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Lesson #5: Strumming the Guitar

by Tyler de Witt posted on 1999-10-17
Topic: For Beginners Subtopic: General
Level: Beginner Number of Readers: 73514


Strumming is important for playing songs using open chords. Genres of guitar music that use open chords extensively include folk, country, bluegrass and many others.

To strum, you'll have to know how to hold the plectrum, also called the pick. The most popular way to hold the pick is in-between your thumb and index finger. Some people use their thumb and middle finger, or other combinations. Most people use the pointy side of the pick facing the strings, but others like the rounded side to face the strings. Really, it's whatever feels most comfortable for you. Try a couple of methods, and see which one you like the best.

Don't worry about your left hand for now. Just use your right hand to strum all the open strings in a downward motion. Did you manage to hit all the strings and make them all sound? If you are getting too much resistance from the strings, you'll probably want to relax your grip on the pick a bit. You don't have to hold it very tight.

Strumming in a downward motion(towards the ground) is called a 'downstroke'. Practice some downstrokes using the six open strings. Keep your grip on the pick relaxed. Also, keep your wrist relaxed, it's not supposed to be locked. The motion should originate from your forearm.

Strumming in an upward motion is called an 'upstroke'. Practice some upstrokes, keeping in mind the points I just gave you. You'll probably find out that the two strokes feel very different.

Now practice alternating downstrokes and upstrokes(downstroke upstroke downstroke...). If you can do this well, you've reached the first step in rhythm. Try to feel an underlying beat to your strumming.

Instead of strumming the open strings, you'll want to strum some chords now, maybe some of the ones we learned in our last lesson.

A Major

Try strumming this chord. Remember, you're not aloud to hit the sixth string. You might be thinking to your self, "When I'm playing really fast, how am I ever going to manage not to hit that string?" Don't worry, it seems like an impossibility but it's really not that hard. For now, just go nice and slow.

Strum this chord using only upstrokes, then using only downstrokes, then alternating up strokes and downstrokes. Practice this with some of the other chords we've learned:

D Major		C Major		G Major		E Major
xxo---		x--o-o		--ooo-		o---oo
......		....1.		......		...1..
...1.3		..2...		.1....		.23...
....2.		.3....		2....3		......
......		......		......		...... 

Notice that I've thrown in a new chord, the chord of E Major. You'll probably like the chords that use all six strings. First of all, they're easier to strum, because you don't have to worry about skipping over strings, and they also sound richer.

Practice strumming these chords, because in the next lesson we're going to be putting them together.

Things to remember from this lesson:

1. Hold the pick in a relaxed and comfortable grip.
2. Let the strumming motion originate from the forearm.
3. A downstroke is the motion of strumming towards the ground, and an upstroke is the opposite.
4. Chords that require you to skip strings aren't really as impossible as they seem.

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