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The foundation of any song you’ll ever play is the rhythm. Whether it’s just you and your acoustic guitar, or if you’re playing rhythm guitar in a rock band, your ability to co-ordinate a good guitar strumming pattern can make all the difference. This is particularly true in the latter example where you’ll likely be playing between two, and four, power chords for the entire song and you’ll need a catchy rhythm to make it sound just right!
That being said, guitar strumming patterns don’t have to be complicated and – even when they are – can be simplified into some basic components. Probably the most important of these is using alternate strokes. This simply means that you have to be able to strum both downwards, and upwards, in a continuous sustained rhythm – and it might seem a bit difficult at first. This is because, when you execute upstrokes, you’re going against gravity. This little bit of added air resistance is VERY easy to overcome and is little more than a psychological barrier to deter beginners – don’t sweat it! Now we’ll get you going on a simple rhythm.
Incidentally, this article assumes you already know the basic CAGED open chords. If you don’t, I just did a post that introduces them here! (opens a new tab so you can keep reading)
Now, I’ll be starting you on a one-chord guitar strumming pattern. Feel free to mix in chord changes when you’re ready! You should have your guitar – and pick – at the ready. Form a G Major chord with your fingers and get a count going (out loud helps) of “one-and-two-and-three-and-four-and-one-and-” so on… Before you do anything else, get a controlled rhythm going (you might even wants to tap your foot to it) and hold it for about four sets of four. Then, start strumming and try to strum down on the numbers and strum upwards on the “and”s – while maintaining the rhythm. Don’t be too discouraged if at first your upstrokes don’t sound right – just make sure you keep working at getting them to be the same volume as your down-strokes. They will sound harmonically different because you’re hitting the bass notes last on the upstrokes.
Also, remember that – with any guitar strumming pattern – timing is key. A little practice will have the upstrokes feeling just as natural as the down-strokes but it’s important to pace yourself and not try to speed up before you can maintain the steady rhythm. And remember to count out loud until you get the hang of it!
Now, here are some tips to watch out for :
(1) RELAX your wrist. Don’t let too much tension build up there in your effort to maintain the rhythm. Let most of the swing come from your elbow and just rotate your wrist as necessary to hit the strings.
(2) Strum firmly and evenly across the strings – especially on the upstrokes. Remember that the upstrokes should have just as much volume as the down-strokes!
(3) If you get an annoying “rattling” sound, you’re probably strumming a bit too hard and you could lighten up just a little bit.
Again, when you get the hang of this, feel free to mix in chord changes between any set of four beats. The best guitar strumming patterns can be found in your favorite songs so you could do a search for the chords on UltimateGuitar and listen to the song on YouTube (or your iPod) to catch the pattern. I personally recommend that you try this with acoustic songs first because it’s easier to hear the rhythm (without all the clutter of drums, bass, etc.)
I’m thinking I might make a little video to add to this post at some point…anyways…if you found this helpful be sure to share it on Facebook, Twitter, Digg, etc. using one of the little icons below (it only takes a second! ). Feel free to link to me if you have a website too!
P.S. Check out the new forums I set up to give more personal advice!