When you’re starting out, the focus is quite rightly on learning chords. Once you’re comfortable playing a few, it’s time to check out a strum pattern or two.
In this article, you’ll learn how to play some essential strumming patterns for beginners that sound great on an electric or acoustic guitar. We take you through the basic technique before showing you several patterns that can really liven up your playing.
Here’s what we’ll cover. Don’t worry, you won’t get bogged down with music theory.
Table of Contents
- Guitar Strumming Technique and Tips
- Learning to Strum – The Basics
- 10 Popular Strum Patterns
- Next Steps
Guitar Strumming Technique and Tips
Before we start, here are some general tips:
Keep your Wrist Loose
First up, it’s important to keep a loose, relaxed wrist when you play. You might remember Jack Black on ‘School Of Rock’ instructing his young student to be, “loosey-goosey, baby!”. Well, that applies to you. Keeping loose (while keeping time) is the key to a great rhythm.
Hold your Pick Correctly
The way you hold your pick is important and has a direct impact on your strumming technique. Ensure that you’re holding it between your thumb and forefinger, making sure the right amount of plectrum is sticking out. Some players prefer to use thin picks as the flexibility gives makes it easier to keep it loose. Experiment with different types of picks of varying material, thickness, and shape. Remember, whatever works for you.
Listen to the Rhythm
While we include diagrams for correct strumming technique, this music we’re making, not a factory production line, so use the charts only as a guide. Listen to the rhythm and try to play it as naturally as possible. Some of the greatest guitarists had very peculiar styles, don’t shy away from finding your own unique style.
Ok, let’s get started.
Learning to Strum – The Basics
How To Read The Diagrams
Throughout this lesson, we’ll be using a few symbols to indicate whether a given pattern needs a downstroke, upstroke, or if you need to mute the strings. Here are the main symbols we’ll be using:
Strumming Pattern #1: All Downstroke Strumming
If you’re new to the guitar, this one is the first to practice and will get you used to playing in time. It’s also the basis for all of the more complex strumming patterns to come.
Try counting out loud “1, 2, 3, 4”. When you get used to that, put on a metronome and try it again. Then grab a guitar, and try it on any chord. It’s important that you hit all of the beats, so be strict with yourself. When you can do it on one chord, try changing chord every time you get back around to ‘1’.
Strumming Pattern #2: Adding an Upstroke
Now you’re used to playing in time, it’s time to add an upstroke. Most common strumming patterns combine downstrokes and upstrokes, so it’s one that you should get used to early on.
When you go ‘up’, it’s usually between two beats. So, instead of counting 1 2 3 4 here, we need to count, 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +.
Start by playing the first strumming pattern as you count, 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +, then when you feel ready, strum upwards on the third ‘+’. This can take some getting used to, as you need to go straight back down again on the ‘4’, but keep on counting the beats and trying it out and you’ll soon get used to it!
Again, try moving chords every time you hit the ‘1’.
Strumming Pattern #3: Moving the Upstroke
So, now you’re used to adding an ‘up’, let’s see if we can move it.
This time, as you can see, we go ‘up’ between the second and third beats. This has quite a country vibe, which will prepare you for the popular country and folk styles.
Remember to start off practicing with a metronome, slowly introducing chord changes and prioritizing staying in time over getting all the shapes in.
Strumming Pattern #4: Down And Upstrokes
Now you’re used to doing upstrokes, let’s see if we can do it after every single beat.
Arguably, this is easier than having just one upstroke, as you don’t have to think as much. However, staying in time is a skill and moving chords mid-strum is something to practice. When you nail this, try doing it with a ‘swing’. This means that all of your downstrokes last slightly longer than your upstrokes. One easy way to think of it is using the word, “Boogie.” For every ‘down’-’up’ that you play, say the word, “Boogie.” This will get you playing in a swing rhythm, which is a signature part of lots of blues music. You can hear this in Bob Dylan’s ‘Simple Twist of Fate’.
Now that you’re familiar with the basics, it’s time to learn some that will make your playing stand out from the crowd. We’re going to look at blues, reggae, folk, pop and more, to help turn you into a versatile guitarist who can jump from genre to genre. The first few will use eighth notes, like the above, but as they progress, sixteenth notes will be introduced to add rhythmic variation to your playing.
10 Popular Strum Patterns
1) Southern Rock
The first we’re going to look at has a Southern Rock style. It combines down strokes and up strokes, with the downs striking on beats 1, 2 and 4 and the upstrokes happening on the ‘and’ after beat 2 as well as the ‘and’ following 3.
It feels quite natural to play an upstroke after beat 2, as you’ve just played a downstroke, but adding the one after 3, which hasn’t got a strum on it, can take a bit of getting used to. In the video below, Vicky Genfan makes it easier by counting, “1, 2 + 3 + 4” several times, then, “down, down up, up down.” Saying it out loud can help you to make sense of what you’re playing as well as encouraging your strumming hand to do the right thing.
In the video, Vicky plays Em, Em7, Am and Am7, each for a bar’s length. These chords work well to establish a rocky feel and are an easy, fun selection to move between.
2) Light Rock
This light rock sequence introduces muting. This is achieved by flattening your fretting hand across the strings without pushing down onto the fretboard, then hit all the strings as usual. This is easiest to achieve when you use barre chords or power chords, as your first finger is already in the position to cover all the strings.
