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Guitar Strumming Patterns

All About Strumming – Every Pattern You Need to Know

Last Updated: July 2023 | Article Details: 5108 words (25 – 30 minute read)

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Let’s talk about some essential guitar strumming patterns beginner’s need to know.

in this guide, we’ll get start with the absolute basics of strumming, go over every popular pattern you should know and then give you some tips to help improve your technique and sound.

If you’re a complete beginner, it’d make sense to first check out our guide on learning how to play guitar first before trying to master your strumming.

And if you really want to master guitar strumming, online guitar lessons are the best way to get it done.

This is gonna be a long one, so buckle up and let’s get into it.


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What is Guitar Strumming?

In our last guide on guitar picking techniques (read now), you learned the different ways to play one string at a time.

Strumming is a guitar technique (read more) that utilizes either a pick or your fingers to glide across strings in a fluid upwards or downwards motion.

Picking is a method of playing an individual string in a very articulated way, whereas strumming is used to play multiple strings together.

The “strum” lets all of the strings (or the specific strings you want to play) ring out, making strumming ideal for playing things like chords and rhythms.

How to Strum a Guitar the Right Way

Strumming is a fairly straight-forward motion to learn. There’s not much to the movement itself, but you need to make sure you understand rhythm and time in music theory. Can you tap along to a beat? If yes, you should be fine for our purposes here.

Person Playing Electric Guitar

Below is a quick overview on how to correctly strum a guitar. If you don’t know the basics of how to play the guitar, definitely brush up on areas like posture, holding a guitar, holding a pick, etc.

  1. Hold you guitar while sitting down
    • Keep your back straight (good posture) and let the guitar rest on your leg
  2. Hold your guitar pick with a light grip
    • Don’t hold it too tightly – be loose with your fingers, but not flimsy
    • Use a medium-thick guitar pick – somewhere in the 0.65-0.75 range of thickness.
  3. Keep your wrist straight AND loose/relaxed
    • Don’t let it bend inwards/outwards. Don’t tense up.
  4. Hold your strumming hand above the sound hold of the guitar
    • Keep your arm and elbow in front of the guitar, NOT resting on the very top of the body.
  5. Angle the fat-end of the guitar pick slightly towards the floor
  6. Move your hand downwards, hitting all of the strings with the pick, in a sweeping/fluid motion (downstroke)
    • It should mostly be a wrist movement, but your arm/elbow may move a bit as well. Try not to move your whole arm too much to keep your strumming efficient.
  7. Pause after the pick hits the last string
  8. Slightly angle the fat-end of the guitar pick towards the ceiling/roof, now
  9. Move your hand upwards, hitting all of the strings with the pick, in a sweeping/fluid motion (upstroke)
  10. Repeat from step 5 onwards

And there you go – you know how to strum a guitar correctly.


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How to Practice Your Strumming

Before you memorize the patterns on this page, make sure your technique is good. When your technique is good, you have better peace of mind when playing. The only way to do that is to practice the basics – the rudiments – of guitar.

Here are a few ideas on how and what to practice on guitar (learn more) to get your strumming technique on point.

String Accuracy

You’re not always going to play every string on the guitar while strumming. So at this point, it’s a good idea to practice hitting a few strings at a time.

Try only hitting the top 3 strings with your strums. Then try the bottom 3 strings. Finally, practice hitting the middle 3 strings, while not hitting the top or bottom string.

Focus on being accurate, and maintaining a FLUID motion. Try to eliminate any jerkiness, especially if you find yourself inadvertently hitting one or two strings harder/louder than the other strings.

Guitar strumming should be a smooth and sweeping motion, that hits every string you want to hit evenly and accurately.

Rhythm Accuracy

Because strumming is such a rhythmic form of playing guitar, you need to get good at keeping/counting time while playing.

Using a metronome while practicing your strumming is key. It also helps to tap your foot along with your playing to help you keep time.

When you’re practicing, try strumming with both up and downstrokes on every click of the metronome. Then try speeding things up and slowing them down – 2 strums per click, or 1 strum for every 2 clicks, etc.

Finally, make sure you’re practicing both up and down strokes together. You want to get good at both.

