How to Practice Guitar: 

 "Secrets" of Success! 

How to Practice Guitar: Beginner Strumming


Fix Your Strumming Problems Today!

Key to the mental side of strumming on guitar is programming the strumming hand to keep moving automatically but I've lost count of the number of frustrated beginner and intermediate guitarists I've met who never made it beyond that early hurdle. Happily it's a quick and easy fix to cure things using the Taplature approach shown below.

(Click to play)

The Basic/Campfire/Island Strum Pattern

Here's what we're aiming for ...

(Click for demonstration)

You've heard this rhythm countless times before and you can use it to play any song that has 4 beats. What's more, once you've got this down it's easy to build from those strong foundations in whichever direction (style) you choose.

Breaking it Down - Beat One!

We can view the "Basic Strum" as being made up of 4 different building blocks, each of which includes a down and an up movement with the strumming hand. The first of those looks like this:

Over the years I've seen quicker and better results from replacing the count here with the word "Egg", but split into two syllables ("E" and "gg") as you can hear me demonstrate in the video. If you prefer to use just the count as shown above that's fine too.

(Click for demonstration)

There are two steps, each made up of the following sets of instructions, to be executed simultaneously: Prepare an E chord and let's go!

1) ~ Strum Down through all 6 strings.

~ Tap your foot.

~ Say "E" out loud.

2) ~ Lift your strumming arm up across all

six strings without touching them.

~ Lift your foot.

~ Say "gg" out loud.

See how the arm and foot move together? This pattern is the key to "programming" yourself to strum. Imagine your arm and foot are joined together by a metal bar and move them up and down together as robotically as you can!

Beat Two!

The second building block works similarly but this time we are going to catch a few strings with the strumming hand as the arm moves up. After playing those strings you'll continue the arm's movement up as before, moving over the other strings so it's ready to strum down again when required. Here I like to use the 2 syllables of the word "Chi-cken" to represent the down and up.

(Click for demonstration)

For this beat the instructions are:

1) ~ Strum Down through all 6 strings.

~ Tap your foot.

~ Say "Chi" out loud.

2) ~ Lift your strumming arm across all six strings,

playing the top two or three on the way.

~ Lift your foot.

~ Say "cken" out loud.

Building the First Half of our Basic Strum

Now try alternating beats one and two as demonstrated in the video!

(Click for demonstration)

Not only can you now confidently answer the question of which came first (the chicken or the egg!), you're also playing the first half of the basic strum. This works on its own as a fully functional strum pattern, but let's keep going for the extra dimension the full thing offers!

Beat Three - An "Upside-Down" Egg!

Building block 3 (beat 3 of the basic strum) is where most come unstuck although the framework remains exactly the same, featuring one "down" and one "up" movement. This is the building block which always seems to benefit the most from being given a name. I call it "Knee and". The recommendation is that instead of just missing the strings on the beat you also hit your knee (upper leg) with your strumming hand as your foot taps on the floor.

The instructions for this beat are:

1) ~ Move your strumming arm down across all six strings

without touching them and hit your knee (or leg).

~ Tap your foot.

~ Say "Knee" out loud.

2) ~ Lift your strumming arm across all six strings,

playing the top two or three on the way.

~ Lift your foot.

~ Say "and" out loud.

(Click for demonstration)

Strumming Off the Beat

What we're playing here is called the "offbeat". The foot tap is on the beat and the lifting of the foot (to tap again) is off the beat". The beat is the stronger part and not hitting the strings while strumming down can feel a little weird to begin with (of course "offbeat" as an adjective in the English language means strange/unusual so that's probably to be expected).

Feeling your foot tap on the floor while you hit your knee is a very strong way to mark what is always the most confusing part of this strum and the harder you hit your knee the stronger the effect! This knee hit is just there for initial learning purposes, like stabilisers on a bicycle!

Adding in Beat Four

Beat 4 is the same as beat 2, another "Chi-cken". Now we build together beats 3 and 4 to give the second half of the basic strum pattern:

(Click for demonstration)

If you know the song "O-Bla-Di" by the Beatles compare the rhythm of the strums played here to the rhythm of the lyrics "O-bla-di, O-bla-da, Life goes on" (hint: they're the same). We're not just learning a strum pattern here, we're learning "rhythmic vocabulary" which can be used in any musical situation, and we're learning it in a way that we understand it inside and out.

The Full Thing!

When you can play each half of the basic strum correctly and comfortably you're ready to bolt the two halves together to make the whole, however you may need to slow right down to initially do so and if there are any problems, then viewing this as a "Million Pound Challenge" (click for explanation) will be of benefit.

(Click for demonstration)

Now the True Test!

Anything on guitar only really works when you can do it perfectly in time with a metronome/backing track. A good free online metronome is on offer at drummers-pulse.com and for those of you with Windows PCs I recommend "Chordpulse Lite", a free to download fully functional virtual backing band.

Once you can do the basic strum with just your foot tap and the count for company the next step is to take it to the proving ground where we tie your foot tap, arm and count tightly to the metronome or backing! How slow do you have to go to make that work in a way that you know everything's correct?

I've included progress charts and tabs from the video in the appendix to my primer, "Discover Taplature" sent free to all subscribers (click here to subscribe!). Keeping track of the top speed you can execute things at and being aware of whether that's improving puts you in control of your practice. Be sure to work the strum on its own up to my recommended target speed before you start trying to change chords while strumming.

Related Issues

Here we've only considered the mental aspects of strumming. If you're struggling with pick issues (usually on up strums) take a look at this video of mine from 2008 when I relearned the guitar left handed (from 3m:10s in) for the quickest cure you'll find!

(Click to play)

We also haven't discussed how to change chords while strumming. When you're ready to do that check out my 2017 video "What They Never Told You About Chord Changes", which shows you exactly how everything fits together.

(Click to play)

Don't be Shy. Speak Up!

Finally, don't overlook the importance of the out loud count. There are three levels of practice when dealing with anything relating to mental issues on guitar.

1. Notes only - Weak

2. Notes and foot tap - Strong

3. Notes, foot tap and out loud count - Strongest!

Whether it's "One and two and ...." or "E- gg Chi- cken ..." there's a whole extra level of complexity involved when speaking out loud while executing the instructions and as I like to say, "If it's not hard work then why would it make you better?". Yes it will slow you down to begin with because it's forcing you to do things right but I've proven a thousand times over with my own students that it's by far the quickest way to "program" yourself to do it easily.

What do you think? Anything not clear? Bring any questions or thoughts to this thread in the Taplature forum! Let me know if you can think of any other famous songs/licks/riffs/melodies that are built from the "basic strum" rhythm (like the ones shown in the video from 03:30). I'll add the good ones to the appendix of "Discover Taplature" and give you a shout out in there too!

Enjoy!

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