Once you know your basic beginners chords, you’ll want to learn how to strum chords. This is the point where you actually start making real music, and you’ll see that strumming the chords you've learned is relatively easy.

Actually, if you know 3-5 chords, you know how to change between them, and you learn how to strum, you can already play hundreds, if not thousands of songs.

Strumming is a very important aspect of playing the guitar. It requires a good sense of rhythm, timing, syncopation and versatile fretting finger movement. Now if you don’t have these yet, don’t worry, the good part is that strumming develops all of these skills, and more.

TIP: You may want to check out our video guitar lesson on strumming. It’ll be really helpful, and it shows you how to play Knocking on Heavens Door!

How to Strum the Guitar

  • Start off by using a light plectrum. Later on, you’ll learn how to strum with the edge of your thumb, and your index finger as well.
  • Hold down any E major chord (or any chord that uses all 6 strings), and brush your plectrum downwards, hitting all the strings.
    • On acoustic guitars, you strum over the sound hole
    • On electric guitars, you strum over the first pickup
  • Make sure you use your entire forearm, and just leverage the movement with your wrist. Don’t just move your wrist without moving your forearm. Strumming originates from the elbow.
  • Make these movements as natural as possible. Relax your strumming hand, loosen your wrist, and just glide across the strings.
  • Your up-strums may be weak at first, but don’t worry, it will develop with time.
  • If your pick gets caught in the strings, you’ll have to adjust its angle so it doesn’t get caught. This is most common when strumming upwards.

Beginner Strumming Patterns

Let’s look over some beginner strumming patterns. Once you get a feel for each pattern, try changing chords during the strumming sequence. I’d advise you use the G-D-C chord progression, as its fairly easy, sounds really good and is used in tons of songs.

4 Down Strums

Hold down any chord, and strum the following rhythm of quarter notes, should be pretty simple. Once you get it going, try changing chords without stopping the rhythm of strumming.

4 down strumming patter

4 Down-up strums

You will be strumming 8th notes unlike before, since you will be integrating the up strum into the previous exercise. Your up strum won’t have as much volume at first, you’ll need to work at it slowly.

Once you are comfortable with the rhythm and the upward strum, try changing chords without halting the strumming pattern. Strum with the pattern even while you are changing chords and your fingers aren’t holding down anything, it’ll sound good. You might want to watch this video and see it up closely.

4 down-up strumming

Skipping a beat

This is where we start getting creative, and our strumming start resembling a song. Try this rhythm for yourself, and again, change chords once you are comfortable with the strumming pattern.

Down-down-up strumming pattern

Accented strums

Strumming the guitar with accenting a given strum will really spice up your playing. All you have to do is strum harder on given strums. Try this strumming pattern rhythm.

Accented strumming pattern

3/3 time, accented strums

You won’t always be playing in 4/4, try this rhythm.

3/3rd time strumming

Creative strumming patterns

Remember when I mentioned that with just a couple of chords, you can play hundreds of songs? Well, this is the reason. You can make up any strumming pattern you want, the point is that it has to harmonize with the rhythm of the song. How do you know when its in harmony with the song? Well, if it sounds good, it is good 🙂

Try this pattern:

Creative guitar strumming pattern

Advanced strumming tips

  • Add abrupt stops into the pattern by muting the strings either by lifting your fretting fingers slightly, or muting the strings with your strumming hand.
  • Hit the strings with your strumming hand to add a percussive feel.
  • Adding proper palm muted strums increases the percussive feel even more.

Strumming the guitar is all about timing and rhythm. Its not hard, you just have to get a feel for it. You will drop your pick at times (even through the sound hole of the acoustic guitar 🙂 ), but don’t worry, its all part of the learning process.

And remember that if you're just starting out, make sure you watch our video lesson on strumming. Have a look at our video guitar lesson on strumming.