Chord vs. No Chord

Finally, when you’re practicing your strumming it’s important to get the rhythm pattern down first, before worrying about chords and chord changes.

For complete beginners, we recommend just practicing with open strings (no fretting, no chords).

If you already know a few chords, then it might make sense to practice the patterns using only one single chord position. Just hold that chord and try out the various patterns.

Once you’re good at the pattern itself, you can start doing chord changes between strums to spice things up.

Woman Strumming Acoustic Guitar

How to Read the Below Diagrams

You should already be familiar with how to read guitar tabs and chord diagrams from this guide.

There are a few more symbols that you’ll see (for OUR diagrams):

  • Numbers (1 2 3 4): tells you on which beat the strum happens
    • You may also see beat subdivisions (ex/ 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &, 1-e-&-a 2-e-&-a, or 1 + 2 + 3 + 4, etc)
  • Up arrows (↑) or U/u or ⋁: tells you this should be an UPSTROKE
  • Down arrows (↓) or D/d or ⋀: tells you this is a DOWNSTROKE
  • Cross (x or X): this denotes a MUTE – you lightly press the strings with your palm to stop them from ringing out
    • Sometimes mutes occur WITH a down/up stroke – this means you strum while palm muting the strings
  • Slashes (/) or blank space: denotes a REST – you don’t strum
  • Greater than (>): accent – play the strum with more force (stronger/harder than the other strums)
  • Underline ( _ ): only strum the bass/root note (first string of the chord) for this stroke

Important: Oftentimes you’ll also see the below symbol used to denote a DOWN stroke:

Downstroke Strumming Symbol

Pretty simple right? Now you’ll be able to read all of the patterns we’re about to go over.

As for the counting/time – we’re only going to show the pattern for one bar/measure of music. If you’re unsure how to count music or don’t know what a measure is, check out our basic music theory course (read now).

Basic Strumming Patterns on Guitar

Below are some of the most basic rhythms you should know. They’re probably pretty intuitive, and you likely already realize these are possibilities.

We’ll still go over them briefly as a quick-start.

Remember to use a metronome while practicing so you can perfect your rhythm. Start slow – something like 60-70bpm. If that’s still too fast, you can slow it down even more.

Downstroke on Every Beat

The first pattern is pretty basic and has you playing a downstroke strum on every beat of a measure/bar.

Start slowly and get a good strum for every beat. After each downstroke move your hand slightly away from the guitar and bring it back up to the starting position (above the sound hole/strings).

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Single Upstroke on Up Beats

This next pattern can be altered in many different ways. As the name suggests, we’re going to only use a single upstroke on one of the up beats of a measure. The rest of the strums will use downstrokes on the down beats.

Here’s the basic template:

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So you’re playing 4 downstrokes on each beat, and then a single upstroke on the upbeat right before the next measure of music. It’s like a “pickup” into the next measure.

Moving the Upstroke Around

You can also feel free to experiment with the placement of that single upstroke. You can move it around to any of the other upbeats in the pattern.

For example:

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///

On this pattern, the upstroke happens between the 3rd and 4th downstroke.

Moving the upstroke to a different spot will change the vibe of the overall pattern. Experiment with placing the upstroke in different locations to see how it affects the feeling/sound of the above pattern. Try it out.

Downstroke + Upstroke

Next, we’ll try adding in an upstroke in between each downstroke.

This means the downstrokes will happen on the down beats (1, 2, 3 and 4) while the upstrokes happen right after on the up beats (the &s)

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Start out slowly, especially if you’re just a beginner. When you’re comfortable with the movements, you can speed up the metronome.

Skipping Strokes (Strumming With Rests)

The next patterns are similar to the above ones, but this time we’re going to either:

  • skip a downstroke or two OR
  • skip an upstroke or two

Skipping a strum (or not playing on a particular beat) in music is called a “rest.”

Here are a few example of how this pattern could work:

Skipping Upstrokes

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//

OR

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//

Skipping Downstrokes

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/

OR

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//

You’ll notice in the above patterns that skipping a downstroke means you’ll be playing 2 upstrokes back to back. It may feel awkward at first, but you’ll get more comfortable with practice.


