Ah ye’ ol’ guitar strumming… So hopefully at this point you’ve got some chords down, and you’re switching to chords with finesse and ease, and you just need to spice up the rhythm a bit and inject some different groove into your playing?
That’s where new strum patterns come in.
If you’re still hacking away at chord changes and things like that, have a scroll around this site for a blog post or video regarding that. Actually, if you sign up for my online lessons page and get a super useful free video on the secret to changing chords. The reason I’m bringing these other techniques up is that if you don’t have these nailed, working on guitar strumming is just gonna be 1 extra thing to worry about. It’s like trying to put fancy icing on a really nasty looking, mis-shapen cake! It just won’t be pretty… also try to find a song like John Denver’s Leaving on a Jet plane, or Tom Petty’s Free Fallin or some other song that doesn’t have crazy chord changes.
But, moving forward!
A strum pattern is pretty self explanatory, but in general, each song will have a different order and pattern of up and down strums. Different genres will have corresponding strum patterns. That being said – it’s absolutely CRAZY how many songs share the same strum pattern!
A lot of the time, it’s just the speed that ends up getting altered. If you imagine strumming a chord repetitively down and up over and over and play it slow…. it’s going to sound very different, and bring a different vibe and energy when you play that exact same, consistent strum pattern at a faster tempo. Does that make sense? THAT my friend is the power in a strum pattern.
Here is a link to a whole bunch of strum patterns – BUT WAIT! If you click on the link without reading the rest of this article, you may get lost.
I gotta say that “reading” strum patterns can be extremely confusing. From all the years of teaching, the hard part is not communicating strum patterns. The problem is knowing what they”re supposed to sound like in the first place and then remembering them! So this being said, if we link up for a Skype/video-call lesson, I could show you how to play your specific songs strum pattern and you’ll get it a lot faster this way.
Here are the steps to nailing chord strumming by teaching yourself and from reading them off the internet:
1) ESTABLISH THE TEMPO
Tempo is referring to the speed of a song and is measured in BPM (beats per minute). Basically, how fast or slow the song is.
You’ll often hear this being referred to as the quarter note and that’s what we need to find – the quarter note.
We have to start thinking of songs as living things. They have heartbeats that keep them alive. Ya like that analogy? I made it up myself
So in order to keep the song alive, we have to keep their heart beating. Unlike human hearts that fluctuate in tempo like when we run or when we’re sleeping, we want a song”s heartbeat to maintain consistent.
This next example is a great opportunity to discover the rhythm inside of you.
We need to start with a highly rhythmic song. If nothing immediately comes to mind, put on the song by the Red Hot Chili Peppers – Dani California. Here’s a quick YouTube link for y’all.
All I want you to do is MOVE YOUR BODY TO THE BEAT. This could simply mean tapping your foot, or tapping your hand against your leg. If we were to get more connected and involved with the song, we might bob our heads, sway our torso…a combination of all of this is what the popular culture refers to as “dancing”. Maybe you’ve heard of it?
So that initial pulse, or beat that you feel is the quarter note. Many people that can’t find it aren”t necessarily rhythmically challenged, they just aren”t rhythmically confident! Just a reminder that it should be consistent, and steady to be the true quarter note. The heartbeat, remember!? This is the hard part to explain because you have to feel it! Just stay relaxed and enjoy the music, it will make your body move and all will be well
2) Understanding eighth notes
Ok, so we were talking about quarter notes, right? Dictionary definition coming up Quarter – each of four equal or corresponding parts into which something is or can be divided.
Ok so quarter notes are always repeated in 4 beats. Maybe you’ve heard of 4/4 time? That’s more or less what it”s referring to.
So we can take 1 quarter note and split it into 2 equal bits too, right? That would get us 2 beats for every quarter note AKA an eighth note!
so we’ve got our 1 2 3 4 beats.
If we’re to add a sub division, then for the sake of clarity we’d have 1 2 3 4
Notice that 1,2,3,4 did not disappear, they’re still there! Now we have a name for the area directly in between the beats.
3) Get your hand on autopilot
So we’re feeling the rhythm of the beat of the song. Great! We understand that there’s a space half way between the beats that we call the eighth note and we’re calling it the (and).
Lets start with that strumming pattern that I mentioned earlier:
1 2 3 4
Just follow the arrows and practice this on ANY chord. Say 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and as you strum the chord. Follow the arrows to make sure you’re doing the appropriate direction.
Most (and I mean 90%) of strumming patterns that are the rhythm behind our favorite songs are just different mixtures of these quarter and eighth notes. That’s relieving, isn”t it!?
but imagine some of these arrows disappearing. The next part is going to sound a bit weird – The trick to chord strumming is to do an ‘air strum’ in the direction that the arrow would normally be. So, your hand is still moving in the direction of the arrow, but not actually connecting with the strings.
What this does is solidifies your internal rhythm and makes the song sound more like music!
The key is to get your right hand on autopilot, so you don’t actually think about it. This is the most important foundation of chord strumming! Experienced chord strummers or good guitarists do this without even realizing their right hand is moving up and down consistently in eighth notes.
4) Split up the strings
This will really help you sounding my legit with your strumming.
If we ‘split the strings’ in half. So we”ve got our thick strings on the bottom and our little strings on top this simple tip is going to help you a ton – strum the thick strings with your down strokes (or downward strums) and the light, top strings with your up stroked (or upward strums).
Think about the strumming like a drum set. The bottom strings are the kick drum or the bass drum – the boom boom. The high strings are your snare drum – the clap.
You”ve got some helpful tips on getting some chord strum patterns nailed. Strum patterns can also be written out in tab, although I find that gets really confusing. I certainly teach my students the arrow method which is on this page with a bunch of chord strumming patterns for a lot of well known songs.
You’ll see the downward bass strums be represented by a “B”. Just remember this is like step #4 where you split up the strings. In this case you would be hitting the bass strings aka the big strings aka the boom boom strings! haha!
As mentioned this stuff is much better explained in person and I’d love to get together with you for a lesson. This info is gold though! I hope you found it helpful.
Keep on rippin it up!