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After practicing some elementary strumming patterns, I still can't get to develop any muscle-memory for it.

I seem to be able to play short duration of rhythm that appeals to my mind, and perhaps even close resemblances of a song playing in my head, but I just can't seem to able to get hang of strumming pattern that my guitar teacher asked me to practice. It is supposed to be a simple:

1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &

D x x x D x D U

I strain my brain to play that pattern for 8-10 times, but then mess up.

How can I train my brain to stick to the pattern being played for the rhythm and not stray / wander ?

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    Keep playing it 8 - 10 times until you mess up. Then play something else for a few minutes, then go back to your 8 - 10 times. After a few days of that it should grow to 9 - 11 times and then 10 - 12, etc. At some point you'll be spacing out while doing it and then look down and see you're just playing it without thinking. Then you'll be amazed that you're doing it and you'll screw it up right away. Then eventually you'll stop being amazing and you'll just be able to do it. – Todd Wilcox Sep 8 '15 at 11:56
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    From what I've seen, the biggest problem late learners have is everything else in their lives: family, job, yardwork, etc. If I could play six hours a day like when I was in college, I'd be on stage guitar dueling with Tom Morello right about now. It's just as rewarding either way, IMHO. – Todd Wilcox Sep 8 '15 at 11:59
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    @Todd Incorporate that into an answer please. – Neil Meyer Sep 8 '15 at 15:07
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    This may sound like a dumb question - but your arm is going up and down even when you're not actually hitting the strings? I occasionally have students who just move their arm when a strum is needed. Not good! – Tim Sep 8 '15 at 16:35
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    @icarus74 - this is so important - fundamental, even, as Todd points out. Once you get the idea, just about every strum pattern in existence is available. And there are literally thousands of different ones, all using the same 'hit or miss' motion. – Tim Sep 9 '15 at 6:00
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Keep playing it 8 - 10 times until you mess up. Then play something else for a few minutes, then go back to your 8 - 10 times. After a few days of that it should grow to 9 - 11 times and then 10 - 12, etc. At some point you'll be spacing out while doing it and then look down and see you're just playing it without thinking. Then you'll be amazed that you're doing it and you'll screw it up right away. Then eventually you'll stop being amazed and you'll just be able to do it.

Three years later you'll try to play a similar chord progression and you'll be fighting your fingers to stop playing this strumming pattern they learned to do automatically and you'll be trying to get them to play a different strumming pattern.

Addendum based on Tim's comment to the question:

One way that I have taught strumming patterns in the past is with the idea of "missing" the strings with the picking hand. That means, you start by strumming continuously with the smallest note value, let's say 16th notes, while holding just one chord. So you've got the chord and you're just strumming up and down 16th notes. You pretty much have to count while strumming to make this learning technique work. Look at the pattern and find the first time in the pattern when you are not supposed to be strumming. Let's call that a "miss". Find the count of the first miss and move your arm away from the strings at that part of the count while still swinging your arm like an up or down stroke, depending on where you are in the strumming. So now you're strumming continuous 16th notes except you are missing one 16th every time the patter comes around, and your arm is still going up and down at the same rate.

Then add the second miss in with the first and play it that way for a bit. Then add the third miss and so on until you're playing the pattern all the way through.

Since you can already play the pattern 8 - 10 times, you're kind of past that point in learning the strumming, but whenever I come across a particularly nasty pattern or if I have a student learning strumming patterns, I use that as a primary technique. The important thing is that your arm keeps moving up and down the same way whether you are hitting the strings or not (as per Tim's comment).

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Play it on a very slow tempo where you can think of each motion, but still have at least some sense of the rhythm being played. Do that a couple of times, increase the tempo slightly and try to keep that up. Repeat that until you get the correct tempo. You got integrate it on a slow pace so that you dont program in those mistakes. Whenever you notice you make mistakes, decrease the tempo to a tempo you can manage. Try to play 90% of the time correctly and things will be fine. If you notice things get worse during a practice session after a while; take a break or play something else.

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Looks like the rhythm to Gloria by Van Morrison

A drum machine might help you with this. just a little phone app one would do. Create a simple little pattern on it like this

1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &
h h h h h h h h
b       b   b b

h = closed hi-hat b = bass drum

it'll be a bit monotonous but keep playing your strums on the bass drum. If you mess up a bar don't worry just come back in on the next one. Spend less time stopping, feeling despondent and starting again, just join back into the rhythm as soon as possible and feel free to tap your foot and nod your head as you go. Playing an instrument is really just dancing with the smaller muscles. Start at a slow tempo and speed up as it becomes easier but don't rush speeding up.

  • Great idea. Already have an Android app that does this. In fact, my teacher had recommended working with a metronome, even though he said that I shouldn't forget to actually do the "1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &" in my mind. – icarus74 Sep 9 '15 at 4:39
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    @icarus74 - never mind in your mind. Say it audibly. No-one will mind! – Tim Sep 9 '15 at 6:02

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