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Skipping Up and Downstrokes

Finally, you can also mix and match which strokes you skip to come up with really interesting guitar rhythm patterns.

Here’s a few to try:

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OR

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OR

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///

Mess around with these pattern templates, trying all the different combinations of upstrokes/downstrokes + skipping strokes you can think of. Each one will give you a slightly different vibe.

The Gap

This next pattern can also be experimented with. It’s where you basically strum like regular, but add a rather long pause between certain strums/strokes.

Here’s an example:

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/////

OR

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////

Again, try experimenting with different gap/pause lengths and placements with the above templates. Each variation will give you a different sound and feeling.

The Muted Strum

This next pattern utilizes both up and downstrokes in a basic up/down eighth-note rhythm. But we’re throwing in some palm muting to give it a percussive element to it.

We’ll be using the bottom of our playing hand’s palm to lightly rest on the strings as you strum on beats 2 and 4. This pattern sort of mimics a drummer playing a snare drum.

Take this one slow if you’re just starting out – play the strums regularly, and when you see an X on one of the beats, use your palm to touch the strings before you do that particular strum. Then remove your palm from the strings before your next up/down stroke.

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Genre-Based Patterns

Now that you’ve got a grasp of some of the more basic strumming rhythms for guitar, let’s dive into some more complex ones.

These patterns aren’t much more difficult to do than the ones we’ve gone over already, but they’re beyond “the basics” we outlined above.

Certain types of patterns will give you a distinct sound and lend themselves nicely to certain styles/genres of music.

Watch out for the muting – some of the patterns contain muted strums. If you’re having trouble with muting, practice the above muting pattern until you’ve got it down in a fluid/smooth way. You can either use the bottom of your playing hand’s palm or the fingers of your fretting hand to mute the actual strings while you’re strumming.

We’ll go through patterns used in various genres and in specific popular songs throughout time.

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The MOST POPULAR Strumming Pattern of All Time

Let’s kick it off with what’s likely the most famous guitar strumming rhythm of all time. That might be a bit of an exaggeration (or an outright lie), but oh well… People be saying it.

It’s used in the popular track “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison.

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This is basically a variation of the “skipping strokes” styles of pattern that we’ve already gone over. In this case, you’re skipping the 1st upstroke and the 3rd downstroke.

Easy peasy right?

Southern Rock Pattern

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Light Rock Pattern

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The Traditional Reggae Strum

This is the most common reggae-style strum – especially in traditional and roots styles of reggae. It’s pretty simple and just plays on the up-beats of every measure. Try to play it in a very laid-back, dragging feel – slightly after the actual beat.

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////

The Other Reggae Feel

Here’s another reggae-style pattern that is a bit more dense than the above pattern.

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The Basic Country Waltz

This is a totally different guitar rhythm pattern than you’ve been playing so far.

Up until now, all of the patterns happen in 4/4 time (each pattern has FOUR beats per measure). The following pattern is actually done in 3/4 time – there are only 3 beats you count before repeating the pattern.

The pattern ALSO has a root/bass strum (you only strum the first string – the root or bass note – instead of all the strings) so watch out for the underlined downstroke on beat 1.

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//

Variations on the “Waltz”

Here are a few variations on the waltz style patterns. Some are played in 4/4 and others are played in 3/4.

Variation 1:

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Variation 2:

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Variation 3:

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///

Variation 4:

XX
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//

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Muted Sixteenths

For this pattern, we’re going back to 4/4 time. But we’re adding in some more beat subdivisions – sixteenth notes. Until now we’ve been playing eighth note patterns (1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &).

For this pattern we’re counting in sixteenth notes (1-e-&-a, 2-e-&-a, 3-e-&-a, 4-e-&-a). If you’re not sure how to count that, refresh yourself in our music theory time and rhythm guide.

The trick is to start TURTLE SPEED SLOW, to get the rhythm down before speeding up. Try playing it without a metronome at first.

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Gypsy Rock Pattern

The following pattern goes back to counting in eighth notes, but combines it with both string muting and root/bass note playing at the start.

