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When for example I play A and C chords in a song, how do I use right hand to strum strings? Do I strum all strings down? or all strings Down and Up or few strings Down or Down and Up...

Is there any way to tell how to tell the strumming in a song?

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The simple way to look at it, in 4/4 especially, is that each beat will generally be a down strum. This means, d,d,d,d for each bar. After each down, your hand must return to the top of the strings for the next down strum. You could strum up at that point rather than missing the strings. So d,u,d,u,d,u,d,u in each bar. This often sounds too busy, so some strums get left out. Say, the d,-,d,u,d,u,d,-. (the - is a missed strum). There are literally hundreds of different strums, just using this idea. A reggae strum can be -,u,-,u,-,u,-,u. A common good sounding one is d,-,d,u,-,u,d,-.

The secret is to keep the down strums regular, so the arm keeps the same pattern of motion, whatever pattern is strummed. You can count or just feel what may be a good pattern for a song, and it's very simple to change a rhythm pattern in a song with this idea, as hardly anything changes - only when you hit or miss the strings.

With some chords, players prefer to leave out the bottom string, as in C and A. On D, some strum only the top 4 strings. But I'm not sure that bit answers your question.

  • One thing I never really understood about Music.SE is its general attempts to explain how things are done through a wall of text. I think that it might just be easier to have some kind of community video account on Youtube for things like this. Sure, another thing to moderate (a little), but it would probably make things easier just to show people, you know? My two cents. +1 for the explanation anyway – Chris Cirefice Jun 30 '15 at 12:52
  • I think explanations that also include links or suggested searches are better. Some people are helped more by a wall of text and there's no need to make any kind of external account for content that is already out there. – Todd Wilcox Jun 30 '15 at 15:24
  • @Chris Cirefice - Different strokes for different folks. I feel that if something is just copied (monkey see- monkey do), it won't do any more than just that. If there's a concrete explanation, then some, at least, will gain an understanding, and at least know what they're doing. So will be able to build on it. Also, I have not a lot of interest in sites that say 'this is how to do it'. Some are excellent, but others have more holes than a colander... – Tim Jun 30 '15 at 16:50
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    A user can answer with text and add their own video from Youtube or another service as a link in the answer. – r lo Jun 30 '15 at 18:28
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As you are discovering, playing guitar well involves more than just the ability to play chords and transition between them. Developing your "right hand technique" is equally important as what you learn to do with your fretting hand.

The guitar (especially if played as a solo instrument) is a rhythm instrument and the strumming pattern is a big part of what establishes the rhythm and feel for the song. Every song has a unique rhythm and the strumming pattern you use will convey that rhythm.

A "strumming pattern" will often consist of a series of both upstrokes and downstrokes which will typically land on a beat in the music. One of the most basic strumming patterns would be "down down down down" (all down strokes) with a strum occurring on beat one, two, three and four of each measure in 4/4 time.

Another strumming pattern would be "down up down up down up down up" with the down strum coming on each beat and the up strum coming between the beats. So if you counted the beats as one and two and three and four - the down strums would be on the one and two etc. and the up strums would be on the ands.

In most cases, you will hit mostly just the thinner strings on up strums. This is fine because the downstrums are used on the accent beats and the natural arc of your strum will result in you missing some of the bass strings on the upstroke. This is normal, acceptable and common. I find that I have to make a conscious effort to play the low E string or A string on an upstroke as part of a down-up strumming pattern. And if I do make this conscious effort, it disrupts the rhythmic pendulum action of my wrist.

There are endless variation of strumming patterns and usually several will work for a particular song. But you can't use the same strumming pattern for every song because they all have a different rhythmic feel which must be conveyed through an appropriate strumming pattern.

The strumming pattern you use will have an effect on your ability to maintain an appropriate rhythm for a particular song. On many patterns you may find it helpful to get your wrist moving up and down like a pendulum and keep it going much the same way as if you rest the heel of your hand on a table and tap your fingers to the beat. Depending on the strum pattern you might intentionally miss the strings on every other up-swing or every other down-swing or every third down swing etc. - depending on the strum pattern you want to use.

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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