Strumming your way to success

When it comes to learning guitar, a lot of emphasis is placed on learning notes and chords. While these are the building blocks of music, one rudimentary aspect of guitar playing sometimes gets overlooked.

Focusing on playing notes and chords only makes the whole thing seem like a “one-handed” affair. Proper playing involves both hands, both wrists, and both arms. Strumming is such a basic element that it is sometimes assumed that there is no one proper way to strum, but there is a right way. Improper methods can take more effort, wear you down, and make your playing sound dull and sloppy.

The Basics

Make sure that you are holding the guitar correctly. If you are sitting, keep the guitar balanced on your thigh, tight into your body. Ideally, you want the bottom of the guitar to be about even with your hip on your dominant side. If standing, ideally, you want the bottom of the guitar to be about even with your hip on your dominant side.

To learn to strum the guitar properly, you need to keep the elbow of your strumming hand out of the way of the string, near the base of the guitar, so you can use your wrist to strum. Support the guitar neck with your fret hand. The thumb should be positioned just past the center of the neck (opposite the strings).

If playing an acoustic guitar, strum the strings between the sound hold and the bridge. If playing an electric, you would play in the corresponding area between the pickups and the bridge.

Your dominant hand, wrist, and arm typically do the strumming while the other hand does the fretwork. This may be hard to believe, but although the dominant arm may be doing the more basic work, it is just as important as what the other hand is doing. Many beginning players use only their wrist. This can cause damage to your wrist, possibly even triggering carpal tunnel. Take advantage of your arm (from the elbow down) and let it do the bulk of the work.

When strumming, do your best to hit all of the strings equally. In time, try strumming a simple first-position chord, like a G chord, with down strokes. Play quarter notes, one strum each, trying your best to hit all the strings. Stay on tempo, counting your four strums per measure. (Over time, you will be able to dampen certain strings while you play as needed, but don’t worry about that for now)

Go slowly at first, and be as fluid as possible. Speed will come with practice.

Up for the Down stroke

Down strums and up-strums…These are exactly like they sound. With down-strums, you go from the top to the bottom (down) and with up-strums you do the exact opposite. With time, you will find a rhythm that suits every song you want to play. As we say in almost every instructional article on this site, be patient! With patience and practice, you will get the rhythm down while at the same time move from chord to chord.