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/

Funk/R&B Rhythm Pattern

This next pattern is a more funky groove and combines eighth notes, sixteenth notes AND muting and root note playing. It might be complicated at first, but you’ll get it. Also note that you don’t play anything for all of beat 4 (and most of beat 3, except the first count)

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///////////

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Funky Latin Style

This pattern is actually 2 measures/bars long. And it’s a little bit complicated, so take it slow and practice it in stages instead of trying to tackle the whole thing at once.

Bar/Measure 1:

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//////

Bar/Measure 2:

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Folky Groove

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/////

Punk Rock Pattern

This is a pretty basic pattern found in punk and metal – all downstrokes. You can also use this pattern combined with different note lengths, not just eighth notes like shown below.

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The Ballad

Since the following patterns can be used for ballads, they’re often played rather slowly. So don’t try and speed it up too much once you get it down.

Ballad Rhythm Variation 1:

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Ballad Rhythm Variation 2:

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/

The Indie Rock Pattern

This is a slightly altered version of the Stop and Stare pattern above. It has an extra upstroke on the “a” before beat 3. Other than that it’s the same.

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Modern Strum

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The Basic 3/4 Strum

This is another strumming pattern based on the 3/4 time signature (so you’re only counting in groups of 3). This time it uses an extra eighth note strum on the second beat.

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/

The Soca/Calypso Strumming Pattern

Even though it’s called the soca/calypso pattern, this strumming rhythm is also very popular in Reggaeton music.

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The Clave Strum

The clave is a rhythmic pattern found throughout the world and is traditionally associated with drums. But it can also be adapted to the guitar.

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Sixteenth Note Funk Strumming

This is another constant strumming pattern, this time using 16th notes. But every strum is muted, giving it that funky vibe. This may be tough at first, but with work you’ll get it.

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The Quarter Pick/Strum Pattern

This pattern is alternating playing a pick of the bass/root note, followed by a full strum on each quarter note of a measure using all downstrokes. It’s sounds great if you’re using 2 different chords per measure. So one chord for the first two beats, and a second chord for the next two beats.

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////

The Altered Pick/Strum

This next pattern is the exact same as the above pattern, but you add a quick upstroke on some of the eighth notes.

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//

Bluegrass Syncopated Strum

This eighth note pattern has a single picked bass note at the beginning, and strums throughout the rest of the measure.

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///

The Hybrid Strum

This is a bit of complicated pattern because you’re using both a strum with a pick, and picking individual strings with your fingers (hence the “hybrid” in the name – alluding to the hybrid guitar picking technique – read more). The * is where you finger pick the string. You’re also muting some of the strums. So take this one super slow at first.

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//////
***

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Strumming Patterns from Popular Songs

The next few strumming rhythms are from popular songs throughout history in a number of genres.

Some of these songs you’ll recognize and others you may not. It’s a good idea to listen to the song the pattern is derived from to really get a better understanding of how it can be played.

The Springsteen

This pattern can be heard in Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark,” hence the name. It’s a pretty simple pattern to get down.

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/

The Ramones Pattern

This is another pattern that uses all downstrokes, with a little bit more rhythmic complexity. Also, it sounds best when you strum the guitar and immediately mute the strings right after the initial attack of the sound.

1&2&3&4&
//

The Patience Strumming Pattern

This pattern gets it’s name from the Guns N Roses song “Patience.” It’s basically a variation of skipping certain strokes, like you learned earlier in this guide.

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//

Messing Up the Strokes

This is a pattern that can be heard in the song “Mess We’re In” by PJ Harvey and Thom Yorke. Notice that we start on an upstroke and also play two back to back upstrokes later in the measure.

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/

Losing My R-Rhythm Pattern

This is another 2 bar/measure pattern and it can be played with palm muting in various areas. The muting isn’t notated in the diagram below, but feel free to experiment with muting to get different sounds. You can hear this pattern in the song “Losing My Religion” by R.E.M.

Bar/Measure 1:

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//

Bar/Measure 2:

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//

The Thinking Out Loud Pattern

This pattern comes from the song by Ed Sheeran of the same name.

