Strumming Skills Mini Course (day 4)
Listening Properly and Fixing Mistakes
Be you own guitar teacher
Many guitarists play the guitar with their eyes and not their ears. This is something I say time again. What do I mean by this?
Well, what happens with most beginners is that they see that they are doing something correct, such as playing a C Major chord. They will then strum it, and not notice it sounds horrible.
They double check their fingers of the fretting hand and see that it’s in the right place so think “okay, that’s fine my fingers are in the right spot”.
BUT, what they failed to notice was that firstly the chord sounded horrible, so they shouldn’t except that, and secondly was that although it appeared their fingers where in the right spot they wasn’t, one finger was on the wrong string.
This can happen because sometime a guitarist remembers something incorrectly – where they wrongly think that one finger should be on a certain string instead of another, or it could just be a simple case of the light deceiving them.
What’s the point of this story?
Well, it’s to highlight how many guitarists don’t actually listen when they play the guitar. They trust their eyes and not their ears. Strumming is a subtle art of music that takes a while to get sounding really good.
You will be perfecting the little things in strumming for some time, so always be listening.
There are so many little things to listen out for, from listening that the strum pattern sounds correct, listening to the dynamics, listening out for any unwanted strings being hit, listening out for any buzzing of the chords, listening out for the right feel of the piece, tempo, speeding up or slowing down, etc.
What I want you to do is grab your smart phone or video camera if you have one available, (if not try to borrow one), and film yourself playing 3 songs.
- Song 1 should be one you are totally comfortable with.
- Song 2 should be one you are fairly happy with
- Song 3 should be one you have only just started or recently learnt
Film yourself playing all 3 songs and look out for the following possible errors.
- Are you strumming too many strings on certain chords? Many guitarists strum all the string for every chord. As I’m sure you know, when playing a D Major chord you will want to avoid strumming the 6th string.
- Are you strumming purely from the elbow? (I.e. keeping your wrist completely stiff)
- Are you strumming purely from the wrist? (I.e. keeping your elbow completely stiff)
- Are you strumming too close to the bridge?
- Are you pausing your strumming arm at any point?
- Is the sound loud and abrasive?
- Does it sound soft and weedy?
Make a mental or even better a physical note of what you are doing right or wrong.
If your elbow and wrist are too stiff then you have too much tension in your body and need to relax a little more. It’s a good idea to try to focus on your breathing and be relaxed when you are strumming.
If you are strumming too close to the bridge, the guitar (especially if you are playing a big dreadnought) may be too big for you. Either try a smaller guitar or experiment with different sitting positions, Try the classical position or try standing up.
If you are pausing your strumming arm, then you will almost certainly need to work on your rhythm skills. Go over day 1 on rhythm and practice the sub division game. It will clear up these problems quickly.
If the sound of your strumming is too loud or abrasive, then you will want to either strum softer, use a thinner pick, or grip the pick a little softer.
If you are a fingerstyle strummer and the sound is too soft or weedy, you may be using the fleshy part of your fingers to strum, where as you will want to hit the strings with your nail. To put it simply, when fingerstyle strumming:
- nail = louder
- skin and flesh = softer
Look out for all the above problems, and see what you can spot. A lot people say that you can’t learn guitar without a teacher, but you certainly can, you just need to train yourself to be a little like that teacher, and spot problems quickly.
Use the video you have made and look out for any problems with your strumming and get fixing them right away.
Tomorrow I’ll be revealing the process of exactly how I take all my one to one students on the path to strumming mastery, including learning the 8 most common strum patterns ever, songs and riffs that use those patterns, the most common mistakes when strumming, how to fix those mistakes and plenty more.
For more help with strumming, check out my course dedicated to it – Strumming With Soul