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How to Strum the Guitar

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When you first learn to play the guitar, there is a lot to think about all at once. Strumming, which strings to hit, making clean chords, changing chords smoothly, which chords are coming next… all of this at once can be overwhelming. Dividing up a bigger challenge into individual smaller challenges is a great way to learn new skills. That’s exactly what we are going to do here by concentrating only on your strumming hand to start. Let’s go through some general tips you will want to keep in mind before working on some actual strumming technique. I like to call this the Strumming Technique Checklist.

1 - Stay Relaxed - If you tense up when you strum, you will have a hard time keeping up with the tempo of faster songs, and you will get tired faster. Try to stay aware of any tension that may creep into your fingers, hand, arm, or shoulder.

2 - Try a Natural Pick Grip - You can use a pick or just your fingers and thumb to strum. It really doesn’t matter. If you use a pick, just pick it up between your index finger and thumb in as natural a way as possible. If you are not using a pick, you can just use your thumb, index finger, or index finger and thumb as if you were holding a pick.

3 - Keep a Light Grip on the Pick - If you grip the pick too tightly, you will have a tough time getting the pick through the strings. The lighter the grip on the pick, the easier it will glide through the strings. It’s going to take some time to find a balance between holding the pick lightly enough and not having it fly out of your hand, but you will find the sweet spot.

4 - Try Using Two Fingers - If you have trouble holding on to the pick, you can use your index and middle fingers for a bit more stability.

5 - Don’t Dig Too Much of the Pick Into the Strings - Digging a lot of the pick into the strings can get your strumming stuck. Try to use as little of the pick as possible to produce the amount of volume you want.

6 - Experiment With Pick Thicknesses - As a new guitarist, I’d recommend starting with a medium thickness pick, around .6mm - .8mm. Super-thin picks can give you a lot of string noise and not much volume out of your guitar, while super-thick picks can make it tough to get the pick through the strings and stay relaxed.

7 - Look Back at Your Strumming Hand - As you develop your strumming abilities, be sure to look back at your strumming hand so you can see what’s going on. Check if you are doing things right or wrong. You might even want to get a small mirror so you can get a better view.

8 - Don’t Use Just Your Elbow to Strum - Don’t lock your wrist and use just your elbow to strum. I’m not saying to not use your elbow at all, I’m just saying to not use only your elbow. It can hurt after a while and slow you down in the long run. We will get into this more now as we go over the basic strumming technique.

Here is the basic strumming motion you want to think about. Pretend you have some honey on your pinky finger and that there is a little feather stuck to the honey. Now try to flick that feather off. That’s the strumming motion you want! When you flick your hand like that, you have to stay relaxed and use a combination of the wrist, elbow, and rotation with your forearm. It’s kind of like turning a doorknob. Practice that motion without even having a pick in your hand at first.

Go back and review the strumming tips and think about them as you make this strumming (flicking) motion. It will take some intentional practice until this motion mixed with all of the tips becomes second nature. Be sure to actually look back at your strumming hand and watch what is going on. You can mute the strings with your fretting hand in order to give your full attention to the strumming hand. I want to go through a series of exercises with you to help develop your strumming a bit more. There are only four strumming exercises in the video here, but they will help you nail down your technique now so you won’t have to think about it as much in the future.

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