How To Strum The Guitar
Welcome to video seven in the Beginner Guitar Quick-Start Series. In this lesson, we’re going to go through how to use your picking hand to properly strum the guitar. This will help you make sure your practice is efficient, reduce the risk of injury, and help your progress through future lessons.
I’m using a pick for the strumming in this video, but you don’t have to use one if you don’t have one or don’t want to use one. You can use your thumb and your index finger instead to strum the strings. I do recommended trying a pick out, but it’s up to you. Some of things covered in this lesson are subjective, like how to grip the pick and the angle to strum at.
The easiest way to hold a pick is to hold it in front of you with the pointed end towards your left side, put your right thumb on it as naturally as you can, and come down on the pick with your index finger, gripping it naturally. Your finger may be curved, it may be parallel to the pick, or it may bend the other way. You can also try gripping the pick with two fingers to give yourself more control. Experiment with your grip and find what is most comfortable for you.
The next subjective thing I’ll talk about it the angle that you pick from. Most guitar players have the pick angled downward towards the floor when they strum, while some people have the pick parallel to the strings, and a few people will have their pick angled upwards. The angle you choose doesn’t matter, as long as you experiment and find what you like best.
Another tip I want to give you when you’re strumming is to relax. If you start to tense up, not only will your playing be inefficient, but you may end up with injuries. If you feel any tension starting in your shoulders while you’re strumming, just stop, relax, and start over again.
Something I see many new guitar players do is lock their wrist and strum from just their elbow, which can be a cause for tension. The best analogy for strumming is to pretend you have a bit of honey on your finger with a feather stuck to it, and you’re trying to flick the feather off. In the video, you’ll see that most of the strumming movement is coming from my wrist but my elbow is moving too. Keep this analogy in mind as you go through this lesson.
We’re going to start our strumming off with some downstrokes, and if you don’t know any chords yet, that’s okay. You can just mute the strings. Hold the pick in your hand with your preferred grip at the angle you prefer, and remember the analogy to use your wrist. Strum downwards through all six strings using downstrokes. Keep trying this over again, and if you need to pause the video, that’s just fine.
Once you’re comfortable with your downstrokes, it’s time to learn upstrokes as well. Remembering all the same tips, strum through the strings using an upstroke. Often newer guitar players think they need to upstroke through all six strings, but that’s not really true. You’ll notice in the video that as I play a G chord, which uses all six strings, I only hit the top three to five strings with my upstroke.
When you’re comfortable with your upstrokes and downstrokes on their own, you’ll want to try putting them together. Try alternating upstrokes and downstrokes, and again, if you don’t know any chords, you can just mute the strings with your other hand.
A lot of newer guitar players have trouble keeping a grip on their pick when they strum, so it goes flying out of their hand. Be sure to experiment with how tightly you hold on to the pick. You need to hold on to it just tight enough so that it won’t go flying, but not so tightly that you end up tensing up.
You’ll need to develop a technique where you’re always adjusting the pick, because the pick will move a bit when you’re constantly strumming. When I play guitar, I keep making micro-adjustments to make sure the pick doesn’t fly out of my hands.
Keep all the tips from this lesson in mind as you keep working through the Beginner Guitar Quick-Start series. For now, practice your downstrokes, upstrokes, and then putting them together. Don’t worry about your fretting hand yet and just focus on your strumming hand.
In the next lesson, we’ll go over your first two guitar chords as well as some tips on how to keep your chords clean and free from buzzing. If you have any questions about strumming, you can ask them in the comments below.