Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Introduction to Strumming

Many have asked me this question: how to strum? My upfront answer is "strike the strings all at once, downward or upward, or combination of, using your fingers or nails, or a plectrum". Little did I realized, I was just saying the basic definition of "strum". Evidently, the one asking is a total beginner. Then I realized it wasn't doing any help. Particularly if a guy isn't too musical, meaning he or she does not listen to music that much, but somehow still intent in learning the guitar (more on this later).

One more thing I learned is some people can't frame their questions really well. So a little more poking and their real problem comes to light. The problem is, they cannot seem to play along with the song they choose, because there's this confusion like "when am I gonna hit?" and "will it be up or down?". So there they're stucked, fretting hand in position with the right chord, strumming hand aimed, but lo and behold can't decide it's time to strum already. When hesitation sets in, the hands froze.

If you've been playing guitar for a few years already, strumming will come naturally. When you want to play a song, or play along with a song, you don't even think anymore whether you're strumming up or down next. You just go with the beat, and enjoy.

There I said it, go with the beat. This will come to light as we go along.

I don't want to enforce rigid rules (except the concepts I discussed in the chords tutorial), so we're not dealing here with strumming patterns. I'm referring to some notations like

d / u / u / d

↓ ↑ ↑ ↓

I don't discourage the use of these notations, but I don't encourage you to visualize a song like a series of fixed count Up and Down strokes.  I'f you have read the first posts of this blog, the motive is to guide you in your "quick satisfaction" - to enjoy playing as quickly as possible. We will avoid technical jargons, and we discuss things as simple as possible, so you learn faster without getting caught in too many technical details.

I'll explain my own strumming method, which again I haven't seen anyone discuss even in youTube. Many tutorials in youTube and in other websites focus on real theory of the guitar and of course, music in general. It seems to me everyone is trying to out-gun each other to being more technically superior. You don't need to be a mechanic or car designer to be able to enjoy driving a new car. In much the same way, you don't need to understand music so much to enjoy playing the guitar.

Strumming for me is some kind of an ignored art. Many people focus only in lead guitar, and finger picking. Strumming is almost like the bass guitar, not much attention is given to. For me, strumming in itself is just an equally expressive form of musical expression. Done right, it will enable you to express the same level of musicality as any other method of guitar playing. If any finger picking player can interpret a song his own way, we should be able also to interpret the same song in our own strumming way.

That said, let's dig on. Before proceeding further, do note the following:

  • There's no right or wrong way of strumming. Unless you are trying to recreate a song exactly "as recorded", have the freedom to strum at will. It will not matter if you strum with guitar on your back, overhead, or under your legs. It does not matter.  Hell if you can, do it!
  • A strum stroke does not need to strike all the 6 strings. This I see newbies do. It's boring. You may strike the upper 2, or 3 or 4 strings only, or the lower 4, or 3, or 2 strings only ( that's E-A, or E-A-D, or E-A-D-G, then D-G-B-E, or G-B-E, or B-E respectively ). The "upper" and "lower" descriptions I use is position of the strings relative to ground when you're holding the quitar in a normal position. If you strike the the upper strings only, you'll sound "bassy", and there's an option to add percussive sound. If you strike the lower strings, you'll sound "trebbly". 
  • You may use pick/plectrum, fingernails, or flesh of finger to strum. Each varies in the brightness of sound produced.
  • Your fretting hand can be used to add percussive sound. You will also learn this.
  • Your strumming hand can do varied actions like muting, and body tapping.
  • Combination of different strumming strokes, fretting hand, and strumming hand actions produce very dynamic and interesting sound.
The last 5 items are more important to me than focusing whether it should be Upward or Downward in a specific time. These will give you more fluid, spontaneous and dynamic sound which is more interesting listening, or singing along to, than a boring, robotic fixed up-down counted pattern.


This will be the 1st of strumming tutorials. As an advance installment, watch the video below.

If you are a total beginner, you'll need to watch it. If you've been playing for sometime, you may just watch it and if you don't mind, send me feedback.

