How to Strum a Guitar Correctly - Beginner Lesson
How to Strum a Guitar
While it’s important to learn the rudiments and scales when you’re learning to play the guitar, the fun part is when you can start strumming. With a little practice and proper technique, you might be able to start playing songs you recognize sooner than you think!
The best way to strum a guitar is to use a pick. To hold the pick properly, curl your fingers towards your palm, place the pick on the first knuckle of your index finger, and grip the pick with your thumb so only a few centimeters poke out. Then, strum your guitar strings between the sound hole and the bridge. Experiment with strumming a little further to the left or right to get a sense of the different sounds your guitar can produce, and practice both downstrokes and upstrokes.For more tips from our Guitar reviewer, including tips on how to practice different rhythms, keep reading!
Getting to Know the Guitar
Hold the guitar properly.Keep the guitar balanced on your thigh, tight into your body. To learn to strum the guitar properly, you need to keep the elbow of your strumming hand out of the way of the string, near the base of the guitar, so you can use your wrist to strum. Support the guitar neck with your fret hand. The thumb should be positioned just past the center of the neck (opposite the strings).
- If you have to use your arms to hold up the guitar, it’s very difficult to strum properly. Let the weight of the guitar rest on your lap, securing it with your elbow and make sure you can move your strumming hand without moving the guitar.
Hold the pick properly.With the palm of your hand facing your body, curl all your fingers in toward your palm. Place the pick on the first knuckle of your pointer-finger, so it points straight toward your chest. Grasp it with your thumb securely, leaving only a few centimeters of clearance from your finger. Play around some to get a good and comfortable grip on the pick.
- Alternatively, you can strum without a pick, using the thumb of your non-fretting hand. Johnny Cash never used a pick. That choice depends on whether you can get enough clear sound with your fingers. Practice with a pick and abandon it if you find it too troublesome and like the sound of your fingers on the strings better.
- It can be somewhat painful on your strumming fingers to not use a pick. Building up calluses is always a good thing, though.
Get familiar with the action of the guitar.The action refers to the height of the strings off the fret board, and the strength in your fretting finger needed to play the strings. Practice making chords properly and getting a clean sound on all the strings at once.
- Strums will sound rattle-like if you strike “dead strings” that you’re not fully fretting. It can be quite frustrating to try to learn to strum if you’re not making the chords properly. If your strums sound dry or like a rattle, stop strumming and reform the chord correctly.
Part 1 Quiz
How should you support the guitar neck?
Strum the strings between the sound hole and the bridge.Practice strumming the strings in different places to get a sense of the sound it creates. Strumming directly over the sound hold will create a "bass-ier", "boom-ier" sound, while strumming closer to the bridge will give you a sharper, tinnier sound.
- While there’s really no “right” place, generally, you want to aim your strums about an inch south of the sound hole. Play around with your particular guitar to get a sense of where you like the sound best.
Practice strumming all the strings equally.In time, try strumming a simple first-position chord, like a G chord, with down strokes. Play quarter notes, one strum each, trying your best to hit all the strings. Stay on tempo, counting your four strums per measure.
- Starting with the low E string, strum all the strings, trying to give them all equal weight. It can be difficult at first to make it sound like a “chord,” letting all the strings ring more or less the same. Beginners tend to hit either E string, the first or last, a little harder.
Try upstrokes.When you’re comfortable doing that on beat, try strumming the guitar from the little E string to the low. This is called an upstroke. These can be somewhat more difficult, but you still want to practice getting all the strings more or less equally, letting the chord “thrum” out like one big sound, rather than raking over them all individually and slowly.
Use your wrist.A good strum is all in the wrist. You’ll be able to spot a beginner easily from the flailing about of the strumming arm, strumming from the elbow. Learn to keep your elbow tight into the instrument, using your wrist to strum.
- Many novice guitar players find it difficult to hold onto the pick while learning to strum. Most pick problems are the result of hanging on too close to the base of the pick and letting it flop around. Make sure you’re holding it properly, letting only the tiniest amount of the point stick out of your fingers.
Part 2 Quiz
How can you find the right place to strum the guitar strings?
Learning Basic Patterns
Learn the alternating up-down rhythm.The most basic rhythmic strumming pattern you can learn is to alternate down strokes and upstrokes with every beat: (DUDUDUDU) Down Up, Down Up, Down Up, Down Up. Keep the same tempo, but try a down-up strum for every beat, dividing the quarter notes into eighth notes.
- Instead of one stroke for every beat, you’ll have two strokes for every beat. These are eighth notes. It should be the same tempo, so keep tapping your foot at the same rate, but strum twice for every beat.
Change chords.When you get comfortable with your down strokes and your upstrokes on one chord, change it up. Switch from a G chord to a C chord every measure, then every two beats, practicing changing chords in time.
