I’ve said it many times before, but I will say it again. I’m not a huge fan of when guitarists play a song and use just one strum pattern throughout the whole song.
It’s okay when starting out or learning the song but as soon as you are comfortable, start adding more strum patterns, variations and strum fills for a much more powerful effect. Today, I’ll show you how to seamlessly combine different strum patterns to create a piece of music that is exciting and vibrant.
First of all, let’s pick three stock strum patterns that a lot of people know. If you don’t know these strum patterns, I highly recommend you learn them (which you can do so here or with much more detail you can learn them here).
If you need a little help understanding reading strumming patterns, check this post out.
Strum pattern #1 – The Ultimate Strum
The first strum pattern is one I call the Ultimate Strum Pattern. It’s very simple and most people know it.
This strum pattern looks like this when played on a G chord and below that is how it sounds.
Strum pattern #2 – The Piano Strum
The second strum pattern is what is called the piano strum and is a very cool strum pattern that funnily enough gets its name because it replicates a basic piano groove.
Strum Pattern #3 – Indie Rock Strum
The third strum is what is called the indie rock strum pattern because, surprise, surpise, a lot of indie rock (and pop rock) songs use that pattern. (Where do I get these names!)
Have a listen to all three above and give them a go on their own and get comfortable with all three. Getting all three sounding good is a very important step so take your time learning them if you haven’t already.
Okay, now that all three strum patterns are sounding good on their own let’s play some music. Let’s take a typical chord chart for a classic pop song.
First, let’s get out template. We will use a chord chart as seen below.
Look at the above chord chart. It is like a stripped down version of a typical classic 70’s pop or acoustic rock tune. This is the foundation for a nice big classy metaphorical house we are going to build.
The chord chart is simple to read. Just look out for the music in between the double dots at the top – this is a repeat sign and means repeat from the previous double dot. (It is there to save space).
Just for clarity this repeat sign means the piece is played as:
- G, D, Am, C,
- G, D, Am, C,
- G, D, F, G F,
- G, D, Am, C
Step 1 – Play the piece using just one strum pattern
First, I recommend that you play the piece all the way through but using just one strum pattern. Make sure it all sounds great. This step can’t be missed out. If step 1 sounds bad, then there is no point making everything else sound good on top. Bad foundations lead to the house falling down.
I have played an example of my own using the above chord chart which you can hear below. I have chosen the Ultimate strum pattern for this one but choose whichever strum pattern you want. (I actually recommend you try this step three times using all three separate strum patterns throughout for extra practice.)
It’s okay, but it is currently sounding pretty boring. It is what beginners do a lot, but we want to add some more sophistication so let’s look at step 2.
Step 2 – Play it again but now add in an extra strum pattern
Now that you have played the chord chart through with just one strum pattern, it is time to evolve the piece and start making it sound much more musical. Let’s add another strum into the equation. This time we will add the ‘piano’ strum to certain points in the track.
Let’s look at our chord chart again. This time I have marked where the piano strum will be used by highlighting those bars in yellow.
Have a listen to how it sounds below.
Okay, that all sounds better, more interesting and more like what an experienced guitarist would do, but it’s time to ramp it up some more.
Step 3 – Let’s get wacky and add another strum pattern
Now, we will add in the indie rock strum pattern at various points to lift the energy levels of the piece. So far, it sounds good but not overly exciting. I want to bring it to life a bit more. The simplest way we can do that is by bringing in a busier and more energetic sounding strum pattern. Yep, you guessed it—the indie rock strum pattern.
Our chord chart is once again shown below but now we have added an extra layer to it. The bars surrounded in green are where we are now playing the indie rock strum pattern.
Here it is. Have a listen to the final piece in this 3 step process where all three strums are included.
Here’s a reminder of the colour system I have used:
- Green – Indie Rock strum
- Yellow – Piano Strum
- Blank – Ultimate strum
That is my simple process for bringing a song to life. Get out of the habit of sticking with one strum pattern throughout a song and instead try adding other strums into the song at appropriate points. If one doesn’t work, replace it with another.
A word of warning: You will want to ensure that you can change strum patterns seamlessly without ramping the tempo up or down. Many beginner guitarists wonder why changing strum patterns doesn’t always sound great.
Often it is because they will play one strum pattern using a tempo, eg. 110bpm and then when they change strum patterns they will often, without realising it, change the tempo to something like 120bpm or 100bpm.
The key thing is to be consistent with the tempo throughout. Use a drum beat or metronome if you need or want to and your playing will sound more professional.
I recommend you learn at least 5 strong and common strumming patterns so you can confidently swap back and forth between them when playing songs.
With a little practice you will be able to really bring to life any songs you have previously learnt, especially those 3 or 4 chord songs that you used to play with just one strum pattern when you started out (Do you remember learning those? I do).
Remember, you don’t have to use these strum patterns. You can use any strums you already know. Make a little list of the strums you know and then go play a simple song and try using a variety of them. It’s fun and highly productive for your guitar skills.
Now, I recommend you go and revisit those songs and spice them up with this simple but effective system. Have fun bringing them back to life and remember to apply these ideas to future songs that are too basic for your playing.
Things to keep in mind when combining strum patterns
- Keep the tempo steady. Use click or drum beat.
- Don’t change or add patterns for the sake of it.
- Try not to use too many different strum patterns — 2 to 4 is often enough especially when you use dynamics.
- Experiment and don’t be afraid to mix it up – it gets easier