(Basic Guitar Strumming)
To learn how to strum a guitar, you have to understand rhythm. Your foot already understands. It can tap to the rhythm of a song without your even thinking about it. In fact, you might get “in trouble” if you do think about it – and get off the beat.
Most of the songs you’ll play are usually going to have four beats per measure with a quarter note getting one beat, known as 4/4 time. A waltz will have only three beats per measure and still the quarter note will get one beat, known as 3/4 time.
As your toe taps each beat, it must rise up to be ready for the next beat. If we were to count those four beats, we could say “one-and-two-and-three-and-four” with the “and” representing the up stroke of our toe.
Well, that’s exactly how we count guitar strums. If you could only strum with your toe, we’d be done! 🙂
Depending on how the guitarist is “feeling” the rhythm, he might skip a down or an up stroke.
For instance, you might strum the first two “down” strokes, missing their “ups” then include the “up” strokes in the “three-and-four-and” counts. That would result in “one-two-three-and-four-and”. The important thing is that your strumming hand follows the beat of the music as it goes up and down and the only thing changing is whether the pick hits the strings or not.
Note that on the “up” strum, generally only the first two or three strings are played, while on the “down” strum, all the strings in the chord are played – which with our C, F & G7 examples would be 5 strings, 4 strings and 6 strings respectively.
We’re going to start off with only down-strums and only strumming on beats 1 & 3 of each 4-beat measure.
Once you’re comfortable with that, start doing up-strums on beats 2 & 4. Then mix it up with down-up, down-skip, down-up, down-skip. Then maybe a down-up, down-up, down-skip, down-skip.
After you’re comfortable doing all those, I want you to forget about what you’re doing with your strumming hand and just let it “feel” the rhythm and do what it wants.
It may go crazy for awhile or it may feel lost. That’s ok. Let yourself go back to a pattern you’re comfortable with, but just don’t think about it much. Before you know it, you’re strumming hand will develop a mind of its own and you won’t have to be concerned about it any more.
Now, to begin, I’m going to ask that you practice only 4/4 songs and only play the down strokes until you’re feeling quite comfortable with strumming and making chord changes at the same time.
Once you’ve got that down, you can start getting “fancier” with your strums and getting more expressive like we’ve discussed above.
Here’s a nice, slow 4-4 song you’re likely to know – Red River Valley