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.