WHO IS THE LESSON INTENDED FOR
This lesson is intended for beginners who are just starting out on guitar.
This lesson will go into basic strumming patterns with the chords you have learned in the last three lessons. Being able to play different rhythms when strumming between chords is an essential skill.
If you can strum each chord four times before changing to the next, you are on the right track for this lesson. You will notice that songs that use those open chords don’t just strum each chord four times and then change to another chord. The guitarists will play different rhythms to make things more interesting. You probably noticed how plain it sounds when you just strum a chord four times. Changing the rhythm can turn that plain sounding sequence to an exciting piece of music. We will start off with very simple patterns then work towards more complex ones. Make sure you don’t rush yourself and make sure you can play the simple rhythms before trying the harder ones.
STRUMMING WITH THE RIGHT HAND
There are two ways you can strum the strings with your right hand. The first way is called a ‘down strum’. If you have been watching my video lesson so far you would have been using down strumming while learning the open chords. It is a ‘down strum’ because your hand moves down towards the ground. Start with your hand above the sixth string and in one smooth and fast movement, strum all six strings towards the first string. Try this with Em a few times. You should aim to strum the chord in one quick motion so it sounds like all notes are played at the exact same time. Try not to strum the strings one by one because it won’t sound like a chord but more like six individual notes. Watch the video for a demonstration. You will need to practice strumming the chords that don’t use all six strings and make sure you don’t accidentally play the strings that aren’t to be played.
The other way to strum the chords is the opposite of a down strum. It is called an ‘up strum’. This time you start with your hand below the first string and make a motion towards the sixth string. Aim to get a nice smooth motion with your hand and make sure every string is played. Many people have trouble with up strumming because of the awkward movement. If you grip your pick too firmly it may get caught in one of the strings so make sure you hold it fairly loose. You want the pick to glide across the strings rather than dig into them. Again, watch the video to see up close on how your hand should be positioned.
COUNTING THE RHYTHM
For those who don’t yet know anything on music theory, the most common ‘time signature’ in music is what’s called 4/4 (four four) time. What this means is that there are four ‘beats’ in a ‘bar’. Remember back to the last lesson how you strummed each chord four times before changing to the next? Well that is an example of playing in 4/4 time. There are other time signatures but we will look at those later.
So why are there four beats in a bar? Without any long explanations we will just say that is it easy to count that way. To count along with what you are playing you can simply count: 1, 2, 3, 4. Then the next bar starts and you go back to 1 and count to four again. So in a piece of music with two bars, you would count in a steady rhythm: 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4. You don’t count 5, 6, 7, 8 in the second bar. Counting to four and then going back to 1 makes it very easy to count. Another reason you don’t continue counting past 4 is that 7 (and other later numbers) have more than one syllable and it can make it harder to keep the rhythm steady.
So if you understood that explanation, great! If not, you may understand when we use it in practice. Check the video to see me use it in action.
There are a few ways you can ‘count’ the rhythm while playing. You can count the words out loud, count them in your head or tap your foot.
SIMPLE PATTERN 1
This is the same pattern you have been using while learning the chords so we will use it again to practice both down and up strumming. Arrows are sometimes used in tab to show how you should strum the chords. An arrow pointing up is actually a down strum. It may seem confusing but when you think about it, the arrow is pointing from the sixth string to the first string which is the direction your hand strums the strings. An arrow pointing down is an up strum because of the direction you strum the strings. The numbers above the standard notation (only used in this lesson) let you know when you need to count.
In the first example, you use down-strums for each chord. Count the beat out loud while you play it and try to make sure that you don’t leave a long gap between 4 and 1. The counting should continue seamless.
In this next example you do the complete opposite of the first example. Play each chord using up-strums. Count the beat out loud again and the rhythm should be exactly the same.
This next example will get you used to playing both up and down strumming. Start with a down strum, then an up strum and continue that pattern. Try to remember that the first beat is a down strum. That way you can quickly pick up if you have made a mistake.
SIMPLE PATTERN 2
The strumming in the second and third examples are not common. On the ‘down beats’ (the exact time you count a number), a down strum is usually played (like the very first example). Most players play this way. Any strumming between the beats (in between counting numbers) will use up-strums (and sometimes down-strums as well).
In this example, you can see that directly below each number, the chord uses a down strum. The only time an up strum is used is when the chord is in-between the numbers (called an up-beat).The chords played on the third beat and the one straight after (the up-beat) should be played twice as fast as the other chords. If you look at the rhythm on the standard notation, you can see the notes are ‘eighth notes’ while the other chords are ‘quarter notes’. If you don’t understand standard notation yet, that’s okay. I will explain it in a later lesson. For now, you can check what it should sound like by watching the video lesson.
SIMPLE PATTERN 3
The next example is pretty much the same idea as the last one, just slightly different rhythm. In the first bar, beats 1 and 3 use eighth notes so make sure the rhythm is played properly. Once you think you have played it right, check the video to see if you were correct.
SIMPLE PATTERN 4
In this example you can see that the chord played at the third beat in the first bar is held for two beats. This will happen quite often so make sure you feel comfortable with holding a chord while you continue counting the beats. If you have trouble with this example, try slowing it down. It can be hard to guess when the chords are to be played on the up-beats but keep practicing them. Next lesson we will look at another way of counting to make this easier.
SIMPLE PATTERN 5
This next example is different to the others because you can see that four chords are used instead of two. So you will need to get used to changing chords not only between the 4th and 1st beat, but during any other place in the bar. In this example you change on the third beat. Each chord is played for the same duration so it should sound like you are changing chords on regular intervals. Start off playing this one slow because you need to think about quite a few things at once.
THE NEXT STEP
Practice these chords until you feel completely comfortable with counting out the rhythm and can count without any pauses. Once you can do that try playing the same examples using different chords. For example: instead of playing Em and G in the first example, try Dm and C. Practice all the chords using the rhythms in the examples so you feel comfortable with any changes.
My experience with strumming chords:
I have met quite a lot of musicians over the years ranging from guitarists, drummers, and bass players to pianists, violinists and even DJs. What I have noticed that separates the great musicians from the average and poor is a sense of rhythm. Many people think a good sense of rhythm is only for drummers. Wrong. No matter what instrument you play you need to have a good sense of rhythm and can play along with somebody else. I have noticed that out of all the musicians I have played with, the pianists had the worst sense of rhythm and many lead guitarists were just as bad. Why? Because the pianists and guitarists (that focus on lead) often play by themselves without any thought of rhythm. The musicians with the best sense of rhythm were drummers, bass players and DJs. This is because those instruments focus more on rhythm and playing along with others. So the best way to develop your rhythm? Play along with as many different musicians as you can and always think about rhythm while you are playing, especially when you are playing on your own. The strumming examples in this lesson give you a good start to develop your sense of rhythm, so take it seriously.
Learning how to strum chords while keeping a steady rhythm is essential for every guitarist. If you are aiming to learn songs that only strum chords, this is great practice for you. Even if you aim to learn music that doesn’t strum chords (many styles don’t), it is good to practice this to develop your sense of rhythm. Practice this every day until you can play the examples without any mistakes and can play a smooth consistent rhythm. Next time we will look at more complicated rhythms so it is essential you can play these with ease before moving to the next lesson.