Want to know a pro-guitarist secret? Chords alone don’t make a song. You’ve gotta learn solid strumming patterns for guitar to make your playing sound great.
It’s so common for beginners to rush through learning a few basic chords and slap them onto songs, only to find that they sound.. well.. kinda rubbish.
Strumming is the most underrated guitar skill. So many could-be-great guitarists fall short because they never learnt a good, strong strumming pattern. Instead they spend all their time learning riffs, licks and solos.
So today, I’m going to teach you the core strumming patterns for guitar greatness. These are the most important strums beginner guitarists can use to develop a strong sense of timing and fluidity.
And that is going to make your playing impressive.
How to Strum a Guitar
Strumming is the right hand rhythmic movement of your plectrum across the strings.
Yes, you need to use a guitar pick (aka plectrum). If you don’t, you’ll never gain full control and mastery of the strumming styles.
For beginning students, or anyone struggling to stay in time, I suggest that you use the old KISS method – Keep It Simple Stupid. Because staying in time is WAY more important than how flashy your playing is.
You see it in great drummers like Ringo Starr (The Beatles) and Charlie Watts (Rolling Stones). These guys are the backbone of two of the most popular bands of all time, yet they’re the least flashy. Their drumming styles are renowned for their restraint. Neither of them are show offs. They use rhythm and simplicity to drive the music, and it sounds great.
That’s what your guitar strumming should replicate. Reliable. Consistent. Solid.
Get that right, and you’ll rock the socks off your audience.
Strumming Patterns For Guitar - 2 Methods
There’s two approaches to strumming patterns – intuitive and formulaic.
You see formulaic patterns on guitar education sites, guitar tabs and books. They’re written out like Down-Down-Down-Up-Down or D-D-D-U-D. The idea is that you follow the direction with your hand, and scratch out a sound.
Intuitive strumming patterns are challenging to explain. You learn to feel them as your guitar skills develop. While your strumming hand is still moving up or down (because there ain’t any other direction you can go) the focus is on flow, rhythm and drive.
Many formulaic patterns are taught to beginners, but the best strumming patterns for guitar are intuitive, not formulaic. And here’s why:
Formulaic strumming patterns make guitarists sound robotic and stilted. And that’s no good for musicality.
People who teach this style fail to acknowledge that few guitarists ever use those patterns across a whole song. And that’s bad for you. Because you’ll never sound like a great guitarist if you don’t learn to strum like one.
Beginner-Friendly Strumming Patterns
Instead of crappy D-D-D-U-D nonsense, I teach my students to play with feel. Sure, we all start have to start somewhere, and for complete beginners, I recommend these three strums:
Simple Down Strum
The down strum is exactly what it sounds like. You strum down the strings, from your heart to your knees. It’s the simplest way to get started. Don’t underestimate this strum. If you can make a song sound good with a simple down strum then you’re on the right path to your timing.
This is where you strum the chord and let the guitar ring out. It creates a spacious sound, great for moody songs, slow songs and beginners! It’s fantastic for learning to sing and play. You just strum the chord once, or twice if there’s room, each time there’s a chord change. It’s an effective style for all levels of guitarists. Remember sometimes it’s what you don’t play – the space in between – that makes music sound really cool.
Continuous Up-Down Strum
AKA Continuous Strumming. This is very simple, you just strum down and then up and then down in a continuous motion like a piston. Don’t try and do this too fast at first or you may get flustered and go out of time. Just make a smooth clean motion up and down with your hand – think Daniel-Son painting Mr Miyagi’s fence. Be sure your timing is accurate – checking with a metronome is never a bad idea.
Next-Level Strumming Patterns
Once you’ve covered the basics, I recommend you start working on the following strumming styles.
This strumming pattern is all about where you put the accent in your playing. It’s all about the BOOM versus the bop. The big sound and the little. The chugga-CHUGga-chugga-CHUGga. Emphasis strumming allows you to create dynamics in your sound, highlighting a particular beat as the song requires.
This rhythm creates a driving percussive sound by keeping the strings semi-muted by your right palm while you do short driving strums with the pick. It’s used extensively in alternative genres, but also in dreamy, ethereal pop songs and moody blues. It’s much more diverse than you’d think. A little tricky to get the knack of, but worth learning once you’re beyond the basics.
This is where you feel what the music needs and you combine a group of strumming patterns to create the sound that best follows the music. This is what I use a lot. It means you can go from a continuous strum to hangs to create dynamics in a song. Or you can switch between down strumming and continuous strumming. You can even add half strums if needed. The two ingredients vital to this intuitive strumming is timing and feel. Intuitive strumming is far superior to formulaic patterns. It takes your time, but it’s worth it.
Guitar Strumming Tips to Sound Great
It’s ok to dumb it down, just keep your playing simple and in time while you’re learning. The easiest way to do this is find songs that you can play along to, jam with friends, use a metronome. But most importantly, keep it fun.
It takes time to develop your sense of rhythm and stamina. Stamina is developed by playing along – in time – for long continuous periods and is VERY IMPORTANT.
The way to get there is with manageable chunks of practice regularly. This is way more important than doing 4 hours on a Sunday and then not playing all week, consistency will get you there faster than big sporadic chunks of playing. I have a 10 day crash course that only requires you to play 10 minutes a day for those 10 days and it has great results.
Now you know the best strumming patterns for guitar – it’s time to start using them!
But give yourself some focus. Don’t get swallowed up in a YouTube rabbit hole. Set yourself a goal. Structure your learning with a teacher or online guitar course. Or apply your new strums to beginner-friendly rock songs.
Most important, have fun. Strumming, just like any guitar skill, takes a bit of time to nail down. That’s ok. You’ve got time.
Be kind to yourself, and enjoy the process.