How To Strum The Guitar

In this beginner guitar lesson you will be learning the fundamentals of how to use your hand to strum the guitar. If you have never played the guitar, strumming might feel strange at first.

Let’s start off by looking at how to hold the pick. Curl your index finger on your picking hand and place the pick on fleshy part of the finger between the fingertip and first joint. Now bring your thumb down and lightly pinch the pick to hold it in place. You should have a firm grip on the pick, but your hand, fingers, and arm should still be pretty relaxed. If you ever feel any excess tension in your picking hand you should stop and relax.

It is important for you to learn the proper way to strum so let’s take a look a some of the basic things you will need to know in order to develop some good strumming technique. I once heard a great guitar player say that good strumming technique is like pretending that you have some honey on your finger and that a feather is stuck to the honey. If you try to shake off the feather that is pretty much the exact motion that you want when you are strumming. Most of the motion comes from the wrist, but the fingers and elbow help out a bit too.

If you know a chord, make it and try strumming all six strings with a smooth down and up motion. Imagine that the feather is stuck to the pinky of your strumming hand. This may seem silly but it really works well. Make sure to practice often, relax, and check out some videos of your favorite players.

The angle of the pick on the string is something that you need to be aware of. Some players angle the pick up or down and some keep the pick parallel with the string. This is more of a personal preference but I have found that most players angle the pick downward.

If you have any questions on strumming you can leave them here. Practice and get ready for the next lesson where you will learn your first two guitar chords.

This Lesson Has 33 Comments

  • Ranodeep Seth says:

    my hand starts to pain a few minutes into strumming? am i weak?

    • Nate Savage says:

      You probably need to build up some muscles, but you might need to get your guitar set up too.

  • Julia R says:

    I am in serious need of a more detailed strumming lesson. I’m a super-duper beginner, I bought a Crescent brand guitar because I have always loved the sound of the guitar but this is really hard for me for some reason. Like how to position my fingers on the fret board. I don’t want to sound dumb but help. Please :)

    • Ruthe J says:

      Hi, Julia! I happened upon this wonderful website while surfing for something to send to my cousin who wants to learn to play the guitar, but doesn’t live near me.
      Don’t be discouraged. You just have to become stubborn and determined. In the beginning, everyone has very sore fingers, fingers won’t stay on the strings and they turn into ‘wet noodles’ after trying to make chords. That is natural. Don’t feel dumb… If it were easy to play, everyone would be playing. Lol. Check out some finger exercises. Here’s one I like: Place hands on a table. Spread fingers as far apart as possible. Now, raise index fingers as high as possible and hold for a bit. Do same with all fingers & thumbs. Do this several times per day. Soak ends do fingers in 50/50 water – vinegar for healing soreness at end of day. Make sure you start out with Light Gage strings. Have fun and stay stubborn and determined until you get a grip on playing.

  • Julia R says:

    Thanks Ruth and this might sound weird but its hard to raise my right hand middle finger for some reason lol

  • Julia R says:

    Also, Why does my guitar sound so loud when I strum it with my pick? Or is it supposed to sound so loud?

  • Anieta says:

    Nate, i’m not understanding the position and hold of our fingers on the fret board. Like, do we have to block that particular string? Please elaborate on the fret board holding of the strings!

  • Beth says:

    heyy, How can I learn different rhytmes on guitar? I find it out hard to make any particular rhytm while playing chords…is there any tips or something? :D

    • Nate Savage says:

      Hey Beth, I would sign up for the Strumming Boot Camp series here on it’s great for taking your strumming to the next level and leaning patterns.

  • Lauren says:

    My fingernails (thumb and index) keep brushing against the strings as I try to strum. This is especially when I kind of choke up on the pick, like with a baseball bat, but when I grip it closer to the flat edge I begin to lose control of the pick. Any tips and how to keep my nails away from the strings?

    I don’t have long fingernails.

    • Nate Savage says:

      You might want to try experimenting with how much you curve or don’t curve your finger around when you hold the pick. My index fingernail has a constant worn spot from strumming. When I play acoustic I generally use my first and second fingers to hold the pick to gain a little more stability, control, and volume. You might want to experiment with that too. Try messing with how much of the tip you use as well. Use a little more of the pick and see how that goes.

  • J. J. LaPlace says:

    Other than tuning, what does “setting up” the guitar mean?

    • Nate Savage says:

      Generally it means lowering the strings to the fretboard as low as possible to make the guitar easy to play without getting any buzzing from the strings.

  • kenneth wisham says:

    Hello and thanks. I have some issues with the pick and wanted to get your input on what to do. I am bran new to the guitar and my problem is I only have about 85% use of right hand I have strength in hand but not between thumb and index finger due to nerve damage and I wanted to know what would you recommend to pick with have tried thumb picks and no good.

    • Nate Savage says:

      Hmmmm this is a unique problem. I once saw an amazing guitar player hold the pick between his 1st and 2nd fingers between the first and second knuckles of those fingers. His hand was kind of made into a fist. It was pretty amazing and it worked well. You might want to experiment with something like that.

  • maddie g. says:

    Hey Nate! First I just wanted to say SHANKS!!!! It is so cool that you are doing this! Anyway, I am really new at playing and I have the issue of not being able to strum a single chord; like if I were to play chord d by itself. I’m not sure if I’m doing something wrong, but do yoyo have any tips to prevent playing extra unwanted chords? Thanks!

    • Nate Savage says:

      Hey Maddie, I think you are just going to have to look back at your strumming hand for a while until you train it to have better aim. :) It sounds simple but it’s true.

  • J. J. LaPlace says:

    I have trouble keeping my fingers only on the proper strings on the fret board. My ring size is only 8 1/2 but it seems they are too large. Also, I am having trouble placing my hand correctly so that all my fingers come straight done on the strings.

  • alhona says:

    can you give me a tips,cause i don’t know how to start strumming especially when i look at the lyrics and their chord.although, i know the chord and the right position of my finger to the frets but i don’t know how to start strumming cause i have no idea what kind of strum i use if it is down and how many times i repeat it.

  • Jeff Meyer says:

    hi Nate! This website is awesome. You are so wonderful at explaining everything and its great knowing that you respond to everyone’s email. I am completely new at the guitar. I think that your idea of holding the second and third fingers against the pick to give in stability is a great idea. I find that its easier for me. I am using a thin pick as opposed to a medium of thick. Does this make a difference? I think I am getting this strumming bit although my strumming arm (my right arm) feels awkward at the tight or something. Is this common at first?

    • Nate Savage says:

      Hey Jeff, Great to have you here. The thickness of the pick definitely makes a difference. You should just experiment with thin, medium, and thick picks to see what works best for you. Use a medium for a week, then use a thick for a week. When playing acoustic I almost always use two fingers on my picking hand for control and volume. I would try to use more of my wrist when strumming. The elbow can move but the flicking motion I describe in the video will help keep your strumming efficient and less prone to any injury.

  • Grace says:

    The video is not working for me

  • Rachel George says:

    hey nate !! Firstly ,huge thanks for doing this alright! you rock ! :D ah well , what i wanted to know was, can u show how to strum without a pick , by using only your fingers ? Its just the thumb and pointer that is used in this technique ryt? :)

    • Nate Savage says:

      Hey Rachel, Yes that is correct. When I strum without a pick I simply pretend like I have a pick between my thumb and 1st finger and keep the same motion going. :)

  • BEBETO says:

    Hello sir Savage. How do you set up your guitar like you mentioned in a reply ?

  • sAnjay limbu says:

    How to creat song melody????

    • Nate Savage says:

      To me it all starts with the major scale and training your ears/mind/fingers to recognize intervals.


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