SMG Guitar Lesson #21: Basic Strumming Patterns

Basic Strumming Patterns

We’ve spent quite a bit of time discussing good habits with fret hand technique. So now we’ll switch it up and discuss a little bit about picking hand techniques. Note, when you’re strumming chords, it’s usually a good idea to tilt the pick and angle it slightly so that it glides across the strings more smoothly. If you feel you’re not getting enough control, you may try switching to a heavier pick. I usually recommend medium picks (1mm).

The best technique for strumming is to strum by keeping your hand arched and firm while rotating your wrist. Try not to strum from the elbow, as you won’t have as much fine motor control this way when it’s time to aim for individual strings. Try to keep all of your strumming and picking in your wrist rotation.

There are many common strumming patterns that come up again and again in popular music… like you would hear on the radio. Learning them not only opens the door to developing a sense of rhythm, but also being able to easily play many popular songs. You’ve heard the old wives tale about so-and-so who can play just about anything they hear on the radio. Well, this is the know-how that turns you into that person.

Here’s a list of some of the most common strumming patterns used in popular music. Loop each rhythm, repeating each over and over with the given chords.

We’ve all heard live music where someone counts off “1, 2, 3, 4” before a song, but not all rhythms in music are based in even groups of two and four, even though these are the most popular. Some music is based in groups of three or six, which tends to have a triplet feel, or a waltz-like feel when played more slowly. Here are a few examples of rhythms in groups of three.

Accents are when you strike a particular part of the beat a little harder than usual to emphasize the rhythm, and they can be quite fun. Accents are usually notated with a “>” symbol.

When strumming chords, it also helps to be able to break the chord up into at least two parts; the low end, and the high end. The low end will consist of the lower range notes, usually containing the root note, while the high end will consist of the higher range notes. This helps to create two voicings of the chord, and create an echo-like or “call and response” effect.


Downward strums have a slightly different sound to them than upward strums, because of the higher or lower strings they hit first and therefore emphasize. So it’s okay to break the rule of alternate picking when you prefer a more consistent tone. After all, that’s why we learn the rules; so we can learn to break them properly!

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