Strumming Overhaul: Part 1

Strumming. It should be easy right? You grab a pick, move it up and down on the strings and bam, you have an endless supply of ways to play chords. True in theory, but in reality, have you found that you need some fresh ideas to spice up your strumming? Are you in that un-inspiring place of knowing a few patterns that you always go to? Allow me to set your strumming skills on fire! Read on.

I’m super excited to be writing about this because I have a feeling you’ll pick up some new ideas to totally freshen up your chord playing. Below is a list of what I’m going to cover over the next few posts.

  1. The beat matters. Really, really matters!
  2. On the beat, off the beat
  3. Accents
  4. Low sounds, high sounds and percussion – think like a drummer
  5. Divide (and conquer)
  6. 6/8 Time
  7. Ties
  8. Anticipation
  9. Arpeggiation

My advice; read it all, then practice what excites you the most. If you walk away from this post having changed even one or two things about your strumming it’ll all have been worth it.

Alrighty….let’s begin.

The Beat Matters. It Really, Really Matters!

I know, you probably know this but stick with me for a sec.
The beat is the underlying pulse that makes all the rhythms mesh together.

In 4/4 time we know there are 4 beats per bar and each beat is consistently the same distance apart – unless there are tempo changes.

The reason the beat matters so much is that it’s the basic element that you (the player) and the listener(s) (your adoring fans) latch on to.

I mean look at any concert or performance. It’s highly likely that everybody in the room is moving their head, feet or hands to the BEAT.

Now why am I banging on about this?

Because everything you play is either on the beat or off it.

This is extremely critical when it comes to playing rhythm. Did you know that in 4/4 time there is 4 places within a bar where you can play on the beat?

Obvious right?

Did you know that if we divide that beat up into what’s known as Hemidemisemiquavers (or 64th notes) there are 64 possible places to attack a chord in 4/4 time and only 4 of those attacks are on the beat. So what about the other 60?

We’re not going to get that deep here but my point is that much of what makes your rhythm interesting is how you treat playing on and off the beat.

So, as I said at the start, the beat matters!

Practice Tip.

So, when strumming, you need to have a keen awareness of the beat. You need to feel it pulsing regardless of whether your playing on it or not. I’ll wager that the better you are at this, the more you will succeed with everything else that follows.

On The Beat, Off The Beat.

Now that we’ve cleared up the importance of the beat, lets explore playing on and off it.
In the example below we have 4 bars of the G chord, and we will use a down strum on every beat.
While you’re doing it, tap your foot as well. This is going to be your reference when you play more complicated rhythms later on.

Try this.

Example 1.

So that was easy.
Now let’s try playing 4 bars of quavers on the G chord.

Here’s the thing – I want you to do a down strum and tap your foot where the beat is, and an up strum on the “&’s” which occurs exactly halfway between each beat.

Oh, and by the way, here are the tradition symbols for an up strum and a down strum:

*up stroke and down stroke *

Ok, Try this.

Example 2.

(The % means play the bar before again, so in this case play bar 1 3 more times.)

So, now we are playing on and off the beat. How did you go? Did you manage to control both the up and down strumming?

The cool thing is that just by using different combinations of Crotchets and Quavers we can start building some patterns and with the addition of rests we can control the sustain of each attack.

Here’s a bunch of patterns for you to try. You can use any chord progression you like or you can try some of the ones below.

What you need to remember is:

  1. Each 1 bar pattern is in 4/4 time.
  2. Whenever you see a rest it means silence, so you’ll need to stop the guitar from making any noise. I often use the palm of my strumming hand to do this but you can also use your fretboard hand to mute the strings if the situation allows.
  3. If you totally don’t get it, the audio will demonstrate each pattern using a C chord for the length of two bars.
  4. Tap your foot on the beat, use down strums on the beat and up strums off the beat.
  5. Loop each example a few time so it really sinks in.

Ok, grab your guitar.

Here’s the chord progressions:

C | Am | Em | G :||

Em | C | G | D :||

D | A | C | G :||

And here’s the patterns:

Pattern 1.


Pattern 2.


Pattern 3.


Pattern 4.


Pattern 5.


Pattern 6.


Pattern 7.


Pattern 8.

Wrapping Up.

To finish up here’s a strumming study using a variety of the above patterns. To get a really good handle on this I believe it’s important to be able to add variation to keep things interesting.

I’ve also included a performance and play along track for you. I’ve added in some drums and bass to make it more realistic.

In the next post we’ll take things to the next level. We’ll look at 2 things.

  1. How Accents make things way cooler.
  2. How thinking in terms of bass and treble can really spice up your sound (you’ll kind of need to think like a drummer, that should be fun!)

Here’s the study. See you in part 2.

Rhythm Study #1 Performance Track

Rhythm Study #1 Backing Track


About the author

I'm really excited to be teaching guitar. Not many people receive the joy that I feel when seeing the progress of each of my students. It's truly a privilege, and I'd love you to join me.  

As I'm sure you know, learning guitar is a long journey, so you must be committed to it. But, if you're willing to put in some hard work for some big rewards, come and join me! 

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