Strumming a guitar isn’t as easy as it looks. If you’re a newb learning to play guitar, you’ve probably figured this out by now.

Learning how to strum a guitar is necessary to hold down the rhythm for any song. There are a wide variety of ways to do this, and it’s helpful to start with some basic repetition in the beginning and build from there.

With that said, let’s start with some basics and learn how to strum your guitar.

Shape and Size

First, it helps to have your guitar suitable to your size. If you have really small hands, for example, starting with a huge classic acoustic guitar with fat strings will make things harder.

How to Strum a Guitar

If you don’t have any other options, any guitar will do. However, you might consider switching out large gauge strings for extra light gauge strings, at least until you’re more comfortable playing chords and strumming.

Body Positioning

As we discuss in our blog How to Hold a Guitar, posture and comfort are very important. If you are slouched over the whole time, you’ll get tired quickly and possibly develop some temporary discomfort or even long-term back pain.

That’s why it’s important to get comfortable holding your guitar and developing healthy playing habits from the beginning that will stick with you.

How to Strum a Guitar

Your upper arm should be resting on the top of the guitar if you’re playing an acoustic, or your forearm on the front of the guitar if you’re playing an electric.

Arm & Wrist Positioning

The key here is to make sure your strumming hand is loose and relaxed.
Think of your elbow as a hinge. The movements from your arm are coming from this hinge and should require as little forced movement as possible.

You shouldn’t be using your wrist, but rather using this hinged movement from the arm. Regardless of whether you’re using a pick or not, the wrist should be completely parallel to the guitar and not be hooked inward (swan-neck shaped).

For beginners, there’s usually a lot of coordination involved while learning to play, and some of the movements won’t be so intuitive. This can cause some tensing up of muscles and cramping. If you need to, shake out and relax your arm and rest, then start strumming again.

Man playing the guitar

Use a Pick

Most guitar teachers will suggest learning how to strum with a guitar pick. It will feel extra awkward at first, absolutely, and you may even want to throw it across the room at some point.

But regardless of how frustrating it may be, you’ll be glad you did. Even though I usually use my fingers to strum when I’m playing rhythm now, I found it was easier to strum with a pick in the beginning.

A pick will make the notes resound a bit more clearly and can help you more easily identify your progress. Also, it’ll come in handy when you start wanting to add in stylizing techniques and play more scales later on.

I suggest using a medium-sized pick that’s not too thick and stiff and also not too thin and flappy. It should feel a bit like a flexible credit card in thickness and flexibility.

Holding a Pick

The best way to hold a pick is between the first finger and thumb. Your other fingers will be tucked under like the image below.

Holding a Pick

The small tip of the pick should be pointing at the guitar and the larger edge between your fingers. As we mentioned before, your wrist will be straight parallel to the strings. Try to not let your other fingers spread out, as they will deaden some of the other notes and possibly cause other issues later on.

Start Strumming

Once you have your pick and everything else in place, you can start strumming!

A simple up and down stroke is the best way to start getting comfortable. You can use a metronome or try to tap your foot if you’re struggling to stay on beat. You might even listen to a song and try to match the strumming rhythm pattern, that is a great way to strum the guitar for beginners.

If you’re comfortable with a few chords already, you can play one or a few of these while you practice strumming up and down. If chords are still a little stressful for you, try muting the strings by lightly placing your left hand gently over the strings on the fretboard while strumming with the right hand.

Downstrokes

Downstrokes are the main stroke in a strum starting from the top to bottom (low E to the high E). Most strumming patterns start with a downstroke.

Downstrokes

You’ll usually play most strings in a downstroke depending on the chord. A chord chart will tell you which strings are played for any particular chord. This usually includes 4, 5, or all 6 strings– all of which are played on a downstroke.

Upstrokes

Upstrokes are the reverse of a downstroke played from the bottom to top (high E to low E).

On an upstroke, you will typically only play the bottom (highest) three strings. An upstroke should feel more like an accented, lighter version of a downstroke.

Tempo

The majority of strumming patterns start with a downstroke. This is played “ON” beat of the song whereas the upstroke is usually the “OFF” beat.

If you don’t understand what onbeat and offbeat refer to, consider you’re counting to keep tempo. This is part of music theory 101 and will help you when you’re working on keeping rhythm.

Typically, you’ll count like so in a standard 4/4 time signature: one and two and three and four and (and repeat). The numbers here are the onbeat whereas the word “and” is the offbeat.

If this feels like a lot, don’t overthink.

Remember that the most important part is staying on rhythm, developing your strumming technique, and getting comfortable!

It will all become second nature over time if you stick with it.

Play Simple Songs

Something beginners often try to do is decide they want to be a rockstar from day one. They pick out some Led Zepplin or Jimi Hendrix song – or any legendary guitar players – and try to learn the tabs, get discouraged, and never touch their guitar again.

Play Simple Songs

Finding a simple song to practice strumming to is a good place to start. You might be surprised to find that some of the most famous and catchy tunes are just two or three chords. For example, some Bob Marley songs are simple and fun to play.

Have Fun

Remember not to let yourself get too rigid and stay loose. Also, don’t get stuck on trying to follow strumming patterns at first and try to intuitively feel the rhythm. The number one thing is to have fun!

Now that you know how to strum a guitar, enjoy getting to know your guitar and making new sounds. Practice and patience are everything; stay consistent with it and you’ll be rocking out in no time!

Guitar GIF