Greatness is often found in the unnoticed things.
People like to pay attention to a guitarist’s finger speed or their creative voicing of chords. But that’s not what makes them great. The key is in the right hand. So if you’re looking to improve your strumming, I have some tips for you.
I’ll be covering why strumming is important, seven proven methods that will help you improve, and how you can incorporate those methods into your practice sessions.
Why Strumming Is So Important
Good strumming separates great guitarists from average guitarists
Here’s a harsh truth: strumming separates the great guitarists from the average guitarists. Not many people realize good strumming is the key to being a good guitar player.
You can play all the basic chords and even some more complex ones, but if you can’t make those chords sounds good, they’re useless. A C#madd9 won’t sound good without a proper strumming pattern, or a Cmaj for that matter.
If your strumming is stiff and awkward, people will label you a beginner in about half a second. In my experience, strumming is one of the biggest hurdles for newbies to overcome. So this post is all about how to jump that hurdle.
Here are 7 ways to improve your guitar strumming.
Ways To Improve Your Strumming
There are a handful of methods you can use to easily improve your strumming
Now we’ll go through seven proven ways to improve your strumming. As long as you stick with these methods and practice every day, you’ll start to see yourself improve.
1. Angle Your Pick
If you hold your pick perpendicular to the ground, your strumming will sound too aggressive and awkward. You should angle the pick so the tip points toward your chest on down strums and toward your feet on up strums.
This allows you to strum from the wrist and play lightly (two methods that we’ll talk about next).
2. Strum From The Wrist
Many beginners think strumming is all in your elbow, but it’s not. If you move only your elbow and not your wrist, you’ll look and sound like a robot playing guitar.
Just tell your wrist to be loosey-goosey and dance up and down across the strings. Now, you do want to maintain some control of your wrist, but the goal here (if I can use another metaphor) is to let the wrist be the drunk uncle at the wedding and your elbow be the level-headed aunt.
Your wrist should be loose while your elbow doesn’t move too far away from being at a 90-degree angle the whole time.
3. Slow It Down…Way Down
You don’t need to play as fast as the fastest guitarist in the world. Don’t even think about it (unless you’re curious, in which case you can watch him play at 2,000 BPM). All you need to think about right now is playing with finesse and strumming in time.
To do that, you should start slow — very slow. When learning a new strumming pattern, first play it at whatever speed you’re comfortable. Play at an awkwardly slow pace if you have to, just so you can nail down the strumming pattern.
It might feel weird to do this, but it will help you improve. Once you get the strumming pattern down, you can start to pick up speed until you eventually are able to play the song at its original tempo. Try using a metronome — download a free app or just do a Google search for a free online one.
4. Keep Your Right Hand Moving
One thing I notice with new guitarists is their strumming hand will stop and start like their in a strobe light. That’s incorrect and will make your strumming sound forced.
What you should do is keep your right hand/wrist moving up and down constantly. Keeping your hand moving at all times doesn’t mean you strum on every up and every down.
For example, if you have a strumming pattern like this (in 4/4 time signature):
Down-down / up-up / down-down / up-up / down-up-down-up
In between each down-down, there would be an up stroke where you don’t hit any of the strings. The purpose is to simply bring your pick up above the low E string so you can hit that second down stroke.
And in between each up-up, there should be a down stroke that gets your pick below the high E string to prepare for the second up stroke.
So when you put it all together, your wrist doesn’t stop moving. It doesn’t jolt and stop unnaturally. It just flows with the rhythm.
5. Strum Without The Left Hand
Try this: don’t worry about playing chords, just do some strumming.
This is how I learned to strum with rhythm. I would use my mom’s guitar, mute and unmute the strings with my left hand, and strum rhythms with my right. It was almost like I was making a beat with my strumming and without using chords (I didn’t know any at the time).
Try it. Just use your left hand to stop and start the ringing of the strings, and use your right hand to play a rhythm. If you need to, drop your left hand to your side and focus only on your right. It may not sound good, but it will help you improve.
6. Strum Lightly
Strum as if your strings may break at any moment
Another thing that differentiates great guitarist from okay guitarists is their strumming finesse. Anyone can play super hard and loud, but not everyone can strum lightly. Don’t get me wrong, you need both, but if you’re strumming is rough all the time, you’re not actually getting the point of good strumming.
A good strummer is able to play lightly (like during the verses of a song) and also loudly when needed (like during the chorus). Having both provides contrast, which is a crucial element to good music and good guitar playing.
So practice playing gently, as if the strings might break any second.
7. Watch Other Guitarists
Even though you may not want to watch someone play guitar at a ridiculously fast speed, you should watch other talented guitarists. You can learn from them.
Pick your favorite artist and look up a video of them playing a song live or in a music video. Study their strumming. How does their wrist move? What’s going on with the elbow? What makes it look so natural?
Take notes. Who better to learn from than those with years of experience?
Using All 7 Methods To Improve Your Strumming
Practice one of these methods at a time
Now it’s time to put all of this together. I listed these methods in the order I recommend you practice them. Start with number one, get used to holding your pick at an angle, then move onto number two, master it, and move onto the next one.
And it’s okay if you only work on one method for your next practice session. It takes time to learn guitar, so be patient with yourself. After you become familiar with one of the methods, give yourself a little reward, like a candy bar or a high-five.
Just don’t try to incorporate all of these tips at once. You’ll get overwhelmed and discouraged. And that will make it much harder to improve. Ultimately, it comes down to practicing so much that your strumming becomes muscle memory.
Strumming Can Be Different For Every Genre
Learning to play guitar in other genres can help your strumming
Getting better at strumming is sort of a never-ending thing, even for the great guitarists.
So once you go through all of these tips and master each one, there’s something else you can do to improve your strumming: learn to play in different genres. If you try to learn a song in each of the main genres for guitarists — rock, funk, reggae, jazz, metal, classical, and country — you’ll see a huge improvement.
For example, even if you don’t like country music, it can drastically improve your guitar playing if you learn some common country guitar strumming patterns.
You should always be looking to getting better with your right hand. Because strumming is the key to a great guitarist.