Guitar strumming what separates the amateur rhythm guitarists from the professionals. An experienced guitarist can make even the dullest of C-F-G chord combination come to life with a variety of strumming patterns and rhythm techniques. Mastering the basics of strumming is the first step in becoming a competent guitarist.
In this article, we’ll learn six strumming patterns for complete beginners. We will start off from the simplest and move on to more complicated patterns you can actually use in songs. We will also take a look at some strumming tips.
To learn more about guitar strumming, take this beginner’s guide to playing the guitar.
What You’ll Need
- A guitar, obviously.
- A guitar pick. I recommend a thin pick for rhythm guitar, a medium to thick one for lead guitar.
- A guitar tuner, if your guitar is not tuned already (optional).
Before you can start strumming away, make sure that you follow these tips:
- Learn how to hold the guitar properly. Your right elbow should rest on the body of the guitar, giving your arm a complete range of motion over the strings.
- Hold the guitar pick properly. The pick should be nearly perpendicular to the strings. I personally like to hold the pick at an angle of around 110-120 degrees against the strings.
- Play directly over the guitar’s sound hole (if you are using an acoustic guitar). Once you master a few strumming patterns, try playing closer to the bridge or the neck. Did you notice any changes in the pitch and ‘thickness’ of the produced sound?
- Ensure that each string is ringing correctly. Don’t worry about playing chords while you practice basic strumming patterns. Just make sure that you hit all the strings.
- Learn to keep time. The most basic time signature is 4/4. That equals to four beats every movement (these are music theory terms. Look them up for a better understanding of rhythm).
- Keep your wrist free and relaxed. The picking motion depends on the flexibility of the wrist, especially for more advanced rhythms. Practice playing with just a motion of the wrist without moving your arm.
For more in-depth strumming tips, discover the seven guitar skills you must learn to play any song.
How to Read Strumming Patterns
For the purpose of this tutorial, we will follow these conventions:
Downstroke: This is the motion of the pick in a downward direction, the way your hand would naturally move while playing the guitar. This is represented by a green downward arrow.
Upstroke: This is the opposite of the downstroke – the hand moves up against the strings. This is represented by an orange upward pointing arrow.
Beats are written as numbers. Since most songs use the 4/4 time signature, there will be four beats, which are written as four numbers – 1 2 3 4. The appropriate stroke on a specific beat is shown beneath it.
With that out of the way, let’s dive right into the first of the strumming patterns!
Six Strumming Patterns for Beginners
This is the simplest pattern you will ever learn – it is made up entirely of downstrokes. We just saw this pattern above, but we’ll repeat it here for the sake of clarity:
What does this exactly mean?
Let’s break it down:
Start counting numbers up till four out loud. Every time you say a number, strum the guitar in a downward direction. Once you hit four, go back to one and repeat the process. Do this a couple of times and you should have a basic rhythm going.
To do this like actual guitarists, instead of saying the number out loud, try tapping your left foot in rhythm with the downstrokes.
Alternatively, you can get a metronome and hit strum the guitar at every click.
Let’s move on to something more challenging.
This is the exact opposite of the previous strumming pattern – instead of going down with each beat, we will go up. This can be a little difficult at first; the upstroke doesn’t come as naturally as the downstroke. Don’t worry if you get the rhythm wrong at first. The point of this exercise is to get you familiar with playing the upstroke. Give it a few tries and you should be playing the upstroke in no time.
So this was fun, but still too tame. Let’s take it up a notch by combining downstrokes and upstrokes.
This looks challenging – and it is! It will take you a few tries to get the pattern right – downstroke on the first beat, an upstroke on the second, another down on the third and an upstroke on the fourth. Once you get it right, you’ll realize that this pattern sounds much more ‘natural’. Spend some time with this pattern – it will form the basis of the more advanced patterns we will try below.
This is where things start complicated. Instead of counting to 4, I want you to say this out loud: “1 AND 2 AND 3 AND 4 AND” with emphasis on the ‘AND’. When you say a number, do a downstroke. When you say AND, do an upstroke. Do it slowly and take your time with each stroke. Don’t worry if it doesn’t come right immediately; it’s not the most intuitive of patterns. But once you do get the hang of it, you’ll realize that you can use this pattern across a huge variety of songs.
What we’re doing here is basically breaking the measure down into not four, but eight beats. In other words, we are squeezing two beats into the time where we were using just one beat before. More importantly, by placing emphasis on the AND rather than the number, we are making sure that our upstrokes sound more ‘prominent’ than the downstrokes.
Guitar strumming is all about this: mixing and matching emphasis on different beats. Don’t bang your head against the wall if you don’t get it at first; this is something you’ll grasp naturally the more you practice.
Did you see what we did here?
We removed a stroke from the 3rd beat. This means that when you play this pattern, instead of doing a downstroke when you say the number 3, you will nothing.
But here’s the thing: instead of stopping your hand when you get to the third beat, I want you to continue your hand motion over the guitar strings. Pretend that you are playing air guitar; your hand will hover over the strings without striking them.
This can be very tricky at first. You have to move over the strings without breaking rhythm. Your hand must continue moving as it would move if you were actually playing the strings on the third beat. You must then strike the strings on the AND with an upstroke in the same rhythm.
Practice this pattern a lot. Master the art of not striking the strings. This will be the principle in virtually every pattern that you use.
Confused by this pattern? This course on learning how to play the guitar in 21 days will help you get started!
We’ve now taken the principle we learned above and upped the ante by removed not one but three strokes.
This will be difficult even if you took your time with pattern 5. You will have to glide over the strings three times in a measure – on the AND after 1, on the number 3, and on the AND following 4. The last bit – the AND following 4 – is the hardest part for most beginners, so make sure that you give it plenty of practice time.
This is pretty much the gist of guitar strumming patterns. There are countless patterns out there, and while you must learn the most basic ones as a beginner, don’t rely on them too much as you advance in skill. Instead, play what feels ‘natural’ to you. Following a pattern too closely can make your playing sound mechanical and dull. Don’t be afraid to change up the rhythm if you feel it fits the song.
For a more in-depth look at guitar strumming patterns, consider taking Tyler’s course on essential guitar techniques.