with your pick and let the strings ring from the previous strum, don't try to stop them. Remember to keep your hand moving up and down evenly on each eighth note beat even when you don't strum the strings.
  • One (and) two and (three) and four (and)
  • One and two (and) (three) and four and
  • One and (two) and (three) and four (and)
When you are comfortable with these examples make up some more of your own.

Skip Some Strings

To take your strumming a little further you can start to play with different strings on different strokes. You don't have to strum all the strings all the time. When you strum only a few strings at a time your sound will have more variety and interest for the listener.

Your main focus should be on striking either the bass strings - the fourth, fifth and sixth - or the treble strings - the bottom three. A good way to play these is to strike a bass string or two on the one and/or three, and to strike mostly treble strings on the other strokes.

Try this out with the rhythm patterns above.

Dedicate some of your practice time to learn new strum patterns and work on making them more interesting by using space and dynamics, or by strumming only a few strings at a time. You will discover that with only a few simple guitar strumming skills you can improve the sound of your two and three chord songs enormously.


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Photo by Alaskan Dude.

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