Proper Guitar Strumming Technique
Apr 21 2015
Strumming is a basic technique and the starting point for many people first learning how to play guitar. Learning basic guitar chords is usually very easy and leaves a lot of margin for error, which means it does not take a large amount of time to get to a point where a strumming piece sounds reasonably good. The disadvantage to this is that it allows a lot of poor techniques to slip through, which can cause problems as you try to play songs that are a little more elaborate.
Some beginners get a little over enthusiastic and strum chords with as much force as possible. In some cases, this can cause the strings to bounce into the frets, producing unpleasant sounding noises. Even if the chord sounds fine, accents are an issue to learn to play. An accent is a strum that is played louder than the rest of the song.
If a guitarist is already strumming as hard as possible, they cannot play accents, which can mess up how some songs sound. Electric guitar users only need to learn to strum guitar chords hard enough that all the notes sound clear. In that instance, the overall volume should be adjusted with the amplifier. Acoustic guitar users do have to adjust the amount of force they use to make the guitar audible to their entire audience. However, if a guitar must be played as hard as possible to be audible to the audience, then that is a situation where some sort of amplification needs to be used. There is a good bit of leeway with the amount of force used, but strums should be strong enough to be clear, but soft enough not to cause fret bounce or prevent accents from being played.
Strumming should not be treated as a swinging motion. On very simple strumming patterns, that works fine, but it can make some more elaborate ones all but impossible to play. Strumming consists of two motions, a down stroke and an up stroke. In many cases, they are linked so fluidly it can seem like one motion, but both still exist as separate parts. In some cases, multiple down strokes or up strokes can be used in a row or the pattern between down strokes and up strokes can follow a shifting pattern. If you conceptualize it as one movement rather than two combined movements, these more complex patterns are very difficult. It might seem like an esoteric difference, but it is a tangible physical issue. Strumming is a muscle memory based skill. Any time you perform a motion in your muscle memory, your muscles want to do the whole motion from start to finish. Getting your body to only play an up stroke or change timing patterns is quite difficult if you learn to strum guitar chords as a continuous swinging motion.
Some new guitarists often find the up stroke more difficult than the down stroke. Many people never have this issue, but it is fairly frequent. The problem is that, despite the name, the down stroke and up stroke are not quite opposite motions. When you play a down stroke, the pick is essentially perpendicular to the strings. When you play an up stroke, the pick should be at a slight angle. The angle is instinctively created as your wrist moves when strumming. The problem is that if you are only strumming with the elbow, your wrist is not moving. When learning to strum guitar chords, keep your wrist a little loose when strumming and the up stroke problem goes away on its own.