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I am 3 months into my guitar journey and I've been learning the basics with a book that's available at home. The book jumps into chords pretty quickly and is relatively clear but leaves a lot to the imagination in terms of explaining how to understand music theory. My issue is that the book explains what the Chord Symbols are but does not go into much detail about how to understand them. My current biggest issue is understanding how to play the chord symbols.

Below is a picture of the first "lesson" on chord symbols.

enter image description here

It talks about strumming patterns and how they apply to the shown song. My issue is I have no idea if I have to match the strumming pattern exactly and ignore all the notes or do something more complicated / simple. Here is what is confusing me:

  1. Do I strum four times per section while switching between C and G7 from one section to the next?
  2. Do I strum once, for the single note below the chord symbol, and then play the individual notes that come after?
  3. Do I strum the C chord, once per note, until I get to the note that has the G7 above it and repeat this process for the G7 chord until I see a C chord?

If the community could help me understand how to interpret, understand, and apply the theory of what the book fails to explain I would be very grateful.

I have another image in case anyone wants to use it as a teaching aid or wants another example of how the book presents the music to practice with.

enter image description here

2 Answers 2

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Do I strum four times per section while switching between C and G7 from one section to the next?

Yes. This is a simplified rhythm notation, instructing to strum each of the 4 quarter notes in the 4/4 measure:

enter image description here

So here you strum C chord 4 times, G7 chord 4 times, C chord 4 times, G7 chord 4 times, and the final C chord once.

enter image description here

Do I strum once, for the single note below the chord symbol, and then play the individual notes that come after?

The book instructs to just strum the chords. So the melody of the song perhaps should be sung, or played on another instrument.

Of course on guitar it is possible to play both melody and chords at the same time, but it is slightly more advanced. Perhaps your book has some examples later on?

Do I strum the C chord, once per note, until I get to the note that has the G7 above it and repeat this process for the G7 chord until I see a C chord?

Yes, if no chord is written, you're supposed to repeat the same one. A symbol "N.C." (no chord) is used to instruct the rhythm section not to play any chords.

Note, that chord strumming notation leaves the musician lots of freedom in interpretation. Try to play as the book instructs, but feel free to experiment on your own. In the Beethoven example, I would perhaps strum only once per chord symbol, but go ahead, and try how different rhythms sound.

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In the early stages, in 4/4 time, we strum the given chords 4 times. 4 downstrums, quite simple. So, if the chord written is C in the 1st bar, we'd strum the C chord 4 times, evenly, before (keeping in time) change to G7 and strum for another 4, and so on. The symbol above tells us that, as also does the slash - one for each strum.

Try not to leave a pregnant pause between bars! So only play as fast as you can get the change in. Eventually, you'll be able to do that in a flash. DO NOT resort to playing the final strum before a change as just open strings - a lot of self-taught guitarists tend to do this. Try to get all your fingers to press down (not too hard!) simultaneously, it makes the change sound so much better.

The concept of strumming is to keep a steady rhythm going under the melody. It's not to match the words sung - that sounds naff - but to create a rhythm, exactly what's needed here.

In Ode to Joy (who was she..?) only the chords are shown. That gives licence, and you could play whatever rhythm you think sounds appropriate. For starters, though, stick to 4 strums in the bar. Like it tells at the very beginning. You may even want to play only two in each bar, sometimes, as they say, less is more...

Eventually, you'll be able to strum when the hand goes up as well, giving many different rhythm patterns, and/or leave out a downstrum or two. This will vary what you play, and you may even use two or three different ones in the same song.

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  • Another suggestion may be to play three strums in each measure, followed by a rest, and use that rest to position the fingers for the next measure. This will provide more time to get the hand into position for each chord while keeping a consistent tempo. Yet another suggestion would be to pluck just the sixth or fifth string on the first beat of each measure, using the rest of that beat to get the rest of the hand into position for the remaining beats. Being able to play simpler things in time is better than playing more complicated things but hesitating, or giving up because one...
    – supercat
    Apr 14, 2023 at 15:47
  • ...can't manage to play more complicated things in time at a usable tempo.
    – supercat
    Apr 14, 2023 at 15:49

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