Basic Strumming Exercises
This week's edition of Woodshed Wednesday is for beginning guitar students. One of the most basic concepts on the guitar is often the first hurdle for beginners: Consistent strumming. Physically speaking, strumming the guitar is a fairly natural motion, yet most students have trouble when rhythm is introduced. This lesson will help you get over that hurdle and realize that the physical motion of strumming can actually make rhythmic patterns easier. The goal of these exercises is to keep your strumming hand moving up and down in steady time. If there's a quarter note on the beat, you will strum with a downward motion. Conversely, if there's an eighth note on the off beat, you will strum with an upward motion. If there's no note to play on any given beat you simply continue the strumming motion but don't hit the strings. To help illustrate the idea, here's a video lesson where I play all of the examples below.
This idea is counterintuitive to many students. When you play a drum or piano, sound is created by striking the instrument in one direction with a single movement--you either hit the drum or push down on a key. Guitar strings, however, can be plucked from the top and the bottom. This means you have two motions: Down strokes and up strokes.
To play these exercises, mute the strings with your left hand and focus on your strumming. Keep your right hand and wrist relaxed. The movement comes from your elbow, as if you're shaking something off your hand.
Later on you can practice with chords. Repeat each exercise for several minutes until you are completely comfortable with the rhythm and physical motion required to play it.
Exercise A covers the most basic pattern. Use a metronome set to 72 beats per minute (bpm) and strum using a downward motion on each beat, or each time the metronome clicks.
Click on the image for larger, easier to read notation. You may also download a PDF version of all the exercises for printing and sharing.
Although you are focused on strumming each downbeat, make sure your hand is moving up and down evenly, like the pendulum of a grandfather clock. Once you have a nice steady motion, start playing Exercise B. Now you are only playing the off beats with a steady upward motion. Again, make sure your hand is moving steadily, even when you're not strumming the strings.
If it helps, count the beats during Exercise A, and then count the off beats by saying "and" between the numbers for Exercise B.
Exercise C combines both A & B. Now we're starting to play something that sounds like an actual guitar part! Add a little emphasis on beat 1 and the "&" of 2, since that is where the rhythm changes. Do you feel the difference?
Exercise D introduces adjacent beats of eight note strumming.
Exercise E is very similar to D. In Exercise F, pay attention to the beats where you should not strum.
Finally, here are two more challenging patterns. Exercise G is a very common strumming pattern used on many rock songs. It is a good idea to practice this pattern until it feels completely natural.
Exercise H is tricky because you do not play on beat 1. Sometimes the best way to emphasize a beat is to not play it. This is especially true if you're playing with a band.
For a related lesson, you may also enjoy Alternate Picking Exercises for Guitar.