Strumming a guitar is one of the first thing many guitarists learn, and it’s often a skill that is overlooked. Players will commonly try to run before they can walk, and can very easily skip the basics when trying to jump to what are deemed as some of the more cooler or advanced techniques.
Like learning any instrument, you have to take the basics into account and follow a practice regiment that is set out in a way for you to develop and really hone your basic skills, before progressing to the more advanced approaches. Strumming is just one aspect of a beginner guitarists skillset, so let’s look at some of the ways you can go about it.
Why is strumming technique important?
In a world of shredding and playing fast, something like a proper strumming technique is regularly skipped by beginners, only for bad habits to awkwardly rectified further down the line.
Focusing on your strumming technique as soon as possible is one of the best ways to get proper form and retain an effective technique. We’re also covering ways to strum both with and without a pick, including fingerpicking patterns and ways that you don’t have to rely on a pick for getting a proper strumming technique together.
How To Strum Without A Pick
Let’s look at some of the more recognised techniques for strumming with a pick, and how you can utilise these in your regular playing.
Playing guitar without a pick is a great way to feel more involved with the instrument, and you can really start to get a feel for the guitar when just playing with your hands alone.
Strumming Hand Positions Without A Pick
The type of tone you’re going to be able to get is largely based on the part of the strumming hand you’re going to be using. We’re going to look at different approaches based on the part of the strumming hand, and the types of tones you can get from it. The tonal differences will comes from both the intensity of your playing, and also the part of the hand that you choose to strike the strings with.
The below approach to strumming without a pick are just a small selection of the multiple ways you can approach this type of playing.
Not to be confused with alternative picking, strumming in alternate ‘up, down, up’ patterns will allow you to control the speed and intensity of your playing.
There are many, many ways to alternate strum without a pick, with multiple patterns to choose from. Let’s take a look at some of the more common ones:
Full Finger Strum
This is a very common style in Spanish and classical guitar playing, where you’re utilising all of your fingers to get the most out of your strum.
The ‘pick replacement’ configuration
What can be described as an ‘okay’ shape with your strumming hand, with this technique you’re replacing the outline of the pic and using what is commonly your middle finger and thumb to create the pick shape. This is favourable for things like power chords and playing with one or two string, rather than all strings where the thumb or entire hand strum is more effective.
You can also rest your palm on the tip of the strings to partially mute them, then utilise your full hand for a strum (again an approach preferred for chord strumming). Palm muting is a fantastic way to maintain volume levels relative to the song especially for verse and rhythm sections which may require a muted approach.
The most common approach for downward strumming is using your thumb. If you’re using the majority of your thumb then you’re going to get a much ‘warmer’ tone, especially on an acoustic guitar. The pattern when using the thumb based on positioning will be a downwards only strum, as upwards strumming is not only very difficult but can also be uncomfortable for the front of the thumb.
This is not to say that you cannot utilise an ‘up, down’ alternating strumming pattern with your thumb, just that in terms of tone the downards-only strum is much more suited to the thumb strum approach.
You can also utilise the nail of your thumb if you want a tone that sounds a little more like a pick, which is essentially a ‘brighter’ sound.
How To Strum With A Pick
Pick Positioning When Strumming
Strumming with a pick is all about the positioning and technique of your picking hand. The best advice I was ever given was not to force the movement of the pick, and to not grip it too tightly. This also goes the same with your wrist as you strum; too tight and you’ll be too robotic, too lose and your hand will be flying all over the place.
Keeping your grip loose on the pick and lighter with your strumming hand will ensure that your movement remains fluid.
This has been included in this guide as, even though its’ not technically strumming, it’s a technique that takes strumming to an advanced stage.
Sweep picking allows guitarists to blitz through arpeggios and chords rapidly. It also lends itself to alternate picking when strumming, e.g. if you’re playing a country-style song and need to either individually pick each string or pick strings in an alternating pattern.
With any advances technique, be sure to take things slowly. The benefit comes from a slow and steady approach, as is also the same for progressing in your strumming speed (this can also be linked to the same technique as alternate picking).
Strumming, like any guitar technique, is a very personal method of playing and ultimately all depends on how comfortable you feel. Some guitarists prefer to play with a pick as it is easier on their strumming hand, whereas others like to feel more connected to the instrument and only use their fingers.
Whatever the approach you choose, be sure to take things slowly and work at a pace you feel comfortable with, ensuring that you absolutely nail the strumming method!