- Take your time learning this and getting the changes down. It might be slow going, but you’ll be better off for the work you put into it now. Moving on to the next step before you’re comfortable changing chords will be frustrating and discouraging to your sound. Get the chord changes worked out and you’ll be playing songs in no time.
Leave out the fourth down stroke in the measure.Almost no songs involve a straight up-down pattern, and it would be boring to play the same pattern over and over. Leave out one down stroke and see how the pattern changes: (DUDUDU-U). Where you would have played the down stroke, play nothing.
- To start learning more complicated strumming patterns, you have to learn how to leave out certain up or down strokes, while still maintaining the same up and down pattern in your hand. In other words, you’ll continue moving your wrist, but leave your pick off the strings.
Practice the pop-rock pattern.A familiar strum pattern you’ll hear at lots of open-mics and practice sessions is (D-D-U-U-DU).
- Start listening actively to your favorite songs that feature acoustic guitar prominently to get some sense of the strumming pattern used. Now that you know the basics, you can start learning to vary your strumming patterns, leaving out particular strokes to achieve different effects in the song.
Practice using your strumming hand to dampen the strings.Another way to add some variations to your strumming patterns is to learn to dampen the strings with the ball of your strumming palm, maintaining the pattern but getting a more percussive effect when you strike the strings with your pick.
- Neil Young has a distinctive, bottom-heavy strumming pattern that he uses along with string dampening, and acoustic guitarist-surfer-popstar Jack Johnson also has a distinctive damp-strumming style that’s easy to learn and sounds fancier than it actually is.
Put the chord and the tempo first.Beginning guitar players often “over-strum,” focusing too much on doing the pattern they learned and too little on the tempo, the clarity of the chord, and playing the song. When strumming, try to focus on the chords first, then onto the strumming pattern. You’ll sound like a pro in no time.
Start playing songs.Guitar’s a lot more fun when you’re actually playing chord patterns and songs that you know! Start out with an easy song that will teach you basic strumming patterns.
- You can play almost any country and folk song using the first position chords G, C, and D. Pick a few to learn and practice them to get the strumming patterns figured out.
- Identify the chords you have to play in a song you’d like to learn and determine the amount of strings to strum. D Major, for example, only requires strumming five strings, while G Major requires strumming all six.
Part 3 Quiz
What is the most common strumming pattern for pop-rock songs?
QuestionDo we have to use the guitar pick? Can I use my thumb and index finger?Top AnswererIt's not necessary to use a pick, depending on what type of sound you're trying to produce. However, if you go into a good shop and look at the array of different picks that can be bought, you will see there are more sound variants available that cannot come from finger strumming only.Thanks!
QuestionWhere do I strum on an electric guitar?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYou would strum between the two metal bars on the body of the guitar. Those two metal bars are called pickups, and they convert string vibration into electrical symbols for education.Thanks!
QuestionDo I strum up with my thumb?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerMake a loose fist, then use the side of your thumb to strum chords or pluck single strings. This is the way I do it anyway, you should do whatever is most comfortable for you.Thanks!
QuestionIs there any difference between the upstroke and downstroke sounds?Top AnswererPlay both slowly, and there is your answer; upstroke, high to low and downstroke, low to high. Of course, if you are strumming with your right hand, the reverse is true.Thanks!
QuestionI am using D chord. Which strings do I have to strum?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerFor D, the correct way is starting from the D string (third lowest-sounding string), and muting the lower two strings with your thumb. So E=x, A=x, D=0, G=2, B=3, e=0 (or 2, this has a brighter sound).Thanks!
QuestionDo I need to memorize all guitar chords or just the basic chords only?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerStart with basic chords. As you progress through different stages of learning, you'll be ready for more complex chords.Thanks!
QuestionEvery advice about strumming says use the elbow and not the wrist. Yours says don't flail about from elbow, use the wrist. Is it just a style thing?Kayla OrloffCommunity AnswerUsually, it's better to use your wrist, because your arm can get tired easily.Thanks!
QuestionCan an acoustic guiter can be used as a rock guiter?Kayla OrloffCommunity AnswerYes, just strum a little bit harder than normal.Thanks!
QuestionShould I play bar chords?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThat depends on the song. If you want a fun pop feel, maybe not. See what sounds best.Thanks!
How do I know which strings to strum?
How do I play barre chords correctly without hurting my thumb?
- Practice is the most important thing. To enjoy yourself, you need to practice but also have fun, remember guitar is a form of creativity and not work.
- If you cannot identify the pattern of a song, try ultimate guitar forums for help, or YouTube it.
- Patterns should come easy to you, but if they don't you will have to work hard at it.
- Work on a section of knowledge at a time, or you might feel like you are not accomplishing anything. There is a lot to learn.
- Stop playing if there is any wrist pain when strumming. Your strumming hand should be stretched often to prevent cramping.
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Video: 5 Essential Strumming Patterns - Beginner Guitar Lessons
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