How do I know what guitar strum to choose?

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I get this question all the time from students. They watch a video of their favorite song and try to discern what the guitarist’s right hand is doing. Sometimes that works, but too often it’s a video made with some fan’s five-year-old iPhone after five beers, and really, how much can you see? (If you’re still confused after reading this post, contact me here. I teach via Skype.)

For many songs, you just need to learn the strum pattern and play only that for the whole song. Practice it until you don’t have to think about what your right hand is doing. (I’m talking about the strumming hand. Sorry if I’m confusing the lefties.)

Most rock, country and folk are in 4/4 time. If you can’t read music, no worries. If you can count to four, you’re good.

Note that I’m using “D” for down stroke and “U” for upstroke.

The simplest strum pattern on the planet is:

D D D D

Choose an easy chord and simply strum down in an even tempo, like the clicking of a clock or a march. Do it over and over again. Don’t try to play the song, just practice the pattern.

Now it’s time to branch out and play one of my favorite strum patterns:

D D U D D U, or if you’re counting, 1 2& 3 4&

It’s still a total of four beats, it’s just that you’re putting two into one when you use the upstroke.

Here’s a really popular strum pattern:

D D U U D U

Here’s the same pattern, using arrows:

strum pattern 3That one works well for “Good Riddance” and “Brown Eyed Girl.”

Here’s a video where he shows you a couple of strums, including the very basic one I mention first:

You can use any of these strums for any song in 4/4, and like I say above, that’ll be almost anything you want to learn. You may not sound like Clapton right away, but it’s a good place to start.

Another time signature you may run into is 3/4 time (waltz time). It’s not as common as 4/4. More about that in a future post.

Now you’ve got the strums – find the chords for your favorite songs. Check out my earlier posts for great songs for beginner guitarists here and here.

Check out this later post and video tutorial about choosing a strum.

Nothing beats a live teacher. I teach via Skype and in my home studio in Ottawa, ON. Contact me here to find out more.

Did you find this post helpful? Please consider keeping me in coffee and my cats in kibble. And it’s only $2.

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About jamiebobamie

Musician - teacher - writer - gets bored easily. I write an almost-weekly blog that includes true stories gathered from 20-plus years of touring, how-to articles for musicians and profiles of performers. Also, I love dark chocolate, I can play "Brown Eyed Girl" behind my head, and I twirl the baton badly.
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4 Responses to How do I know what guitar strum to choose?

  1. karen.munro.caple@gmail.com says:

    Jamie, I don’t even play guitar and I found this interesting! May be I could use it for massaging. Stroke stroke down down stroke down stroke…wait…is that the mambo?

    Sent from my HTC

  2. Ambrosia says:

    Thanks! This really helped me 🙂

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