[This is a possible duplicate of How do you sing and strum guitar chords simultaneously? but maybe this question is more specific.]

About me

I'm used to singing (in a choir) and I'm learning to play (simple folk) guitar. I'm practising (trying to learn how to perform) my first non-trivial song.

It's a country song: ideally 192 bpm, in 4/4 time.

The strum pattern is meant to be "D.D..UDU" -- I'd call that a syncopated beat, because it misses the 3rd "down" beat in the measure.

Anyway, I can (i.e. I am able to):

  • Strum that pattern as long as I'm not singing (if I ever do go wrong, the mistake I make tends to be inserting an extra beat, e.g. "D.D.D..UDU")
  • Say (or subvocalise) the syncopated beat, like "one two (three) and four and", while strumming
  • Tap my foot ("one two three four") while strumming.
  • Hear what the two together (strumming and singing) are supposed to sound like; and play them together in my head (i.e. reproduce them in my imagination)
  • Strum this pattern at any tempo between about 110 bpm through 145 bpm (at slower than 110 the action seems to become deliberate rather than automatic, brainy rather than muscle memory)
  • Sing with a simple strum pattern (e.g. "D.D.D.D."; or maybe even "D.D.DUDU").

I haven't tried practising "D.DU.UDU" (I think "D.D..UDU" sounds better, lighter, with this song).

The problem

What I can't do is while strumming "D.D..UDU" is:

  • Subvocalise a regular, unsyncopated, "one two three four"
  • Sing the melody (all of whose notes are quarter notes, half notes, or full notes ... no "and" i.e. the strumming is syncopated relative to the melody)

Doing either of these breaks the strum pattern -- when I get to the third beat of the measure ...

  • Either, the singing pauses (to match the pause in the strum)
  • Or, I press on with the singing and forget about the strumming.

... neither of which is correct.

The question

Do you have any tips for how to proceed? What should I practice? Apparently I can't do the two together, and therefore ... I can't practice it?

I've tried various things:

  • Extra-slow
  • Foot-tapping
  • Saying instead of singing
  • Metronome
  • Play it slow like b3ko's answer suggested, not to feel what it's like to perform but at least to help analyse what you're hearing, what it sounds like
  • Concentrate on, memorise, which syllable (lyric) in each measure is associated with the un-strummed 3rd beat (usually the 3rd syllable, unless the first syllable is two quarter-notes) -- these are the exceptional syllables, which you can expect should sound different and which should immediately precede (or trigger) the up/down/up -- knowing this helps you keep track of where you are within each measure
  • Play an easier strum pattern, e.g. "D.D.DUDU" -- being able to play that, while singing, is better than being unable to practice (singing and playing together) at all. Is this a known problem, a difficulty that every learner has, and is there any well-known prescription for it?

I'd assume the prescription is "practice!" except that I don't seem able to practice the two together correctly, so Catch-22.

  • Even knowing both quite well, they're difficult to combine. The outer drummer (on the pro. studio version) hits the snare every second beat, i.e. on beats 2 and 4. I guess my inner drummer should be twice as fast as that, and tapping my foot every beat (not every other beat): because sounding only every other beat isn't precise enough to specify half-beats i.e. eighths. However I find that tapping my foot every beat doesn't help clarify when the end of the measure is (unless I also count to "four"), resulting in the mistake of the strum sometimes inserting an extra beat into the measure.
    – ChrisW
    May 3, 2018 at 13:54
  • When you strum, is your strumming hand moving up and down regularly and continuously and you're just missing the strings in order to create the strumming pattern? Or are you stopping your hand? May 3, 2018 at 14:44
  • @ToddWilcox Yes it's the former: I try to keep "playing" but to just miss the strings, i.e. "down miss down miss miss up down up".
    – ChrisW
    May 3, 2018 at 15:46

2 Answers 2


some things that may help:

  • slow it down (I know you said you tried this, but slow it down until you can play it. it may need to get ridiculously slow but you will not be able to play it until you can play it slowly. if you need to break it down until the 8th note pace is 5 seconds apart do it...beat 1: play and sing a note, thinK about beat 1&, hold that note if that is all that happens, then hit beat 2....so on... )

  • record yourself playing both parts slowly, one part at a time. then play the guitar part along with the recording and slowly add singing in beat by beat. maybe play the guitar all the way, and add the first half of the melody, when that feels good add one more note of the melody.

  • if you know how to read music write both parts down and read the rhythms while playing each part. so play the guitar while reading the melody. then switch.

  • take the previously made recording and the written down parts and listen while reading and counting. really try to understand when the melody you are singing lines up with a strum vs not with a strum. when the melody lands on the beat vs off the beat. play the guitar while reading the melody in your head

  • if it is just the syncopated part that you are having trouble with just focus on that. if you need to loop two beats that you are having trouble with, do that.


This strum pattern - and most others - are spawned from the very basic 4 downstrums in 4/4 music. Obviously after each down, there must be an up in order to be ready for the next down.

That means there are no variations on what the arm does, but many variations on when strums actually occur.

Your problem I've seen many times. It's the up strum on beat 3. You're concentrating on putting it in, in the right place. But, by simply moving the arm DUDUDUDU for each bar, it will be in the right timing regardless. DUDUDUDU.

To practise some of the variations will be an answer. Go from the full DUDUDUDU to the simple D D D D. Play DUD DUD . Even -U U U U. There are literally hundreds of variations just doing that. A hint for you as a beginner is to leave out the final U when there's a chord change coming: that'll give you more time to actually change the shape, rather than the oft-played open string naff-sounding strum.

When you can keep the arm chugging up and down regularly, and strum the strings when you want (and not, when you don't want), you'll most likely find that that rhythm pattern will happen quite easily.You'll also find somewhere in the song where, maybe, you want to change the pattern subtly, for a bar or two. Easy, now, as the arm keeps going, it's just up to you to decide when the strings get strummed - and when they don't - but the arm keeps going!

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.