Universal Strumming Tips

As guitar players, strumming is our bread and butter. Having said that, there are several simple things that we can do to make our strumming sound like a million bucks. In this series, I am going to show you a few of these simple things that you can use to really kick your strumming up a few notches. We will look at several very fundamental, but often overlooked, concepts and principles that you can use to make your strumming more professional, polished and expressive. This first lesson is going to cover a couple of universal strumming tips that can benefit just about anyone.

The topic of guitar technique is pretty subjective, and every one’s technique is different. Even though this is the case, there are a few good, all-purpose, technical tips that you can remember in order to get the most out of your strumming. The first thing that you want to remember is to relax. If you tense up when you strum, your motions will be less efficient and not as fluid as they could be. The next time you sit down to do some practicing, try to be aware of any excess tension that might creep into your playing. If you feel tense in your hand, arm, shoulder, neck or back, stop for a second and take a deep breath. Relax and then start your practice back up again. Your practice session will be a lot more productive and you’ll be able to play with much more fluidity.

The second thing that you want to remember is to not lock your wrist and just go for it. When you lock your wrist you tend to strum with your elbow. That can really hurt after a while! Make sure to use your wrist along with your arm when you strum. The idea is to get a kind of relaxed flicking motion from your wrist when you strum your guitar. As Beppe Gambetta says, “You should pretend like you have a feather stuck on your finger with some honey and try to flick that feather off.” This is a great motion to remember when developing a relaxed strumming technique.

Remember these two tips as you work on your strumming over the next several months. This has been a really basic but super-important lesson. Applying the two basic tips presented here can help you stay injury free and give your strumming a very fluid sound. In the next lesson of this series, we will look at a simple exercise that you can use to start developing your timing when it comes to strumming.

This Lesson Has 20 Comments

  • bow says:

    very good advice to starting beginer guitarists

  • Richard Penkava says:

    I Didn’t even think that my elbow was sore from strumming, But your analogy of the honey and feather on my pinkie has taken that pain or soreness away. It’s gone and I do have better practice time. Thanx , Biscuit

  • Phil says:

    I am a REAL beginner at this, but my problem with strumming is when I try to keep loose and relaxed, I don’t keep a good grip on the pick and it drifts around between my fingers. If I clamp down, I get stiff and end up hitting too “hard” on the strings. Can’t quite find that balance. Also, I find it tricky to make sure I hit ALL the strings I am supposed to each time I strum. And when playing something like a D2, where you are only supposed to hit 4 strings, how can you avoid the low E and A?

    • Glenn says:

      Your wrist should be loose and your elbow relaxed just like Nate mentioned. I used to drop my pick when I started playing. As you grow, you will gain the ability to just tighten your finger muscle just enough to secure the pick while keeping everything relaxed. So this will come with playing time and practice.

      A more practice advice is to hold the pick differently. If I venture into intense strumming, I would hold the pick with my thumb and middle finger and then use the index finger to “assist” the pick so it won’t go out of place.

      When playing chords like D2 where you are only strumming 4 strings, I wrap around my thumb to lightly touch/mute the E and A strings so they won’t ring. Use the same technique to play 5-string chords like E major and A minor, etc.

    • Glenn says:

      [Correction] On the last line of the previous post, I meant to say A major and A minor…

  • RICKY says:


  • Alex Kelly says:

    Great advise as usual from the master Nate.

  • Rumi says:

    When I strum like (D D D U) in rapidly or any other progressions rapidly, the pick seems to slip out of my hand and I can’t give more than a few successive strums. I’ve tried to hold the pick more tightly but then very loud noise produces. It doesn’t occur when there are only down strums.

    So, please tell me, where is the problem and how can I get rid of this problem?
    Thank you.

    • Marlin says:

      Adjusting the pick so that it is less exposed. Practice your more complex strums while holding the pick so that it is less exposed or not”sticking out” too much from your fingers.

  • Ian says:

    Great tips and advice, very easy to understand (once someone tells you). Really glad that stuff like this is free on the net, thanks a million.

  • Sevgi says:

    On Sat Dec 12, 2009 My friend Rhan Wilson has his Altared Christmas show. He has toasnfrrmed all of the Christmas songs to minor keys and the spirit takes on a whole new feel. The celebration is taking place at the Rio Theater in Santa Cruz, California the birthplace of one of the most enigmatic and friendly uke clubs in the world. There’s actually an album of these songs available. Somehow I think that this would appeal to you Al, I mean, the songs in minor keys. Think of how Santa Claus is coming to town takes on a different feeling. I have been enjoying some of Crazy Dawg’s tab arrangements and he has a good one for O’ Tannenbaum.

  • Deogratius eliachim says:

    My name is Deogratius Eliachim. I’m a musician but not good as you are. Your lessons are so good, i do like the lesson. Ammaizing. I play music at my church. I really love music. Thank you for helping us through your lessons. What i know throw your lessons i’ll be more perfect. I’m from Africka Tanzania the city of Arusha. I worship in lutheran church. Thank you really much.

    • Olix says:

      Casey, what a great two-part essay (an exposition, you might say) on lrnneiag by ear. Let’s keep this with a link on the website, because it sure answers a lot of people’s questions!

  • Noor Sherazi says:

    The intro music! What a beast! You rock Nate!

  • Noor Sherazi says:

    Hey, can anyone give me tips on how to strum when your not starting from the E string? Like how to get used to the distance between the strings, so that I can just pluck a string easily. Pre-Thanks!

  • Ko Aung says:

    Very nice. I like very much.Thank U.
    Have a nice day forever.

  • hummingbird says:

    I find it very hard to get a clean sound when playing an F. It’s like my (female) fingers don’t have the muscularity to hold the chord firmly enough. Any tips for smaller/weaker fingers and getting that chord down?


  • Ciera says:

    I’m a beginner at guitar and I’m having trouble with my fingers. Like when I try to play d7 and d the sound don’t come out and the. Tip icky fingers hurt

  • Tori says:

    I’ve been learning to play for about 6 months but have so much anxiety about strumming that I’ve only learnt finger picking songs and bass lines! When i do try strumming i think it sounds terrible and give up two chords into the song, being tense and nervous must be the problem! Ill work on it, thanks


Leave a Comment