Strumming the Guitar | Hub Guitar

Strumming the Guitar

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Hi. This is Hub Guitar.

A big part of ear training is learning to recognize rhythms and then to play them on your guitar. So let's take a quick look at how to convert rhythms into guitar strumming patterns.

The key to picking this up is to remember that down beats are down strokes, and up beats are up strokes.

The first example is just four/four-- that's common time--and we'll play four straight beats. Since these are all down beats or quarter notes, we'll hit them all with a downward stroke, too. I'm going to use a C major chord as an example.

Now let's add some upbeats in between the notes. If you think about it, my hand had to come back up after every down stroke. So now I'm just going to use the pick to play the strings on my way up, too.

Now that we've got this basic grid established, we can start adding rests to create more interesting rhythms. A rest is a rhythm that's not played. So if I turn the third downbeat into a rest, I'm going to skip over it. You can use your voice to mark the missing beat; many players find that to be helpful.

So you need some way to measure the rhythm and compare it against what you're playing. Don't be shy about tapping your foot, tapping your hand on something, or just pronouncing those rhythms like I did verbally.

Downstroke Only

simple strumming pattern - all quarter notes

Much like picking, strumming the guitar uses a cyclical motion. For now, let’s assume that the picking-hand will always move up and down, even in periods of silence. The motion will ensure that strums are placed on the correct beats. Let’s strum the following rhythm with an E minor chord. The downward () symbol will stand for a downstroke and the carrot () symbol will represent an upstroke.

Downstroke and upstroke

simple strumming pattern - all eighth notes

Strum the chord four times in succession, using down strokes. Even now, you are using a down-up, down-up strumming pattern. How do we know? Once you have completed one downstroke, your hand must come up again to make another downstroke. Let’s hit the strings on the way up now.


simple strumming pattern - all eighth notes. fifth eighth note is a rest instead of a note (silent).

If we use these 8 strums as a basis, we can remove some of them and create a large variety of sub patterns. When a beat is removed, continue the motion. For instance, in the next example, the third “down” strum is silent. Strum downwards, through the air, so that you can complete the following strum upwards.

Put it Into Practice

Try to see how many different strumming patterns you can come up with, using these 8 notes as a basis. How many combinations are there, theoretically? How many can you make?

As the creator of Hub Guitar, Grey has compiled hundreds of guitar lessons, written several books, and filmed hundreds of video lessons. He teaches private lessons in his Boston studio, as well as via video chat through TakeLessons.

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