The strumming pattern sets the groove to any great song, just like the drummer does. But whether you find an arrangement online or in a songbook, you’re rarely told which strumming or picking pattern to use. You’ll see plenty about what the fretting hand should be doing, but what about the strumming hand? In this article, I’ll offer a few suggestions for how to choose a strumming pattern. Then, I’ll teach you four patterns that you can add to your “musical toolkit.” With these as a foundation, you’ll be on your way to finding that perfect groove.

 Choosing a strumming pattern is a matter of preference. If five guitar players were in a room together, chances are that they would each come up with a slightly different pattern for the same song. Listen to the drummer and bass player on a recording of the tune you’re learning, and try to find a pattern that reinforces that groove.

Choosing a guitar pick is as personal as choosing a strumming pattern. In addition to every shape and thickness of flat picks imaginable, you can strum with a thumb pick or with just your thumb and fingers. Experiment to find the sound and feel that works best for you.

When you’re learning to sing and play at the same time, practice the strumming pattern until it’s second nature. You should be able to carry on a conversation and maintain a constant rhythm simultaneously. Once the strumming is on auto-pilot, the words will fall into place.

Know when not to strum. If the tune you’re learning is a ballad or has a softer slower feel, you may opt to fingerpick the song rather than strum it. Here’s a link to one of my lessons, describing the basics of playing fingerstyle (Beyond Beginner – Link to “Picking Technique Considerations”).

Now let’s try to play some patterns. Playing these strumming patterns correctly doesn’t require that you read music, but matching the pattern to the right rhythm is critical. The patterns are counted with each of the four beats broken in half. Count each beat evenly and equally: ONE AND TWO AND THREE AND FOUR AND (1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &). Notice where each of the strums fall against the beats. You strum “Down” on 1, 2, 3 and 4, and you strum “Up” on all of the “ands.” In the examples, the bracket facing down is the down stroke and the “V” is the upstroke.

After you learn these 4 patterns you can experiment to create your own strums. Down strums are usually on the down beat (1 2 3 4) and the up strums are on the up beats (“and” or “&” of each beat). If you stay within the time signature, there are countless combinations that will fit with the music. Soon, you won’t even have to think about choosing a strumming pattern. You’ll hear a tune and your strumming hand will just fall into the groove. If you’d like to see me demonstrating some patterns in video, check it out here.

Learn from Susan Mazer at TrueFire>>

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