Most guitarists spend a huge amount of time on everything EXCEPT rhythm guitar. They spend way too much time on chords, scales and just noodling around. So much so that they don’t have the time to work on some of the things that really count – such as rhythm guitar.
If guitarists were more efficient, most would be much better players in a much shorter space of time. One area that lacks any efficiency whatsoever is their rhythm playing, and in particular – strumming.
It doesn’t matter if you are a pop player or a rock player, at some point you are going to want to strum the guitar.
Ask yourself, how many exact strum patterns do you actually know how to play?
In my experience of teaching beginners, intermediates and even some players who have mastered many areas of guitar is that they don’t know what or how to strum like a pro. What I would like you to do is stop reading for a second, pick up your guitar and play me your favourite strum pattern. Then come back and read the rest.
What often happens when I ask a student to play me a strum pattern is, I either get a blank look and they say they don’t know any, or they give me a blank look, think of a song in their head and then play the strum pattern from that song.
Be honest, is this what you just did?
There is nothing wrong if you did, you just haven’t been made aware of the importance of being able to call on a variety of different strum patterns at will. How great would it be if you were able to strum a certain pattern on your guitar at any given time – and one that relates to a specific genre or feel you are after.
Most guitarists can do this stuff with chords i.e. They can play minor chords for sadder sounding music, or major 7ths for a more jazz feel, but they can’t do this with strum patterns, and to be honest the rhythm is often more important than the chords. (If you want to learn a cool, simple chord trick, check this out)
That being said, it is relatively simple for most guitarists with even just a bit of playing experience to learn specific strum patterns and practice them, and call on these at will when a certain song or style requires it.
Not only will it make you a better sounding player, but your understanding of rhythm will also improve, your timing will improve and your ability to create stunning rhythm parts of your own will increase dramatically. Many guitarists dream of becoming a session musician and why not?
It is possible. To do so though, you will need a big repertoire of strum patterns to call on.
3 simple strum patterns on to how to strum a guitar like a pro
We are going to keep it simple today and learn just 3. The following three strum patterns are all taken from my e-Course, ‘Strumming With Soul’.
They are 3 of the most commonly used patterns in rock, pop and indie music although they are used frequently in genres ranging from folk to metal too, so it really is essential that you learn them.
Have a listen to all the strum patterns in action. These are short chunks of songs or riff ideas that I have created over time using examples of all the strum patterns. If you can’t read the strumming charts below, take a look at our guide on how to read strum patterns.
Strum Pattern 1 – The Ultimate Strum Pattern
The Ultimate Strum Pattern uses a combination of quarter and 8th notes, so make sure you have a good understanding of these and are comfortable playing them before attempting the strum pattern. It is an incredibly popular pattern to strum on the guitar. It makes a good substitute for other more complex strumming patterns and is also a good ‘go to’strum pattern that all you guitarists can call on frequently when in doubt.
Songs that use The Ulitmate Strum Pattern
- Van Morrison – Brown Eyed Girl
- Green Day – Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)
- The Calling – Wherever You Will Go
- Foo Fighters – Times Like These
- The Fray – How to Save A Life
Listen to the ‘Ultimate Strum Pattern’ in action
G Major, D Major, E minor, C Major
Capo 2nd fret
(G, D, Em, C) x 4
F5, E5, G5, A5, B5, C5
(F5, E5, G5, A5, B5, C5 ) X 4
As you can hear the same strum pattern gives you a very different sound depending on what ‘sound’ you are after. The overall feel is same for both the pop and rock versions but the end result is pretty different.
Strum Pattern 2 – The Indie Rock Strum Pattern
The Indie rock strumming pattern uses a combination of quarter, 8th and 16th notes, so make sure you have a good understanding of these and are comfortable playing them before attempting this strum pattern.
The accents on the 2nd and 4th beats are integral to this pattern. Loads of modern rock songs use this pattern to great effect.
The first half and the second half are the same and often the chord change is made on beat 3.
Update – these days I teach this using all downstrums except for the quick 16th note upstrums on the ‘a’ of beat 2 and 4. This makes it easier to play and gives the strum the more urgent sound that it requires.
Songs that use The Indie Rock Strum Pattern
- Blur – Country House
- Eagle Eye Cherry – Save Tonight
- Red Hot Chili Peppers – Dani California
- Shawn Colvin – Sunny Came Home
- Oasis – D’You Know What I Mean?
Listen to the ‘Indie Rock Strum Pattern’ in action
A minor, F Major, C Major, G Major
Capo 2th fret
(Am, F, C, G)
Note: All bars in this example are split bars
F5, Ab5,E5, Bb5, C5
F5, Ab5,E5, Bb5, F5, Ab5,E5, C5
Note: All bars in this example are split bars
Both the pop and rock versions of the ‘indie rock strum pattern’ give off the same vibe but totally different effect.
Strum Pattern 3 – The Modern Strum Pattern
The Modern Strum Pattern uses a combination of quarter, 8th and 16th notes, so make sure you have a good understanding of these and are comfortable playing them before attempting the strum pattern.
Songs that use The Modern Strum Pattern
- Oasis – Live Forever
- Passenger – Let Her Go
- Bob Dylan – Knockin’ on Heavens Door
- Ed Sheeran – Skinny Love
- Radiohead – Fake Plastic Trees
Listen to the ‘Modern Strum Pattern’ in action
E minor, Cadd9, G, Dsus4/F#
Capo 6th fret
(Em, Cadd9, G, Dsus4/F#) X 4
Drop D tuning (D5, E5, A5, F5)
I hope this guide helps you learn how to strum a guitar like a pro. Once you get good at learning the above examples it is key that you learn how to adapt your guitar strumming patterns which will allow you to blossom and develop as a rhythm guitarist.
Leave a comment below and let me know what your favourite strumming pattern of all time is!