The light rock progression has a 70s/80s vibe to it. Vikki Genfan demonstrates this one using barre chords A, E, D then back to E, moving chords halfway through each bar. This gives you time to move between the chords as you play the muted strums and produces an effect that’s very similar to Rainbow’s ‘Since You Been Gone’ and wouldn’t sound out of place in a Bryan Adams song.
3) Simple Reggae
Reggae rhythm is all about accenting beats 2 and 4, rather than 1 and 3. This one uses eighth notes, with the first two muted, the second two strummed. The third pair is also muted, whilst 4 has a strum followed by a rest.
As there are muted chords here, it’s advisable to use barre chords or power chords when playing this. In the video demonstration, Vikki plays half-barre chords on F#m and Bm/F#. This keeps you nicely in position around the second fret and produces a simple reggae vibe that’s easy to groove along with. Try F#m for two bars, Bm/F# for one bar, then F#m for one more, as is shown in the example below.
When you get used to it, try it with other reggae songs such as Horace Andy, Burning Spear or The Congos. Remember to loosen your hand as you mute, so you don’t get unwanted notes ringing out.
4) Country Waltz
And now for something completely different. The Country Waltz is in 3 / 4 timing and introduces root note bass picking. When you see ‘R’ on the diagram below, it means to simply play the root note of the chord, which will be whatever the first note is that your pick strikes.
This works well for ballads, but can also be sped up for lively 3 / 4 songs. It starts on a root note, then has a quarter note down-stroke followed by two eighth notes going down-up. Then it repeats. The example in the video goes from G to G/B, to Cadd9 which lasts for two bars. Moving from G to G/B is an example of chord embellishment, which is commonly used in chord progressions that include isolated bass notes.
When you’ve mastered Vicky’s example chord progression, try it with some Leonard Cohen songs such as ‘Bird on the Wire’ or ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’.
5) Driving Quarters
Next up we have something a little more advanced and can take some time to truly nail.
Despite the name, the ‘Driving Quarters’ sequence introduces sixteenth notes and hybrid picking. Hybrid picking is when you use your fingers to pluck the strings, at the same time as holding your pick.
As you can see, the sixteenth notes are muted, and also just on one string. The chosen string in Vicky’s example is the D string, as she moves between chords Bm7b13, Em11 and A7sus4 in DADGAD tuning. Don’t panic if that sounds complicated, it really isn’t, as you can see in the video.
6) Soul Sixteenths
More sixteenth notes! This time, there are only strums and mutes, but they move around in an interesting way which makes it exciting to listen to and fun to play.
You’ll notice that it has a Hendrix-esque vibe, so you could try it with the trusty ‘Hendrix Chord’ – E7#9. However, in the example, Vicky does a bar on Em7 then A7, then repeats. It sounds bluesy, a bit funky and the chords are easy to switch between.
7) Gypsy Rock
The Gypsy Rock formation is a bit simpler than the previous two (thankfully!), as it’s entirely made of eighth notes. It starts with a root note, then does two normal eighth note strums followed by two muted strums. To finish, there’s one more normal strum, then a mute. It’s easiest to follow by looking at the diagram.
In the example, Vicky does a bar on Am followed by a bar on E, then repeats. This makes it really simple and also brings out those gypsy vibes as the open minor chords have a cheeky, mysterious sound. When you’re muting these open chords, be careful to flatten your fingers across the strings without pushing down, but there’s no need to move them too far away. Watch how it’s done in the video.
8) Funky R&B
This funky R&B combo combines root notes, sixteenth notes and rests.
The two root notes at the beginning work best when played palm muted and staccato, hence the small dots and PMs beneath the ‘R’s, then it’s important to get the rhythm on beats 2 and 3 just right to get the funky, groovy R&B feel you can hear in the video below.
It’s quite simple to play, but with the right chords, it can be extremely effective. In the example video, C#m, G#m7, Bm and F#m7 are played for a bar each.
9) Funky Latin
This funky Latin number is two bars long, and it’s likely to take a bit of practice.
It uses eighth and sixteenth notes, strummed barre chords and mutes.
As with the other more complex patterns, we recommend that you tackle this in stages.
Look at the diagram again, take your time, remember to change chord on beat 4 and you’ll soon be sounding superbly Latino.
10) Folky Hop
The final progression combines folk and hip hop. It’s arguably the most complex here, though it’s only one bar in length.
Try it with chords A, Em7, G5 and GMaj7.
There’s a lot to digest here, so take your time. If you’re a beginner, take your time to introduce each strumming pattern into your repertoire as you try them out in songs you know and love. If you’re an experienced musician, why not take these progressions and use them in your next performance or use them to write new songs.
We encourage musicians of all levels to use them all creatively, changing the chords you use and the contexts within which you place the rhythms. After all, where would innovation be without experimentation?
If you liked these 10 sequences and want more, we have some good news. These lessons with Vicky Genfan were taken from a course called ’30 Strumming Patterns You MUST Know’ from the superb online guitar school TrueFire. In this article we looked at 10, by joining the course you unlock a further 20, along with jam tracks to play along to. For our readers, TrueFire has offered us a 25% discount on the price of the course. Check it out here, and use the promo code ‘ZING25’ to get your discount. Enjoy 🙂