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5 Essential Strumming Patterns

In this lesson, I’m going to teach you five different strumming patterns you must know if you’re a guitarist.  If you’re a newer guitar player that has learned most of your open chords, but are starting to feel like your strumming hand is being left behind, you’ll really enjoy this lesson. 

The five strumming patterns in this lesson are quite progressive, so each pattern builds off the previous pattern you learned.  You may be familiar with a couple of these strumming patterns already, but I encourage you to follow along still because I’ll be giving some tips that are important for your career as a guitarist. 

I’m going to keep the chords simple throughout this lesson by sticking with just an E chord so you can focus all your attention on your strumming hand, getting your timing down, and learning the new strumming patterns.  If you want to make it even easier, you don’t have to make a chord shape at all.  You can just mute the strings and focus solely on the strumming patterns if you like. 

All of the strumming patterns in this lesson are eighth note patterns, so I’m going to go over how to count eighth notes first.  Most songs you hear are in 4/4 time, which means you count out four even beats. Those four even beats are quarter notes. 

To count eighth notes, just put an ‘and’ between each number.  You would count out loud “one, and, two, and, three, and, four, and”.  You want to space out these notes as evenly as possible when you play.  As we go through this lesson, you’ll see eighth notes displayed on-screen to help you through each strumming pattern. 

The first strumming pattern we’ll look at is an all downstroke pattern, which may seem simple but it’s very important.  You can tell that it is all downstrokes by the upside down ‘u’ looking symbol you see on-screen above each beat.  While this pattern may seem easy, don’t discount it, because it’s important as a guitar player to do simple things really well. 

Essential Strumming Pattern #1

It may seem easy, but it’s an essential strumming pattern that will help you develop your timing.  Grab a metronome or pull up a jam track and work on the all downstroke strumming pattern using eighth notes.  Be sure to watch your timing and keep all the eighth notes evenly spaced.  Check out the video to see me play an example of this strumming pattern. 

Another thing to work on with your strumming is dynamic control.  With this simple strumming pattern, it’s easy to try getting really soft, getting a bit louder, and getting really loud with your strumming.  As guitar players, when we play quietly, we tend to drag a bit, and then we start to rush when we get louder.  This will be a good time to start working on your dynamic control. 

As you work on your dynamic control, remember not to lock your wrist and strum just from just your elbow.  You need to relax, use some wrist motion, and even pretend that you have something stuck on your finger that you need to shake off.  Check out the video now to see me strum with some dynamics. Using this kind of strumming pattern to warm up and get your mind focused on your timing works really well. 

The second strumming pattern we’ll look at is the same rhythm as the first pattern, but instead of using all downstrokes, you’re going to use alternating downstrokes and upstrokes.  You can see that we are using upstrokes on every other strum because of the arrows above the ‘and’.  As you strum, the numbers are downstrokes and the ‘and’s will be upstrokes.  This is an incredibly useful strumming pattern, plus it is the foundation for all the other patterns we’re going over in this lesson.   

Essential Strumming Pattern #2

A lot of newer guitar players feel like they need to hit all the strings when they do an upstroke strum, but that’s not the case.  When I strum a downstroke, I’ll usually hit all six strings if it’s a six-string chord, but with my upstroke, I tend to only hit the top three or four strings.  This makes it easier to play through the upstrokes when you’re doing a lot of strumming. 

Try this pattern, relax, don’t lock your wrist, and concentrate on keeping your strumming as even as you can.  You can see me play an example of this pattern in the video.  You can work on this pattern while using a metronome or a jam track. 

Once you have it down and it sounds good, you can start to put accents anywhere you like.  I’m going to put accents on the downstrokes for beats two and four, and you can hear how it sounds in the video.  Being able to throw in accents is useful because no matter what song you’re playing, you can add in those accents anywhere that compliments the song. 

The third strumming pattern is similar to the second pattern, but we’re going to learn a new technique called a muted strum.  A muted strum gives you a more percussive sound, almost like a drummer is playing with you.  When you hear a drummer play a similar pattern, they’re hitting the snare on beats two and four. That’s the sound of the snare we are emulating. 

Before we check out the strumming pattern, let’s learn the muted strum.  When you do a downstroke for the muted strum, you’re going to let off the pressure with your fretting hand a little.  Right before you strum through the strings, you’re going to mute the strings with the fleshy palm part of your strumming hand. 

The strumming pattern we’ll play using the muted strum is a classic alternating eighth note pattern, You’ll use a muted downstroke on beat two. You can repeat this strumming pattern for beats three and four. This is really like a two beat strumming pattern that keeps repeating over again.  Looking at the graphic for the strumming pattern, you can see that you’re supposed to use a muted strum by the ‘X’ over the two and four. 

Essential Strumming Pattern #3

If you need to, you can slow this pattern down to practice it, and don’t be afraid to dig into the guitar with the muted strum.  Once you have this technique down, you can add in muted strums anywhere. 

In the fourth strumming pattern, we’re going to start adding in some rests.  Until now, we’ve been digging into the strings on every eighth note, but now we’re going to start leaving some of them out. 

You may not realize it yet, but up until this point in the lesson, but we’ve been making use of an important skill called the Constant Strumming Technique.  Looking back at strumming pattern two, you had a strict alternating pattern so you were constantly strumming.  We’re going to continue the constant strumming pattern, but just leave some of the notes out. 

Looking at the first ‘and’ on the graphic, you’ll notice there is no symbol above it.  This would be played as an upstroke if you were playing with a regular alternating pattern, but this time there’s no strum there.  Come back up on the ‘and’, but don’t dig into the strings at all.  Keep the upward motion going even though you’re not digging into the strings. 

Essential Strumming Pattern #4

When you’re first learning strumming patterns like this, it’s important to count out loud as you play so you can keep track of where you are.  Sometimes it can help to exaggerate the motions to help keep track as well.  In the video, you can see me play this pattern with a metronome. 

Work on this pattern, and stay relaxed.  Remember to stay loose and work on keeping a constant motion with your strumming hand as you play.  Remember that your upstrokes don’t have to go through all six strings either. 

The last strumming pattern is a bit more complex than the other patterns, and it uses the Constant Strumming Technique as well.  In this pattern, you can see that the rest is on the third beat, and it’s a downstroke this time.  As you play this pattern, leave out the downstroke on beat three, but continue to make the downward motion.  The rest of your strumming is regular alternating downstroke and upstrokes using eighth notes.

Essential Strumming Pattern #5

As you work on this pattern, remember to keep your strumming arm going and leave out the downstroke on beat three.  You can check out my example of this pattern in the video.

As a newer guitar player, you’ll probably want to find a good balance between holding on to the pick tightly enough so it doesn’t fly out of your hands and holding on to it loosely enough that you don’t tense up. 

You’ve now got five basic strumming patterns to use.  It may take you a while to get them down perfectly, but once you can play these patterns and understand the Constant Strumming Technique, you’ll be closer to being able to pick out the strumming patterns in your favorite songs.  You’ll also be able to start making up your own strumming patterns. 

If you want to dress these strumming patterns up, you can put in accents, muted strums, or even take out notes using the Constant Strumming Technique.  When you practice, make you sure you play along with a metronome, or better yet, a jam track.  It is always helpful to apply what you’re working on to real music.

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