The guitar is a great instrument. Even beginners can come to grips with producing music to sing to, once they have learned the basic chords. Changing hands from one chord to another takes practice but what happens next? Chords in succession are not much fun unless you can make a song out of them. This is where strumming comes in. It creates the background for the song.
The beats are the number of solid notes within a line of a song. For example, if you use you hand and listen to a song and tap along with the beat, it shows you how much space you have between notes. Tap your foot as an alternative.
Once you understand beats, this also tells you the length of each beat within the framework of a song. Start with the familiar as it’s much easier to understand beats and how words and phrases fit into that particular song.
Now try strumming. The natural inclination is to strum in a downward direction, but try down, up, down and see if you can find a rhythm that works with the song you are playing. Once you believe you have found a suitable strumming pattern, play the song, using that pattern throughout.
Learning new strumming patterns
Over the course of your guitar career, you will find many variations that work well with different songs. The strumming only becomes fluent when your chord changes are flawless, but you can play pretty well using strumming without being too conscious of the clarity of one particular note within the chord being played. Make sure that you also play each string individually while holding chords to pick up any bad habits and correct them.
Try a different sequence. For example instead of the down up down sequence, which should sound even and confident, try down down up down up down or any variation which fits with the song being played.
If playing an acoustic guitar, the hand should easily play the strum over the cut out in the front of the guitar to produce the best quality of sound. If you wish to mute off the sound toward the end of a quiet verse, you can move the hand toward the outer edge of the guitar to achieve this. Try different plectrums as these produce different sounds. These are relatively cheap and it’s good to give yourself that experience as softer or sharper sounds can be produced with different densities of plectrum. It’s the only way that you find your favorite by trial and error.
Hand movement and wrist movement
The strumming technique depends upon the way the hand is held. If you decide to strum using your fingers rather than a plectrum as this produces a more mellow sound, the hand should be curved. There is a very good YouTube video which explains this with the use of an egg. Don’t worry, you won’t be asked to strum the guitar with the egg in your hand, but it helps you to shape the hand correctly. This is ideal because it positions the fingers so that the thumb strums upward and the fingers are used for the downward strokes. It’s a good practice to use the system of pivoting the wrist. The movement of the wrist allows the fingers and thumb to hit the strings evenly and thus produce a consistent sound throughout the song.
YouTube has a lot of videos on techniques, but beware. Many give the guitarist a chance to show their skills off rather than helping the newcomer to improve their techniques. However, the one featured above is extremely useful for people learning strumming techniques. The upstroke is accentuated because the thumb always gives a harder tone and this is good for accentuating particular strokes of a chord to give a slightly different sound.
Keeping your nails just right for strumming
It’s important that your right hand nails are sufficiently long so that it is your nail the touches the strings, rather than the skin of your fingers. If you can find the right length which works best for you, try to keep your nails that length if you know that you are going to play and also file them regularly to keep them strong.
The notes that are strummed
This is important to respect. Many new guitarists strum all of the strings and wonder why the sound produced doesn’t sound right. Each chord has it’s lead string. For example, G uses the top string, whereas Am uses the second string as its lead. The third string is used by the D. You should already know this if you have learned the chords.
When strumming a particular chord, you only strum from the lead string of that particular chord. This is another thing which will automatically follow you from your initial learning. Try changing chords to get practice and strum a down, up, down on the G, then on the Am and then on the D being sure to move the hand slightly so that the correct lead string is used for the strum.
Once you are conversant with basic strumming patterns, try others you can find that go with the tunes being played. What you can do for extra effect is miss off the lead string in subsequent strums, using this example. Down, up, down, down, up down, down up down, down up down. These four beats are separate. The down must of course start on the lead string, but the upward strumming can be lighter and only use the three lower strings, thus presenting an interesting contrast to basic strumming.
It is by experience that you gain the confidence to introduce your own strumming patterns, but also by listening. For example, many Bob Dylan tunes use simple strumming patterns. Bob Dylan sings “The Times they are a changing” but listen to the beat of the song. It’s a one two three, one two three beat which easily goes with a down, up, down strumming pattern.
To end this guide, the writer suggests you take your guitar out into the sunshine with tunes that you know and practice strumming. Perhaps other people in the house may get fed up of the perpetual strumming, but it’s your way of improving your technique. Once you are happy that you know the chords and the beat, you can sing along with Bob Dylan and find many more singalong songs to share with your friends.