How is Your Guitar Strumming Technique?
Firstly, if you need help on basic/beginner guitar strumming technique, I suggest you visit our Beginner’s Strumming Lesson.
Otherwise, welcome! This lesson is all about putting the rhythm in rhythm guitar
When playing rhythm guitar you have to learn to control both your strumming hand and your fretting hand – that may seem obvious, but when faced with both at the same time, it’s easy to get into a musical mess.
Let’s get to grips with some essential guitar strumming technique! Follow the audio and diagrams…
Guitar Strumming Technique – Timing Your Punch
When playing rhythm guitar, it’s useful to think of your playing in a percussive sense, supporting the drums. This in mind, the bass strings on your guitar can complement the timing of the bass drum and the top strings are then free to jump around whatever time signature you’re in.
Listen to the audio below and hear when the bottom strings are struck – try to imagine the drumbeat shaped around it…
Now take a look at the diagram to map out your upstrokes (towards your head) and down strokes (towards the floor, unless you’re a bat)
Guitar strumming technique
See how the black down stroked time with the bass punch of the rhythm leaving the upstrokes to create a pattern around those marker points.
It’s all about keeping the time signature strict, but the rhythm free.
Let’s move on so I can…uh…explain this better.
Guitar Strumming Technique – Stop/Start Dynamics
Used a lot in funk and soul music, stop/start rhythmic playing builds on this percussive quality the guitar has.
We’re using the same pattern as above, but this time we’re creating a skip in the beat by using our strumming hand’s palm to mute the strings at the right place.
Take a listen first…
The black dots symbolize a palm mute stop in the rhythm just like in the audio clip.
Each “stop” lasts for a split second, so this is good rhythm co-ordination practice for you – you have to mute and lift-off during that small space of time you have between those downstroke bass marker points.
Start by JUST playing the bass string downstrokes at the correct times in the pattern, and once you’re comfortable, add in the upstrokes, and then the stops – one layer at a time.
Guitar Strumming Technique – Barre Stops
Similar to the last example, except this time we are playing barre chords which allows us to use our fretting hand to mute. Here’s how…
When you barre the chord, whether it’s an E, A, C or D shape barre, you can stop the chord from ringing out any time by simply raising your fretting hand slightly so the strings are raised off the freeboard.
You can use this as a guitar-strumming technique to spice up your rhythms. This style used a lot in Ska and Reggae music. You will know why when you hear the example…
Guitar strumming techniques
Therefore, you can hear from the clip that the chord executions are sharp, quick and dampened to create a jumpy, excited rhythm. This can complement the drums brilliantly.
The secret is to keep that fretting hand in strict rhythmic movements so even if you were constantly strumming (up-down-up-down etc.), you should only hear the chords ring out when they supposed to when your fretting hand squeezes the string down.
Guitar Strumming Technique – Samba
The Samba rhythm used in Bossa Nova music was a lot of the rhythmic focus on the guitar and picking.
In the audio clip below, listen to how the timing of the higher strings struck meets with the hi-hat cymbal. The pattern made by these hi-hats gives the rhythm its mildly off-meter feel because it seems to jump in a touch early.
Now, with this strumming pattern, the bass and treble strings can work together rhythmically which is why the diagram has significantly more downstrokes than upstrokes – because down strokes create that sharp, rhythmic stab (although not as violent as that!)
You should also learn, with this rhythm, to separate hitting the bass string (the root note) of the chord your playing with the rest of the chord. This is also an integral part of Bossa Nova and traditional Brazilian music.
If you have a classical nylon string acoustic guitar, even better!
Guitar Strumming Technique – 3/4 time
“Beat” as we know it, measured in time signatures. The most common in rock music is 4/4 where there are 4 lots of 4 beats.
3/3 time is 3 lots of 3 beats
3/4 time (below) is 4 lots of 3 beats!
The dots indicate the dominant beats, the marker points that keep you in rhythm.
Western ears have become conditioned into hearing 4 repetitions of phrasing before a musical change occurs.
So, with the 3/4 time signature in mind, take a listen to the clip below…
So the dominant beats highlighted by a strong downstroke onto the bass strings in the chord (whatever chord you might play).
Notice how at first, just hearing the metronome it sounded a bit…disjointed or like you couldn’t get a “hold” of the rhythm, but when the guitar came in the rhythm seemed obvious.
That’s how powerful the guitar is to the rhythm!
Guitar Strumming Technique – Hammer-on
Hammer on are often referred to with lead guitar, but in this example, I use hammer-on with chords to liven up the rhythm.
The A shape barre chords or great for doing this as you can start with your finger barred across as usual, but hammer on the rest of the chord shape when the beat requires it.
It won’t sound bad because there’s only a split second within the hammer on movement so the ear only picks up the percussive effect. This works with any guitar strumming technique, especially faster-paced rhythms.
You might have also picked up the stops as well. By following a hammer on with a palm mute stop, you get a cool, funk-inspired jump.
Guitar Strumming Technique – 4/3 time
No, we did 3/4 time before!
4/3 time means a regular rock n roll beat but only 3 lots instead of 4 (ye, ok so I don’t use the proper terminology)
Observe. Even listen:
Now, 4/4 (4 lots of 4 beats) seems to sound the most natural for most of us, but in this case, 4/3 sounds ok because of the condensing of guitar rhythm in the last few beats. It gets you ready for the change back to the beginning of the bar.
It would sound like the bar finishes too early IF the guitar (or drums) did not modify the last few beats to get us ready for the end of the bar. in the clip, the guitar changes chord quicker towards the end of the bar.
See, rhythm guitar can help turn what would be an awkward timing into a logical, interesting timing.
Guitar Strumming Technique – Power Strumming
Power strumming is a term thrown around a lot to describe strumming that is aggressive or rhythmically lively.
It works well with acoustic guitars because it’s a downstroke orientated, punchy style of playing that gives a real kinetic presence to the music – good music to drive or run to.
A very simple pattern, mostly downstrokes, but it requires real accuracy at speeds above 270 beats-per-minute.
The rhythm split between hitting the bass notes of the chord and hitting the higher notes. Play it like the drums and hit the higher notes of the chord where the snare drum would hit.
Ok! Well, I hope I have covered some useful stuff for you there so you can start applying some interesting rhythms of your own. Use a metronome and work your way up to faster speeds gradually…
The experiment is the word of the day, week, and month, whenever you play. Always experiment with different rhythms – as long as you keep a strict measure of which time signature you are in. There is a difference, as we have learned here.
See you soon!