Learning to Strum

beginner strumming pattern for guitar
A guitarist with a good grasp of strumming can bring a two-chord song to life. In this first lesson on strumming, we'll examine some of the basics of strumming the guitar, and learn a widely used strumming pattern.Grab your guitar, and, using your fretting hand, form a G major chord (review how to play a Gmajor chord).
The pattern above is one bar long, and contains 8 strums. It might look confusing, so for now pay attention to the arrows at the bottom. An arrow pointing down indicates a downward strum. Similarly, an upwards arrow indicates that you should strum upwards. Notice that the pattern starts with a downstroke, and ends with an upstroke. So, if you were to play the pattern twice in a row, your hand wouldn't have to vary from it's continual down-up motion.
Play the pattern, taking special care to keep keep the time between strums the same. After you play the example, repeat it without any pause. Count out loud: 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and 1 and 2 and (etc.) Notice that on the "and" (referred to as the "offbeat") you are always strumming upward. If you are having problems keeping a steady rhythm, try playing along with an mp3 of the strumming pattern.

Make Sure:

  • if playing an acoustic guitar, you strum over the sound hole
  • all strings ring clearly
  • Make sure the volume of your downstrums and upstrums are equal
  • Be careful not to strum too hard, as this produces an undesirable sound
  • Be careful not to strum too softly, as this will produce a "wimpy" sound. Your pick should be striking the strings with a relatively firm, even stroke
  • Think of your elbow as being the top of a pendulum - your arm should swing up and down from it in a steady motion, never pausing at any time.
  • Most of the picking motion should come from a rotation of the wrist, rather than from the forearm. Be sure not to keep your wrist stiff when playing.

more advanced guitar strumming pattern
By removing only one strum from the previous pattern, we'll create one of the most widely used strumming patterns in pop, country, and rock music. When we remove the strum from this pattern, the initial instinct will be to to stop the strumming motion in your picking hand. This is exactly what we DON'T want, as this alters the on-beat downstrum / off-beat upstrum pattern we've established.
The key to this playing this strum successfully is to keep the strumming motion going while slightly lifting the hand away from the body of the guitar momentarily, on the downstroke of the third beat, so the pick misses the strings. Then, on the next upstroke (the "and" of the third beat), bring the hand closer to the guitar, so the pick hits the strings. To summarize: the upward/downward motion of the picking hand should not change from the first pattern. Deliberately avoiding the strings with the pick on the third beat of the pattern is the only change.
Listen to, and play along with, this second strumming pattern, to get a better idea on how this new pattern should sound. Once you are comfortable with this, try it at a somewhat faster speed. It is important to be able to play this accurately - don't be satisfied with getting MOST of the up and down strums in the right order. If it's not perfect, it will make learning any harder strums virtually impossible. Be sure that you can play the pattern many times in a row, without having to stop because of an incorrect strum.
This is a tricky concept, and it can be guaranteed that you will have some problems with it at first. The idea is, if you introduce basic strumming patterns early, within a couple of lessons, you'll have gotten the hang of it, and will be sounding great! It is important to try not to get frustrated... soon, this will become second nature.