I’ve been asked to provide a bit more detail on how to practice strumming the guitar after my first article, “Learn to Play Guitar“, mentioned the importance of strumming correctly. So in this article I’ll take things a little further and give you a few tips, some strumming lessons if you will, that will help ensure you make the best use of your practice time.
Guitar Strum Techniques
I’ve already explained why I think it is very important for all guitarists to become proficient in the particular skills and techniques of rhythm guitar playing and how this can bring significant benefits to the rest of your playing. I will now give you some basic exercises aimed at improving this element of your technique.
Strumming the Guitar
First, a few things to bear in mind when strumming
1. Move from the wrist – the wrist joint is able to maintain a smoother, more consistent and relaxed strumming action than if you were to move from the elbow. This is because the elbow has to move the entire forearm to strum the guitar, which is much more work to do than simply moving the wrist and can lead to tiredness, which in turn makes the strumming action more awkward and less consistent. There is also something about the bio-mechanics of the wrist that allows you to bounce it back and forth across the strings, almost an elasticity in the joint that allows the returning movement to follow immediately and without significant effort to changing direction.
2. Ensure that you keep your wrist relaxed at all times. If your wrist is not relaxed you won’t be able to take advantage of the elasticity of the wrist joint mentioned above. You’ll also find that your muscles get tired more quickly and the motion will be less fluid.
3. Use a metronome to improve the consistency and accuracy of your strumming. This helps condition your muscles to maintain a steady rhythm which is vitally important in playing rhythm guitar.
Exercise in Strumming Guitar Chords
1. Start with the metronome on a fairly slow tempo so that you can easily keep up with the pace.
2. Don’t worry about changing chords, this exercise is all about the strumming so don’t give yourself anything else to think about.
3. Ensure you have the plectrum positioned correctly in your hand. This should be sticking out from your index finger only a very short distance (the shorter the better really) because otherwise you might find that it drags on the strings when you strum and might even cause you to drop it entirely.
4. Strum down 4 times keeping time with the metronome.
5. After the fourth strum, introduce a quick up-strum between the second and fourth beats.
6. Ensure the upwards strum is coming from the wrist, and only the wrist. It should effortlessly “bounce” back into position ready for the next down strum. Your wrist should experience a “weightless” feeling.
7. Keep practicing this until it feels entirely natural. Always focus on the wrist and ensure all movement is coming from the wrist rather than from your entire arm.
8. Once you’ve got the hang of this guitar strumming pattern, try introducing an upwards strum after every single down-strum. This is not something that you’ll hear often in a song but is a good practice exercise. Make sure you maintain fluency at all times, and keep in time with the click of that metronome.
If you feel confident with this technique, it’s time to mix things up a little with a few chord variations. Check out the lessons I have on learning guitar chords and incorporate those chords into your strumming practice.