Strumming 101 - A Beginner Guitar Strumming Tutorial

A young woman playing a guitar at a farmer's market in an urban setting.
Billy Hustace / Getty Images
01
of 05

Learning the Basics of Strumming

basic guitar strumming pattern

Before we begin, make sure your guitar is in tune, and you have a guitar pick handy. Using your fretting hand, form a G major chord on the neck. Making sure you are holding your pick properly, and have a look at the strum above.

This pattern is four beats long, and contains 8 strums. It might look confusing, but just pay attention to the arrows at the bottom of the graphic. An arrow pointing down indicates that you should strum downwards on the guitar. 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 its continual down-up motion.

Now, try playing the pattern, taking special care to "keeping the rhythm". You should be aiming for trying to keep the time between strums exactly the same. When you get done playing the example once, loop it, without any sort of pause.

02
of 05

More on the Basics of Strumming

basic guitar strumming pattern

Alternate between strumming down, and strumming up. When you get done playing the example once, loop it, making sure there is no hesitation between the end of the old pattern and the beginning of the new one. Count out loud "1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and 1 and 2 and.." Notice that on the "and", aka the "offbeat", you are always using an upwards strum. Keep this in mind as we progress. Try listening to, and playing along with, an audio file of the strumming pattern.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you play the above pattern:

  • If you are playing an acoustic guitar, make sure to strum directly over the sound hole
  • On electric guitar, strum over the body (different locations will give you different sounds), not over the neck
  • Make sure all strings are ringing clearly
  • Make sure the volume of your downstrums and upstrums are equal
  • Be careful not to strum too hard, as this often causes strings to rattle, and produces an undesirable sound
  • Be careful not to strum too softly, as this will produce a "wimpy" sound.
  • Listen again to the audio example to hear how your strumming should 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.
  • Rotate your wrist down slightly while strumming down. Rotate your wrist up slightly while strumming up. Be sure not to keep your wrist stiff when strumming.
03
of 05

A Slightly More Advanced Strumming Pattern

basic guitar strumming pattern

Now, we'll take away some of the up-and-down-strums from the first pattern. When you remove strums from our initial "down-up-down-up..." pattern, your initial impulse will be to stop the strumming motion in your picking hand. This is exactly what you DON'T want to do - your picking hand should continue to move up and down, even when not actually strumming the strings. This will initially feel unnatural.

Examine the strum above, and listen to ​its audio file. In order to play this strum, you'll need to ever-so-slightly lift your picking hand away from the body of the guitar, as you play the downstroke of the third beat, so the pick misses the strings. Then, on the next upstroke, bring the hand back closer to the body of the guitar, so the pick hits the strings.​

To summarize, the upward/downward motion of the picking hand should not change AT ALL from the first pattern. Play along with​ the audio file of this second strumming pattern. Once you are comfortable, try it at a somewhat faster speed.

Things to consider:

  • It is important to be able to play this accurately. If it's not perfect, it will make learning any harder strums impossible.
  • Be sure that you can play the pattern many times in a row, without ever pausing.
  • This is a tricky concept, and it may take you some time to get used to. Soon, it will become second nature.
  • The more you practice this concept, the quicker you'll master it.
04
of 05

Strumming Pattern Exercise Number One

strum exercise

Now it's time to practice these first two strums we've learned. Study the above example, and listen to an audio file of the pattern. This exercise requires you to play the first strumming pattern we learned, followed by the second one, while continuing to hold a G major chord.

Keep in mind:

  • Internalize the rhythm of this pattern before you play it. Try saying the rhythm of the entire pattern out loud - "down up down up down up down up down up down up... up down up". If you can't say the rhythm properly out loud, you won't be able to play it.
  • It is very important not to pause between the two strumming patterns. Listen to the audio file, and note that there are no pauses when the pattern switches and no pauses when the exercise repeats.
  • Try playing the exercise alone, as slowly as slowly as necessary, as long as the rhythm is correct (no overly long gaps between patterns, etc). Eventually, you can try playing along with the audio example.
05
of 05

Strumming Pattern Exercise Number Two

strum exercise

Here's another exercise which combines using our newly learned strums, with the added challenge of switching chords quickly. Study the above example, and listen to an audio file of the pattern. You play the first strumming pattern we learned while holding a G major chord. You'll then immediately switch to a ​C major chord and play the second strumming pattern.

Keep in mind:

  • The rhythm of this exercise is the same as the last one
  • It is very important not to pause while switching chords. Instead, continue to strum while you switch chords with your fretting hand. If you're playing with other people, they can't stop while they wait for you to switch chords - you need to learn to keep up.
  • If you're having trouble switching chords quickly enough, slow the exercise down, and play it at a tempo that allows you to switch chords without pausing.
  • Try playing the exercise alone, and eventually, you can try playing along with the audio example.