I'm relatively new to playing guitar and I am currently learning on an acoustic. I am adding strumming to my skillset at the moment (as there's only so far downstrokes can take me), but I'm having a particular problem with this.

The high E and B strings seem to ring through the most whenever I'm strumming, which means that no matter what I'm playing, it's dominated by these higher tones. I've tried strumming slowly and watching the technique and how the pick hits the strings, but even then I can't seem to solve it. This happens with these strings both open and fretted.

Do I just need to practice more, or is there something I need to be doing differently? I'd rather not practice hoping for things to get better when the only way they'll get better is by changing how I play.

  • 1
    Is it while you're down- or up-strumming? – Tim Mar 2 '14 at 11:54
  • @Tim: I primarily notice this when down-strumming. – Matthew Iselin Mar 3 '14 at 4:17

I had the same issue a while back and concluded it was due to the fact that I was tilting the guitar too much; the fretboard was (slightly) oriented towards the sky, to make it easier to see where my fingers where on the neck. This resulted in my strumming hand strumming the thin strings much harder than the thicker strings when playing a downwards strum. I assume this is due to the fact that my hand was actually performing a vertical motion starting from the (thicker) E-string, while the strings where not aligned along this vertical. When performing an upwards strum, the effect was less noticeable, since in that case the vertical motion starts at the high-e and B-string.

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  • Aha! Having tried this now I can say holding the guitar properly upright made an immense difference. The reason makes perfect sense, now that I'm aware of it. Thank you :) – Matthew Iselin Mar 5 '14 at 10:32
  • @MatthewIselin try playing in front of a mirror; you can see what you are doing and you will also be able to hold the instrument at the right angle. – bigbadmouse Jun 22 '18 at 8:06

It is normal that strings with higher notes dominate your play, lower notes are supposed to be background (unless you play something harder and play with power chords).

You can of course control the sound and try to hit lower notes a bit harder - it's much easier when you use a guitar pick.

So the best thing you can do is trying different methods (different positions of your wrist, hit strings with different power) and after many experiments you will choose playing that sounds good for you ;)

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It sounds like you're having a problem with muting/damping.

In order to stop the top strings from ringing out, you need to get good at dampening the strings with your right hand, or simply not hitting them at all, however The problem with this answer is that it's something that kind of comes with time, or at least it did for me!

As far as exercises to help with damping I found this video.

look for exercises in muting strings with the left hand AND the right. I found that over time your hands adapt pretty naturally and give you the ability to control your damping.

Another thing you might want to look at is exercises to only hit certain strings.

I know this answer has been a little muddled, but I hope it gave you some ideas of what you can try :)

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I would like to add a few things regarding strumming technique to Hrodelbert's answer.

I find that many beginning guitarist have a difficult time with smooth strumming. It's normal and over time and with proper practice, your strumming will improve dramatically.

Certainly the position of the guitar relative to your body can have a big impact. But there are some other things to keep in mind as you continue to practice and improve your strumming technique.

First, for basic strumming, be sure to properly anchor your strumming arm on the body of the guitar. For most folks with most acoustic guitars, the anchor point will be with your forearm contacting the guitar body near the top of the lower bout (widest section of body behind the bridge). Electric guitars will differ depending on the body shape. Anchoring your strumming arm in this way will keep your angle of attack consistent, and the orientation of the guitar (vertical to floor or tilted slightly back to see the frets) will have less of an impact than if your arm is free to wildly flail about.

It is important to avoid the temptation to use your elbow as a "pivot point" for swinging your arm. Unless you want to get "guitarist elbow" (same as "tennis elbow") you don't want all of your up and down strumming motion to come from movement of your forearm.

Instead, try to relax your wrist and use your wrist to strum up and down - not your entire forearm. Try to imagine using a paintbrush to paint a wall with up and down strokes. You will alternate the angle of your wrist and the brush (pick) according to the direction your wrist is moving (up or down). Also, the smaller amount of movement required by keeping your forearm anchored and strumming with mostly wrist, will give you greater control.

This technique will take practice but soon you will get a smooth, rhythmic, and controlled up and down strumming motion - with very little stress on the tendons in your elbow and forearm.

Another thing you might want to experiment with is different gauge picks. Most beginners find it easier to strum with lighter gauge picks. As you get better at strumming, you may want to try medium or heavier picks.

Before trying to learn advanced strumming techniques, I would encourage you to hone your basic strumming technique with a goal of smooth, consistent, strumming. Before long you will be ready to move to more advance techniques such as palm muting and percussive strumming.

I wish you the best of luck as you continue your journey towards a life long passion of making music with your guitar.

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You don't usually want to be hitting all the strings on each strum - aim to catch certain strings depending on the chord shape you're playing, and also to catch more strings on the strong beats than you do on the weak beats. If you don't play all the strings, you don't have to fret them all either, which gives you more left hand freedom.

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