In the early days of learning to play the guitar, there are a number of obstacles to overcome. Un-cooperative hands and fingers, unfamiliar theories and concepts, new terms and nomenclature, inability to make clear sounding chords, sore finger tips, and general frustration with learning something foreign.
But one of the most common challenges I see with new guitar students is getting comfortable with strumming.
Part of the problem with learning strumming on the guitar is that the strumming hand and the playing hand are attempting to do two different things simultaneously. The playing hand is forming chords and making changes - while the strumming hand is keeping the rhythm. It can be difficult to coordinate these two for the new guitarist.
So it stands to reason that one good way to work on improving strumming is to focus all of your energy on that hand only.
Let's look at a couple of exercises you can work on to start improving those skills today.
When playing these exercises, your "playing" hand should not form any chords. You should simply lay your hand over all six strings so that they produce a muted sound.
We will illustrate these exercises by stating the count in each measure. When counting it's important to note that "numbers" (i.e. 1, 2, 3, 4 etc.) will be played as down strokes. And when you see the word "and" (i.e. 1 and, 2 and, etc.) you will play an up stroke. When encountering a "number" with the word "and", the "down, up" stroke pattern should have a duration of one beat.
Sometimes it can be helpful to verbalize these patterns out loud while playing them.
Play the following slowly:
1, 2, 3, 4 1, 2, 3, 4 1, 2, 3, 4 1, 2, 3, 4
The strumming hand should just be playing down strokes in the above example.
Now let's mix in some "up" strokes:
1 and, 2 and, 3 and, 4 and
Try this one with an up stroke following the 3rd beat only:
1, 2, 3 and, 4 1, 2, 3 and, 4
You could verbalize this pattern as -
"down, down, down up, down"
This one will be slightly more complex:
1, 2, 3 and, 4 and 1, 2, 3 and, 4 and...
(down, down, down up, down up)
A good way to practice these patterns is with a metronome. Set it for a very slow tempo and practice the exercise until you are comfortable with it. Then gradually increase the tempo in small increments and repeat the process.
Once the pattern can be played smoothly, then you can form a chord with the playing hand and play the pattern over a single chord. This will help you begin to coordinate the two hands together to play the patterns.
Obviously, there is a multitude of strumming variations that you could insert here, so try experimenting with different patterns that you may be having difficulty with.
By focusing all of your attention only on what the strumming hand is doing to begin with, you will find that, before long, you'll be making fast improvements on the "strum" side of your guitar playing.
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