In this blog post, I'll show you the importance of learning proper strumming techniques to take your rhythm guitar playing to the next level!
One of the most challenging aspects of playing guitar is rhythm; in particular, learning new and effective strumming techniques. This is easily said for beginning players as well as those who have been playing guitar for years.
Sometimes, more advanced players learned strumming techniques on their own, but they may have learned to play them in an unorthodox or incorrect way; in effect, they learned how to practice mistakes. This is why I advocate learning from a professional guitar teacher.
Strumming Techniques 1: It's All in the Timing
One of the best strumming techniques I can offer is to start out with a simple 4-beat count. You don't have to play too fast, but using a tool like a metronome is an invaluable way to increase your level of playing skills.
Start out with a fairly slow beats per minute (or bpm) setting on the metronome—say around 60-80 bpm—then start strumming, using only down strokes, and count along with each strum: 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, and so on.
Make sure to emphasize the 1 count like this: 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. This helps to keep you in time when strumming and will serve to help calibrate your strumming hand to the beat, thus acting as its own metronome.
Timing is so important when applying more advanced strumming techniques such as upstrokes, syncopation, and various intermediate/advanced strumming patterns. It all begins with a simple approach to learning how to strum correctly in the first place. That simple approach is the basic 1, 2, 3, 4 which I've already gone over.
Strumming Techniques 2: Adding Extra Strokes
From there, it's really just a matter of adding some extra strokes, mostly in the form of upstrokes.
The 1, 2, 3, 4 are the actual down beats; thus, logically, you would assume there are also up beats...and you would be correct! The upbeats are known as the "ands" of each beat. Observe: 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &.
These "and" beats serve as placeholders for your upstrokes. Upbeats = upstrokes; it's really that simple! So the next strumming technique to add to the simple counting is to add an upstroke every time your strumming hand comes back up after a downstroke strum.
Now you try it for yourself. Remember this: slow practice with accuracy is better than fast practice with sloppiness! Practice slowly with the metronome and increase the tempo only when you feel comfortable playing at a slower tempo; not before!
Here are some more basic strumming techniques to get under your belt before moving on:
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Strumming Techniques 3: Syncopation
The next in our list of strumming techniques is syncopation.
Syncopation is simply defined as emphasizing the "and" beats as well as the downbeats. This gives another flavor which adds a certain tightness to your strumming. This strumming technique is the primary focus of the video at the top of this blog post. Although I don't remember mentioning the word syncopation, the effect is unmistakeable.
A while back, I recorded a few Q&A vids on the topic of some particular strumming techniques in a certain style of playing: Praise and Worship (P&W for short). This is one of the most recognizable sounds in the music industry, mainly because of syncopation.
In P&W music, there's a certain almost indescribable sound that you usually don't find in any other music. The only word that fits is syncopation. This is because this particular type of music has its own beat, one that produces a more percussive feel in the sound; it's almost as if the guitarist is also his/her own drummer!
This is the effect of syncopation at its highest level. You sound like more than one guitarist when you put this strumming technique into practice. And believe me, it takes lots of practice to master syncopation!
Here are the Q&A vids I mentioned regarding Praise and Worship strumming:
And here's a great video I recently found which deals with beginner aspects of using a metronome and implementing syncopation into your playing:
There are many other great strumming techniques to be learned. I've shown you many of them here. If you're interested in learning even more, I cover some essential rhythm strumming techniques in my course Bluegrass Guitar Essentials, so be sure and take a look at it right here on this site.
Until next time, God bless and keep practicing!
P.S. I recently received some awesome news in a testimonial from a recent customer (click the image to see similar testimonials):