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How to Strum a Guitar

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Getting to Know the Guitar

Hold the guitar properly. Keep the guitar balanced on your thigh tight into your body. 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 you have to use your arms to hold up the guitar it’s very difficult to strum properly. Let the weight of the guitar rest on your lap securing it with your elbow and make sure you can move your strumming hand without moving the guitar.

Hold the pick properly. With the palm of your hand facing your body curl all your fingers in toward your palm. Place the pick on the first knuckle of your pointer-finger so it points straight toward your chest. Grasp it with your thumb securely leaving only a few centimeters of clearance from your finger. Play around some to get a good and comfortable grip on the pick.

Alternatively you can strum without a pick using the thumb of your non-fretting hand.

Johnny Cash never used a pick. That choice depends on whether you can get enough clear sound with your fingers. Practice with a pick and abandon it if you find it too troublesome and like the sound of your fingers on the strings better.
It can be somewhat painful on your strumming fingers to not use a pick. Building up calluses is always a good thing though.

Get familiar with the action of the guitar. The action refers to the height of the strings off the fret board and the strength in your fretting finger needed to play the strings. Practice making chords properly and getting a clean sound on all the strings at once.
Strums will sound rattle-like if you strike “dead strings” that you’re not fully fretting. It can be quite frustrating to try to learn to strum if you’re not making the chords properly. If your strums sound dry or like a rattle stop strumming and reform the chord correctly.

Strumming Correctly

Strum the strings between the sound hole and the bridge. Practice strumming the strings in different places to get a sense of the sound it creates. Strumming directly over the sound hold will create a "bass-ier" "boom-ier" sound while strumming closer to the bridge will give you a sharper tinnier sound.
While there’s really no “right” place generally you want to aim your strums about an inch south of the sound hole. Play around with your particular guitar to get a sense of where you like the sound best.

Practice strumming all 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.
Starting with the low E string strum all the strings trying to give them all equal weight. It can be difficult at first to make it sound like a “chord ” letting all the strings ring more or less the same. Beginners tend to hit either E string the first or last a little harder.

Try upstrokes. When you’re comfortable doing that on beat try strumming the guitar from the little E string to the low. This is called an upstroke. These can be somewhat more difficult but you still want to practice getting all the strings more or less equally letting the chord “thrum” out like one big sound rather than raking over them all individually and slowly.

Use your wrist. A good strum is all in the wrist. You’ll be able to spot a beginner easily from the flailing about of the strumming arm strumming from the elbow. Learn to keep your elbow tight into the instrument using your wrist to strum.

Many novice guitar players find it difficult to hold onto the pick while learning to strum. Most pick problems are the result of hanging on too close to the base of the pick and letting it flop around. Make sure you’re holding it properly letting only the tiniest amount of the point stick out of your fingers.

Learning Basic Patterns

Learn the alternating up-down rhythm. The most basic rhythmic strumming pattern you can learn is to alternate down strokes and upstrokes with every beat: (DUDUDUDU) Down Up Down Up Down Up Down Up. Keep the same tempo but try a down-up strum for every beat dividing the quarter notes into eighth notes.

Instead of one stroke for every beat you’ll have two strokes for every beat. These are eighth notes. It should be the same tempo so keep tapping your foot at the same rate but strum twice for every beat.

Change chords. When you get comfortable with your down strokes and your upstrokes on one chord change it up. Switch from a G chord to a C chord every measure then every two beats practicing changing chords in time.
Take your time learning this and getting the changes down. It might be slow going but you’ll be better off for the work you put into it now. Moving on to the next step before you’re comfortable changing chords will be frustrating and discouraging to your sound. Get the chord changes worked out and you’ll be playing songs in no time.

Leave out the fourth down stroke in the measure. Almost no songs involve a straight up-down pattern and it would be boring to play the same pattern over and over. Leave out one down stroke and see how the pattern changes: (DUDUDU-U). Where you would have played the down stroke play nothing.
To start learning more complicated strumming patterns you have to learn how to leave out certain up or down strokes while still maintaining the same up and down pattern in your hand. In other words you’ll continue moving your wrist but leave your pick off the strings.

Practice the pop-rock pattern. A familiar strum pattern you’ll hear at lots of open-mics and practice sessions is (D-D-U-U-DU).

Start listening actively to your favorite songs that feature acoustic guitar prominently to get some sense of the strumming pattern used. Now that you know the basics you can start learning to vary your strumming patterns leaving out particular strokes to achieve different effects in the song.

Practice using your strumming hand to dampen the strings. Another way to add some variations to your strumming patterns is to learn to dampen the strings with the ball of your strumming palm maintaining the pattern but getting a more percussive effect when you strike the strings with your pick.
Neil Young has a distinctive bottom-heavy strumming pattern that he uses along with string dampening and acoustic guitarist-surfer-popstar Jack Johnson also has a distinctive damp-strumming style that’s easy to learn and sounds fancier than it actually is.

Put the chord and the tempo first. Beginning guitar players often “over-strum ” focusing too much on doing the pattern they learned and too little on the tempo the clarity of the chord and playing the song. When strumming try to focus on the chords first then onto the strumming pattern. You’ll sound like a pro in no time.

Start playing songs. Guitar’s a lot more fun when you’re actually playing chord patterns and songs that you know! Start out with an easy song that will teach you basic strumming patterns.

You can play almost any country and folk song using the first position chords G C and D. Pick a few to learn and practice them to get the strumming patterns figured out.
Identify the chords you have to play in a song you’d like to learn and determine the amount of strings to strum. D Major for example only requires strumming five strings while G Major requires strumming all six.

simple explanation

While it’s important to learn the rudiments and scales when you’re learning to play the guitar the fun part is when you can start strumming. With a little practice and proper technique you might be able to start playing songs you recognize sooner than you think!

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