Note: This is not made public in youTube, you can only view via the link provided in this blog. If you know a friend who might benefit from it, please refer him or her this blog.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


How are you all?

Well, I know I have not posted for sometime. I've been too busy the past few months. That does not mean this blog is dead though. Honestly, I've been mulling about moving this blog to Wordpress, as it offers few more features that I need in this blog for the benefit of you, the readers.

First and foremost, Wordpress offers direct upload and download of files, which blogspot don't provide (as I know). What we have been doing is to use third-party file sharing sites like docstoc. I find it cumbersome logging on and off in different sites, I suppose it's kind of annoying to some readers too.

I did had new materials but I refrained from posting, because if I do decide to move to Wordpress I'd have more materials to move. I hope you bear with me for having not posted for sometime.

I'm in the stage of deciding which material to move, and what's the best layout to afford large format pictures - large format pictures will surely make me able to feature more tutorials in the blog, like the TuxGuitar tutorial I promised many months ago but I withheld; I withheld because blogspot only allow smaller sizes of pics, kind of thumbnail but bigger and viewable, but not readable; will need to click to zoom, then click again to unzoom. Tutorials discussing User Interfaces will require you to read small characters, not only view picture. The click-to-zoom & click-to-unzoom thing is incovenient.

Not that I don't like blogger, blogger.com is great, just that there's some features google (owner) could have provided to make the lives of blogger.com users a little bit better.

I may keep this blog site as is, but new posts will only feature links. See ya!

Friday, January 11, 2013


I can remember quite clearly, when I was just beginning to learn playing, how I was perplexed why if I play with a song playing from a record (those days it’s a tape), my guitar’s pitch never matched that of the record. What I did is move my chords up and down the fretboard to match that of a song. Often times it’s very frustrating.

It did some help that I was able to learn how to transpose chords early on, but most of the time I cannot get the sound right, like if I sound quite a bit lower than the record and I transpose 1-semitone up I ended up sounding a bit tad higher. 1-semitone is the guitar’s pitch resolution, remember? I cannot go up (or down, if need to) 1/2 semitone. It even made me wonder how the hell those guys writing guitar chords for a song got the correct chords.

I must remind I thought myself the guitar; I started by only memorizing chords. I didn’t even know that time the individual strings has a name! I just call and remember the strings by number, being #1 the “treble E”, and #6 the “bass E”. Hell I only have a simple chord chart to start with. What I did was if the chords started sounding somewhat odd, I looked for somebody who can “tune” for me.

It went on for a few months. Until I came to know that the guitar has to be tuned to a known standard. Until then, tuning a guitar for me means only making the string sound harmonized with each other, to avoid what we call “sintunado” (out of tune, or out of harmony). It so happened that those older guys tuning it for me, don’t care about the guitar’s pitch at all.

Those guys play in different tuning actually, they call it “kundiman”, and it’s very localized in the northern part of the Philippines. You probably can’t find any documentation about it, but it’s very well for playing Filipino Kundiman, and the guitar sound being quite loose on the bass that it’s often times “slapped” against the fretboard.

So I was told: tune to standard. That set me off, asking people what standard, until I found somebody who’s really guitar literate, and shown me a tuner. Ha! The standard. Things changed eversince.

And few days ago, someone asked me, why even if he followed the chords in the chord listing of a song, he’s always not in-pitch with the record. I must say he’s a beginner. He emailed me a copy of the song he’s trying to pla, I tried, played with a reference in YouTube, and yes as expected: off-pitch.

This is what this post is for. First thing before you play: tune your guitar.


First off, you need to know the name of strings. The "fattest" string is called E, the next fattest is A, etc. So we have E, A, D, G, B, E. I don't want you to memorize so many things, but you have to remember the string names. To make it easier, you can build a phrase like Every-Adult-Dog-Goes-Barking-Everywhere.

You would tune to these notes. Guitar tuners' readouts will tell you exactly, say the fattest string, E or Eb or E#. Can you recall the # and b in previous tutorials? # is 1/2 note higher, and b is 1/2 note lower.

That's exactly what guitar tuners do for you, tell you if the string is lower or higher than it should be. By that you'd know if you need to tighten or loosen a string.