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////

The Proud Mary Pattern

This pattern is from CCR’s song “Proud Mary.”

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In The Middle

Another pattern from an iconic song, this one is from “Stuck In the Middle With You.” It’s similar to the above pattern, but contains an additional palm mute on beat 3

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Free Fallin Downstrokes

This easy 2-bar pattern uses all downstrokes and is from the song “Free Fallin” by Tom Petty. No mutes here, only rests.

Bar/Measure 1:

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//////

Bar/Measure 2:

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/////

Stop and Stare

This next pattern is from the One Republic song “Stop and Stare.” This one introduces accents, so try to get the dynamics of the pattern right. An accented strum is one that’s played more forcefully (or more aggressively) than the other strums.

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///////
>>

The Riptide Pattern

This is a fairly simple pattern that is a combo of skipping strokes and a slightly longer pause than just skipping a beat. It’s from the song “Riptide” by Vance Joy.

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///

Here’s a little variation to the above pattern to give you a slightly different feel:

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//

The Jim N Jack Pattern

This is a constant strumming pattern, where you’re strumming eighth notes. But there’s a emphasized muted strum on beats 2 and 4 of every measure – again, emulating a snare drum.

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1&2&3&4&

The Wonderwall Pattern

This pattern is a longer one that can seem complicated at first, but you’ll get used to it with some practice. It’s the same pattern used in the song “Wonderwall” by Oasis.

Bar/Measure 1:

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///////

Bar/Measure 2:

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/////

Important Tips for Beginners

Now that you’ve learned a few strumming patterns, let’s talk about some ways you can improve your technique and rhythm overall.

Practice these tips consciously – the more you pay attention to the details of your playing, the better and better you’ll start to sound.

Keep Your Strumming Hand Moving

When you’re playing your rhythm pattern, don’t stop moving your strumming hand even if you’re not hitting any strings. Keep the motion and momentum going. Simply move your hand slightly away from the strings so you don’t accidentally hit them when you’re not supposed to.

Doing this will help you keep your strumming smooth, since you’re not starting and stopping the movement of your hand. Plus, a lot of times you won’t have to think about whether you should be doing an upstroke or downstroke.

Keep Your Strumming Hand RELAXED

This can sometimes be difficult, especially if your rhythm part is supposed to be aggressive. But your strumming will be so much better if you can remember to keep your hand relaxed.

Don’t tense up your fingers or hold the pick too tightly. If you start to notice any tension try and relax more. You want to think of your strumming more like lightly/gently brushing the strings, rather than aggressively jamming down on them (unless of course, the song calls for a more aggressive style).

It can sometimes be helpful to also anchor your hand on the pick guard, but this may be too uncomfortable with some strumming patterns. Experiment with it to see if it helps.

Use Light Gauge Guitar Strings When Learning

When you’re learning how to strum, or working on internalizing the patterns, it can be very helpful to use extra light gauge strings on your guitar.

The reason for this is that lighter strings can make it easier to fret chords with your fretting hand, and keep your main focus on your strumming hand.

Get Your Body and Positioning Right

Bad technique is a big problem when learning to play well – it can hinder your ability more than you think. So getting your body and positioning right is very important.

Firstly, you need to maintain proper posture. It can be tough, but try not to slouch or bend your body/limbs in ways that may seem easier at first, but will cause you problems in the future.

What you’re sitting on makes a huge difference – don’t sink into a comfy couch and don’t sit on a chair with arms on it.

Your legs should be at a 90 degree angle, meaning your thigh is perpendicular to your shins/torso. For the leg your guitar is sitting on, having a very slight bend towards you can help secure the guitar from sliding away from you when playing.

Finally, don’t rest your fretting hand on your thigh or tuck it into your body. Your left elbow needs to be free to move around.

Demonstration of Good Guitar Playing Posture

Strum With Your Fingers or a Pick

It’s usually a good idea to NOT use your thumb to strum your guitar strings. It can potentially ruin the rest of your guitar playing technique. It’s better to always try strumming with either a pick or the rest of your fingers.

If you like the way your thumb sounds when strumming your guitar, try using a lighter pick instead.

