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Essential Strumming Patterns

Rhythm Guitar Quick-Start Series - Lesson 9/12

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Welcome to the ninth video of the Rhythm Guitar Quick-Start Series! In this lesson, we’re going to go through some of the most essential strumming patterns you need to know as a rhythm guitar player. These strumming patterns are the fundamental building blocks that you will use to build a lot of your strumming patterns in the future. If you can get these down really well, learning other patterns later will be much easier.

Some of these patterns will seem simple to you but it’s important to get each of these patterns down well. We’ll be using the same drum jam track from the last few lessons to practice with. Before we jump into strumming patterns though, I want to go over a few strumming technique tips with you.

The first tip I have for you is to relax. Try not to tense up, because your playing will not sound fluid and you’ll get tired easily if you are tense while you strum. The second tip I want to give you goes hand in hand with that, which is to not lock your wrist and strum from just your elbow.

Keeping your wrist relaxed means your playing stays fluid and you won’t get tired as easily. An easy way to think about this is to pretend you have something stuck on your finger and you’re trying to flick it off. If you try that movement now or watch me in the video, you’ll see that the elbow is still moving but most of the motion is coming from the wrist.

The first strumming pattern we’ll look at is a basic eighth note pattern that uses all downstrokes. In case you’ve never counted eighth notes before, I’ll teach you how to do that quickly. Usually in a song, there’s an underlying pulse that you can clap along with. In the video, I count out a few quarter notes, followed by some faster eighth notes.

Essentially the key with the eighth note strumming pattern is to keep our downstrokes even and in time. This may seem like a simple pattern, but it’s a good place to start to develop your timing and get a feel for the guitar.

For all the strumming patterns in the rest of the lesson, I’ll use an open G chord. Check out the video to see me demonstrate the eighth note pattern along with the jam track.

The next strumming pattern that we’ll look at is also an eighth note pattern, but instead of just downstrokes, we’ll alternate both downstrokes and upstrokes. Lots of newer guitar players have trouble with their upstrokes, so I’ll give you two tips to help you out.

The first tip is when I use a downstrokes, I generally hit all six strings. When I use an upstroke, I’m usually only hitting the top three or four strings. Don’t feel pressured to hit all six strings with your upstrokes.

The second tip I have for you is don’t dig your pick too far into the strings on your upstroke, otherwise it could be too hard to get your pick through the strings. Just use enough of the pick to make the strings ring out in a volume that matches your downstroke.

If you follow along with my counting in the video, you’ll see that on the numbers you would use downstrokes, and on the ‘ands’ you use upstrokes. You can also see me play this pattern along with the jam track.

Now let’s take this eight note strumming pattern up a level by putting some accents in with it. Being able to put accents into any of your strumming patterns is a valuable skill to have. I’m going to through this same pattern, but I’m going to accent the second and fourth beats, which are both downstrokes. On these strokes, you’ll dig into the strings a bit more and highlight those strums the way a drummer would accent his beats. You can see and hear what I mean as I add accents to this pattern with the jam track in the video.

Using accents in a classic strumming pattern like this is a great way to customize your sound to whatever song you’re playing. If you’re using sheet music, you’ll be able to tell that a strum should be accented if there is an arrow above the tab or chord.

The next strumming pattern is a little more involved, but is still based on a regular eighth note strumming pattern. I call this one the down-down-up strumming pattern, and it brings in a concept called the Constant Strumming Technique. This technique is when you keep your eighth note strumming going even if you aren’t actually digging into the strings with the pick on one of your strums.

As you watch me demonstrate in the video, the Constant Strumming Technique becomes more clear. The basic counting for this pattern is ‘one-two-and’. You’ll see that my arm keeps going with the eighth note beat, but I didn’t actually hit the strings with the pick on the first ‘and’ upstroke. Try this short pattern over and over again until you get it.

That’s the basic down-down-up strumming pattern, which you can do over beats one and two, and beats three and four. The trick is to keep your strumming arm going even when you don’t dig into the strings. You can see this strumming pattern with the jam track in the video. Learning how to leave strums out of eighth note or sixteenth note strumming patterns is an important skill to have.

Our last strumming pattern to go over is a sixteenth note pattern. If you don’t know how to count sixteenth notes, we’ll go over that quickly for you. Sixteenth notes are four equally spaced strums over each beat. The way to count sixteenth notes is one, e, and, a, two, e, and, a, three, e, and, a, four, e, and, a. We’ve got four syllables for the four strums contained in each beat.

This may seem simple to you, but there is a lot more strumming going on in a sixteenth note strumming pattern, so don’t let the pick fly out of your hand and remember not to tense up as you strum. Start out slowly, and if you need to, you can use a metronome and lower the tempo while you work on your strumming. Feel free to throw in some accents while you strum too. Check out the video to hear how it sounds with the jam track.

Now that you’ve seen these fundamental strumming patterns, it’s important to start practicing with the jam track using your open chords, power chords, and bar chords.

Thanks for watching this video. In the next lesson, we’ll take a look at a different aspect of rhythm guitar playing by working on developing your timing and feel. This is an important topic for your overall musicianship, especially if you’re planning on recording one day or playing with other people. We’ll see you in the next video: Developing Timing And Feel.

Next Lesson - Developing Timing & Feel