Take time to memorize the string names.


There are multitude of electronic tuners, I personally use the Musedo T10 shown below. You can search the internet for other examples like Yamaha YT-150 and Cherub WST550G.

A musical note corresponds to specific frequency of vibration. Electronic tuners measure the frequency of vibration of the strings and tells you whether it's lower and higher than it should be, from there you decide whether to tighten or loosen strings.

Here you can see the Musedo T10 in use, while I'm tuning the E string of a bass guitar ( the strings of the bass guitar are E-A-D-G, same as the upper 4 strings of the guitar ). If you notice, there is a pointer pointing directly vertical, it means the string I am "measuring" is exactly E. The pointer swings to the left if the string is lower than E, and to the right if the string is upper of E.

Personally, I prefer clip-type tuners because I can tune acoustic guitars with ease. The Musedo T10 and Cherub WST550G are clip-type tuners. The Yamaha YT-150 tuner has "mic" mode, where it picks the sound via a microphone then measure the frequency. Of course you can use it to tune acoustic guitars, but you'll have a problem in noisy environment, like live stage performances; it has an input though, which is the best in the reliability spectrum, but means your acoustic guitar should have a pick-up. If you're playing an acoustic on stage trough a P/A microphone, you'll have problem.


Now, this is in the expensive end. Chances are you will not be aiming to have this kind of tuning early on, but I am including it for completeness, and you'll be having it eventually anyway.

Professional musicians favor these kind of tuners, one reason is because of their availability - the guitar is plugged in them already, so tuning is a breeze. It affords real time check on-stage. Second why it's favored, is because of accuracy. Compared to portable electronics costing few bucks, effects processors' processors are way much powerful hence offers better accuracy.

An example of an effects processor is Digitech's RP250. Shown here is a practice rig with RP250 as the effects processor.

And here is the RP250 in the tuner mode.

The picture is taken while I am tuning the fat E string; the led on the left either moves up or down, depending if my string's pitch is higher or lower than E correspondingly.


Guitar amplifiers, like Line6 Spider series amps has built in tuners. I don't have one but you can read more here. Needless to say, it's a great advantage to have this on stage.


This is by far the simplest way to tune a guitar. Compare the string's pitches with online references, like 8notes.com, fender's or gibson's online guitar tuners.

Tuning this way will take practice though, you will need to try several times until your ears get used to it. But it's free, as long as you have internet connection. I figure many beginners will settle for this way of tuning initially.

One disadvantage of this way of tuning is of course you won't be able to use it on stage, but for beginners, it's a good way to start. The ear training you'll get is definitely a big advantage.


I personally use n-Track Tuner on iPhone. The app is free and usage is simple.

Here is screen capture while tuner is "listening", or waiting for a string to be sounded...

...and when I struck the E string:


The red bar in the middle-left is saying my string needed to be tightened a bit; if it turns green, and moved to the right bar, it means I need to loosen a bit. An exact E will show a white bar in between the red and green bars. Pretty simple.

I cannot use this on-stage of course. But to beginners out there, this method is a very cost effective and reliable way of tuning. Just find a quiet place and presto. I'm sure there are other free tuners in Apple's Apps Store, and surely there are counterparts for Android phones.


Be careful. The strings can withstand tremendous tension but they aren't unbreakable. The strings will break if over tightened. Problem is, it could possibly whip you in the face, much worse, in the eyes.

Do this: whenever you're tightening a string grab the neck as shown. 


So there, tune your guitar to "standard", then fire away!


I came across some guys lately, and yes just starting the guitar, and I realized the guitar chord tutorials I have made is far from helping them to get started. I realized knowing the chords isn't good enough for a total beginner.

There are many things a beginner has to know before learning the chords. Because of that, I am starting a series of tutorials to hopefully fill the gap from absolute beginner to "jammable" guitar player (sorry about that word, I made it up because I can't find a word to describe somebody who can play a guitar chord-wise only, play with a song, and jam with friends but not necessarily highly literate about guitars).

So watch out for coming tutorials.