Downstrokes Are Not the Same as Upstrokes

When you’re practicing, it’s important to keep one general rule in mind – downstrokes are the MAIN type of stroke, while upstrokes are just the “filler” strokes. Downstrokes are supposed to provide the main “meat of the sound and are the primary strokes in the rhythm pattern. Upstrokes are, again, just there to fill in the sound.

When you’re strumming, downstrokes should play every string in the chord since this stroke drives the song. Upstrokes, however, can only play the thinnest 2 or 3 strings on your guitar.

If you strum the exact same way with both upstrokes and downstrokes, your sound will be a little too robotic. You need to add some space and dynamics within the pattern you’re playing.

So remember, upstrokes and downstrokes ARE NOT the same thing. Practice the strokes slowly, and properly (all strings on downstrokes, a couple of the thinner strings on an upstroke).

Balance Your String Use

This is more of an advanced tip, so don’t worry about being able to get it down right away. But it’s good to be aware of, even as a beginner.

When you’re using a 6-string guitar, it can be helpful to think of them in separate groups of 2 strings each. The 2 thickest strings are the “low range” strings while the 2 thinnest strings are the “high range” strings. The two in the middle are obviously the “mid range” strings.

When you’re playing guitar chords (learn more) in a rhythm pattern, it can sound a bit robotic if you’re just hitting all 6 strings all the time. So you can start to emphasize the different “ranges” of strings on each strum to add some dynamics and nuance to your playing.


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Frequently Asked Questions

Does it Matter Where You Strum a Guitar?

Yes, where you strum the strings can affect the sound that’s generated by the guitar. Try it out yourself. Try strumming the guitar strings right on top of the sound hole, and then try strumming the strings closer to the fretboard (or even on the fret board). You’ll notice that the sound that’s generated can change quite a bit. The fullest sound can be achieved closer to the guitar’s sound hole.

How Can I Improve My Guitar Strumming?

The best way to improve your ability to strum a guitar is to choose a single pattern (preferably a simple one) and focus all your effort on the technique you’re using. Don’t worry about forming or changing chords at first. You can use a single chord to practice, or even use all open strings, just to get better at the technique you’re using. First work on the fluidity of your strumming hand, then focus on which strings you hit with each stroke, how soft/hard you strum (i.e. dynamics), etc.

Can You Strum a Guitar Too Hard?

Yes you can strum a guitar too hard. But it all depends on what the song calls for. Some songs sound best when using a light or gentle brushing of the strings, while other songs sound best with a very aggressive, “hard” strum. Of course, if you’re strumming with an ungodly amount of force/pressure, you can end up snapping strings, so try to be careful.

How Do You Know When to Strum a Guitar?

Guitar strumming is something that’s done to help provide rhythm to a song. If you’re playing as part of a band you’ll likely strum a lot for most of the song, providing the harmonic foundation (i.e. the chords) for the piece. But then there will be some sections of a song where you may want to play a solo which is done by mostly picking the strings. There are also certain guitar parts that will require a hybrid approach – where you both strum and pick strings individually.

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    Final Thoughts

    This was a pretty long – and hopefully comprehensive – guide on all the different rhythm patterns you want to practice as a beginner guitar player.

    Don’t think that you have to learn every single pattern presented here. Rather, try them all out, and then start to regularly practice your favorite ones.

    Once you’re comfortable with those, you can start adding more to your repertoire.

    I recommend starting with 2-3 patterns, and making sure your technique is solid and on point. Play around with dynamics and the nuances possible when playing these guitar rhythms.

    Once you’re starting to get really good at the technique of the first 2-3, start to add on more guitar strumming patterns after.

    If you really want to become a better guitar player fast, I highly recommend you check out Guitar Tricks (14 Day Free Trial) – they’ve got a TON of in-depth video lessons on everything you could possibly want to learn.

    Thats all for now, thanks for reading!

    Up next, we recommend learning about different guitar playing skills – read now.


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    About The Author:

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    Omar Zulfi

    Omar Zulfi is a music producer, rapper, singer, songwriter and digital entrepreneur. He is the founder and head writer at Deviant Noise. Learn more about what he's doing by clicking here.