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As many other people, I wanted to learn how to play the guitar for years and finally made the decision to invest time regularly in order to get to a decent level. I am using a quality acoustic guitar and started practicing some essential stuff, like basic chords, strumming patterns and little things that are fun. I should also mention that I am not taking any lessons, so I am using only the internet as learning material.

Although I do not practice as often as I'd like, I feel like I am making some progress with my left hand, regarding chord changes, speed, and overall accuracy. However, I've noticed that my right hand is very inconsistent when strumming. Even on a simple rhythm of only down strums, the "power" that I use to hit the strings varies a lot, such that some strums are almost silent and some are very loud. If I try some simple patterns using up strums, things get even worse. I know that I'm supposed to hit only the thinnest strings, but sometimes I miss the up strum completely (don't hit any strings). If sometimes I am lucky, I am only able to hold the rhythm for a few bars, then I start making mistakes. Even if I'm doing a decent job with my left hand, the right hand technique completely lets me down and I feel like I'm stuck.

From what I've seen online, basic strumming ability is kind of assumed, and I do not know what to practice. Trying to keep the strums slow feels unnatural, and I often end up doing random movements to test what sounds best, but I don't want to pick up bad habits.

If anybody could suggest some ideas/exercises or anything in order to progress, it would be appreciated!

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One of the main right hand technique issues I see is not strumming from the wrist, and using too much arm motion from the elbow. Strumming from the elbow makes it hard to have fine control over the volume, velocity and accuracy of your strumming. Do not strum up and down from the elbow.

Check that your right arm is not engaged from the elbow, and that your hand is making more of a twisting motion when you strum, much like screwing in a light bulb motion.

When you work your strumming, you want the muscle memory to take over. In my opinion the best way to start is to work exclusively on your down up down up strumming until it is automatic. Make sure that you are practicing each motion to a regular rhythm, even time both directions. When you can lift your left hand away from the guitar and put it back on the neck without disrupting your right hand, you should have it.

After that, you can practice leaving out some of the up strums. The hand continues up at the normal rate but you don't hit the strings on the way up. any combination of leaving out a beat works. d du du du, or du d du du, etc. It is important to work with steady and even rhythm to develop the muscle memory.

After that you can experiment with leaving out the down strokes and just play the up strokes, du u u u. Many strumming patterns are a combination of these down and up patterns.

For string location accuracy, practice while not looking at the strings and make sure your right hand is not resting on the bridge, or fingers on the face of the guitar. Do a down and up pick on each individual string going back and forth from low to high, high to low strings. When you can do this smoothly, switch to every other string, or E D A G D B G E. After that try deliberately picking specific string without looking.

Much of strumming technique is about keeping the hand, wrist and arm relaxed, with no muscles engaged that are not needed.

  • Thanks for the answer, this is definitely interesting. I've seen numerous videos advocating using only the elbow and little wrist movement. The most natural thing for me right now is somewhere in-between, but I've been trying to make larger, elbow-driven movements. I'll have a try at what you're suggesting, though. – David Feb 16 '17 at 22:29
  • You do use a combination of wrist and elbow depending, but the advanced technique requires a loose and flexible wrist, which is why I start students there. Players who learn to keep their wrist stiff and only use the arm will eventually have to change their technique if they want to play things like fast triplet strums. Strumming with the arm and a stiff wrist will make your strumming sound jerky and stilted, and blocks you from gaining fine control over which strings you choose. In general, the more relaxed the better. – Alphonso Balvenie Feb 17 '17 at 1:43
  • Definitely would not advocate strumming an upstrum after beat 4, for a beginner. It leaves even less time to change to the next chord. That still leaves loads of d/u combinations, without encouraging the oft seen open string strum on beat 4 1/2. Or, worse still, the hesitation after that strum, while the next chord shape is found. – Tim Feb 17 '17 at 17:24
  • @Tim The down up strumming should be independent of the left hand, and the exercise is is designed to build muscle memory so that the hand continues an up down motion. I see many beginners have trouble with uneven strumming, trying to get two downs at a time. The left hand can be off the strings on the fourth count up strum, playing open strings, as that is irrelevant to the skill being worked on. Leaving a strum out can cause confusion for beginners on where the right hand is supposed to be. – Alphonso Balvenie Feb 17 '17 at 21:20
  • I'll explain better.Obviously, the strum hand needs to go up after beat4, to go down on next beat 1. So, ghost strum up. No chord is better than open strings. I hear it most with self-taught players. Playing it badly lots of times=it's acceptable. Put the actual upstrum back in when the chord for next bar is ready in time. The 2 hands need to be in synch, not independent at all times. Take a 'pulsed' strum - both work together, they must for the timing and effect to come out right. – Tim Feb 18 '17 at 8:11
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It sounds to me like your are tensing up with your right hand. When strumming chords, I think it's important to use what is called the "paint brush motion" which is picking from the elbow in a sweeping motion as if you are painting a house.

With single note technique, the motion should come from the wrist primarily although I do not think locking the forearm and elbow is a good idea as it will creat tension in your hand/arm and cause the types of errors you are describing.

Here is a link to a very nice discussion of picking technique by guitarist Ben Eller.

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