Much is made of the struggle beginner guitar students encounter when learning their first chords on the instrument. However, in my experience as a guitar tutor, a number of newbie guitarists find strumming patterns and rhythm equally challenging. Since those first few chords take considerable amounts of time to change fluidly between them, the strumming hand can often be neglected in favour of developing the fretting hand. It is not uncommon for a number of beginner guitar lessons to be structured around developing rhythm, and to the mastery of basic strumming patterns, which is exactly what we will be covering in this online guitar lesson today.
Basic Strumming Technique
Before you start learning the basic strumming patterns on guitar, it would be a good idea to ensure that your basic technique is not hindering your progress. I’ve found that guitar students can improve their performance and accuracy of their rhythm playing by simply making a few adjustments to their technique. Below are some pointers to keep in mind:
- Hold the back lightly between your thumb and first finger. Don’t grip too hard or your rhythm playing will sound and feel stiff.
- Strum from the wrist and forearm, not the elbow. Your elbow should not move.
- For downstrokes, flick your wrist in a downward motion, trying to strum all of the strings at the same time. Avoid “raking” through the strings and picking them individually – that’s a different technique.
- For upstrokes, come back in the opposite direction, catching the highest 2, 3 or 4 strings on the guitar. There’s no exact science to this so don’t worry about how many strings you strum. This is to make your upstrokes quieter than your downstrokes, giving your rhythms more “feel.”
Now that you’ve examined your basic technique, let’s move on to learning some basic strumming patterns. Each of the rhythms below must be performed with a metronome, at various tempos. If you do not have a metronome, then there are plenty of free apps available to download in either the Apple or Google Play stores. Personally, I use Pro Metronome. You can even find a metronome on Google itself if you just search for “online metronome.” Ensure that you practice the following rhythms at various tempos. Personally, I would start somewhere between 70-90 BPM, and gradually increase the tempo until you’re performing these rhythms as fast as you can!
The first exercise involves strumming a G chord in time to your metronome. I have chosen G here, but you could use any chord, or even just strum open strings. This is a very simple exercise designed to get you used to playing in time, and to help you feel the pulse. Make sure you match your downstrokes perfectly to the beat, and try to tap your foot along to the rhythm as you do it and count “1, 2, 3, 4” for each bar. Repeat as often as necessary:
Obviously, it is highly unlikely that you will be in a situation where you are only strumming one chord over and over again. Therefore, it is a good idea to get used to playing these rhythms with more than one chord. In the second example, we have a four bar loop consisting of 2 bars of G, followed by 2 bars of Cadd9. I chose these two chords because it is fairly easy to change between them, as it involves little fretting hand movement. This is the same rhythm as the first example:
The third exercise on our list is the first time we introduce upstrokes. You’ll notice from the tab that I have tried to transcribe the upstrokes as best as I can. As mentioned above, although the upstrokes are notated as being the high E, B and G strings played together, this isn’t an exact science, and you may find some variation in your own playing when you perform this rhythm. Try to tap your foot in time to the downstrokes, and count “1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and” for each bar. Take care to match the downstrums perfectly to the clicks of the metronome, with the upstrokes being played immediately after, on the offbeats. For now, just stick to one chord in order to get the hang of this rhythm. I have chosen G major again:
Next up we have a slight variation on the previous exercise. Again, we are going to create a 4 bar loop, changing between G and Cadd9 every 2 bars. This is the exact same repeating down up strumming pattern as displayed in example 3, however you will notice I have included a reminder to lift your fingers on your left hand in anticipation to change to the next chord on the last upstroke of each chord. Since the G and Cadd9 chords both involve fretting the 3rd frets of the B and high E strings respectively, you can just lift up your index and middle finger on this upstroke, leaving your 3rd and 4th fingers in place whilst simultaneously catching the high 3 strings on the upstroke.This is perfectly acceptable to do, as changing to the next chord half a beat early, whilst still maintaining a consistent rhythm, will help to make your rhythm playing sound smoother and more musical:
Now that you have got used to performing downstrums and upstrums in rhythm, it’s time to move on to one of the most standard strumming patterns used for guitar. This is the classic “down, down up, up down up” pattern, and we will start by practicing it on a G major chord. Just keep looping this pattern round again and again until you’ve got the hang of it, counting “1, 2 and, and 4 and” as you perform it. Although it will be very tricky to do so at first, try to tap your foot along to the beat. I’ve found that some beginners have a slight difficulty in performing the two upstrokes in a row. This is because you are not playing anything on beat 3. Leaving out a strong beat can be tough at first, but persist and you will get it. I’ve found that keeping your hand moving in a consistent down up motion, even if you are not hitting the strings, to be the best way to stay in time. Repeat as many times as necessary until you have grasped it:
Our final exercise is the same rhythm as above. However, this time we are going to make it slightly harder by changing chords every 2 bars. This is the same 4 bar loop as demonstrated earlier in this guitar lesson, consisting of 2 bars of G, followed by 2 bars of Cadd9. I have also included a reminder to lift your left hand fingers to change to the next chord on the last upstroke of every bar, which is the same fretting hand technique described in example 4. If you can keep this rhythm going consistently and master the chord changes at the right time, then you will notice how musical and fluid your playing sounds:
Once you have got the hang of all of the rhythms above, try applying the same rhythms to any chord progression you learn. You may also want to come up with your own variations, perhaps changing chord every bar with as many different chords as you know, for example.
I hope you have found this lesson useful. As always, I will see you next time, and good luck in your guitar playing journey.