As a guitar player, you need to develop your guitar strumming hand to play in-sync with a beat. Rhythm is so important to get to grips with early on so your rhythm will be seamless and second nature, like breathing (or is that first nature?).
You will have the chance to play along with my “online band” back on the beginner guitar lessons page to really test your rhythmic playing and guitar strumming!
The strumming pattern you use determines several things, but the most important is when to change chords.
I’m going to take you through 4 different strumming patterns, each one progressively more complex, but an essential foundation of rhythmic guitar strumming. You’ll be learning upstrokes and downstrokes with your plectrum (or “pick”).
The first essential pointer is to relax your strumming hand. A tense hand will sound like it is – rigid. Plus, a relaxed hand is more rhythmically versatile. Almost let momentum carry the strumming hand up and down.
A way to tell if you’re doing it right is to check your wrist is doing most of the work here. Your arm should support the movement, but your wrist joint should provide the leverage for the strumming.
If you’re playing an acoustic, strike the strings over the sound hole, a little more towards the neck of the guitar.
Guitar Strumming Pattern 1
For this exercise, no wait, I hate that word! For this…section, I want you to play along using the A major chord.
We’re going to start with a simple downstroke pattern. I want you to count in groups of 4 to help you keep your rhythm and perhaps put more emphasis on your guitar strumming on beat number 1.
Each arrow pointing down represents one downward (towards your legs) strum of the guitar – in this case, each strum is downwards.
That’s a simple 4/4 guitar strumming rhythm used commonly in rock and pop music (not important to know that).
Now, onwards and upwards…
Guitar Strumming Pattern 2 – Making Things a Little More Interesting!
Once you’ve mastered the basic guitar strumming rhythm and you think you have a solid timing you should learn to combine those downstrokes with upstrokes for a more accessible rhythm.
Still playing the A major chord, let’s look at our next strumming pattern.
I know this sounds really lame, but play the A major chord and sing along with the “1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and 1 etc.”
You’re basically filling in that small gap in between those initial downstrokes with an upstroke. This adds some movement to the rhythm.
Notice how I’ve put emphasis on the downstrokes – this supports that strong 4/4 rhythm, especially in rock n roll songs.
The guitar clearly sounds more percussive and versatile thanks to those added upstrokes.
Ok, if you’re following this, you’re doing great. It’s time to move on another step…
Guitar Strumming Pattern 3 – Skipping a Beat
First – for this pattern I’m using the G major chord.
You’ve heard of that cheesy phrase “my heart skipped a beat” – well to add a little spice to your guitar strumming rhythm you can consistently leave out a beat in the bar.
Say it to yourself: “one two – two, one two – two” but strum the air with your strumming hand like you did with pattern 2 (the rhythmic motion of 1 2 3 4). Take a breath in between the two twos!
Look at the diagram – where the X lies just mimic a downstroke, don’t actually play it. All you are really doing here is what you did in the second strumming pattern but taking out a downstroke every three beats.
This one will take a little more practise if you’ve just started to learn, but start off slow, work from the first strumming pattern again if you lose your rhythm and keep building on it.
The next step is to just combine the two last guitar strumming patterns together to create a kind of alternate rhythm (still within 4/4 rock n roll though!)
Guitar Strumming Pattern 4 – The 4/4 Combo
I’m using the D Major chord for this example as detailed below if you’re still learning chords…
Some really well written songs with interesting chords can keep the same rhythm all throughout and not become boring, but it helps to liven up the rhythmic aspect of any music
See how they fit together? With this particular time sig, everything’s done in groups of 4, so changes are made to coincide with the start of a new 1 2 3 4…
Ok, so it’s not really a rhythm you would attach to your next number one smash hit record, but it’s good to learn rhythm variations to get your guitar strumming hand coordination up to scratch.
How About Inventing Your Own Rhythms?
Draw out a diagram similar to the ones you’ve seen on this page with up and down arrows representing the up and down strokes, plus any symbols you want to attach to a certain rhythm characteristic.
Try taking out beats constantly, e.g. every 4th beat do the normal upstroke but don’t hit the strings to “miss that beat”.
Keep the rhythm constant so your hands will stay in sync with what’s going on.
If you feel like you’re losing the timing, think back to that second pattern, 1 2 3 4, up down up down – keep that strong 4/4 rhythm branded in your mind to start with.
You can look at more complex strumming patterns and time signatures in other areas of this site for genres like funk, jazz and heavy metal!
Experiment with guitar strumming patterns and see if you can change it for what may be the bridge or chorus of a possible song (rhythmically). The more comfortable and relaxed you feel, the better.
Need More Beginner Guitar Lessons?
Use the “Beginners” link on the left column or use the links below.
Keep at it!