It is an unfortunate reality that mastering strumming patterns is not a skill that garners much respect in the guitar world. When most people think of playing the guitar, they usually think of playing solos. Even the easiest to learn and play power chords get more attention than strumming patterns. However, strumming patterns are one of the most important guitar skills to have, for both rhythm and lead guitar players.

When something is hard, slow down, get it right then speed up. Slow makes good.

Rhythm reading and understanding how to read strumming patterns can be very challenging for beginners, new to playing the guitar. But, but not to fret (pun intended)! This post is intended as a walkthrough in the world of strumming for beginners with some helpful tips and tricks. So, if you have already enrolled in guitar lessons for beginners near me, keep this guide handy too!

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Developing a sense of rhythm is the first lesson in music. | Image credit: Ezequiel Garrido on Unsplash
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Learn to Read Rhythm

All musical events have a specific rhythm, which is defined using a clear and unambiguous language called music notation. Music notation includes musical events that are intended entirely to provide rhythmic support, such as playing drums or even hand clapping. It also includes chords, melody, and any other musical event you might hear within a song or other musical composition.

As a beginner in guitar, develop a solid understanding of how to read rhythms. This skill, in turn, will make reading music on the guitar much easier for you. It is also easier to just concentrate on learning how to read rhythms without having to worry about which notes to play. Here are a few concepts you must have clarity on while learning to play rhythm on guitar.

Signature

At the beginning of a piece of sheet of music, you will see some kind of fraction or a C. This is a time signature. A time signature tells us how many beats there are in a measure and which note gets the beat. Four-four time, notated 4/4, is the most common time signature. In fact, common time is another name for 4/4 time. The C is short for 4/4 or common time. The first 4 in 4/4 is telling us that there are 4 beats per measure. The second four is telling us that the quarter note gets the beat.

Notation

You need to dig deep if you are trying to study notation as there are several elements to it, such as ties, dotted notes, triplets, and many more. Here is a very basic overview of understanding and reading the basics of rhythm notation for guitarists.

These are the essential strumming patterns that every rhythm guitarist should know.

The Whole Note

The whole note (essentially just a circle) is called so because it fills the whole of a bar of 4/4 time - the most common time signature in western music. As such, it lasts for four beats. Practice playing whole notes by simply setting a metronome, then playing notes or chords, ensuring each lasts for a whole 4 beats.

The Half Note

The half note lasts for half a bar and therefore, discussing 4/4 time as we are, it lasts for two beats. The whole note can be subdivided into two half notes, i.e. in the time you can play a whole note, you can fit two half notes. Practice playing half notes by setting a metronome, then fitting 2 equal notes per bar, 2 beats each.

The Quarter Note

The quarter note is called so because it lasts one beat - a quarter of a bar of 4/4 time. This means, therefore, that you are able to fit four of them into one bar. You may have heard the term 'four to the floor' - meaning when a drummer plays the kick drum on every beat, i.e. four quarter notes per bar.

music notation
Musical notation is the blueprint of a musical event. | Image credit: Pixabay

Practice playing quarter notes by setting a metronome then playing a note or chord on every beat. Now that you’re learning several types of note/note length, remember to practice bars comprising mixed rhythms and varying note lengths simultaneously.

Learn how to develop great timing as a guitarist.

The Eighth Note

1/8 of a bar or half a beat long, the eighth note is half of a quarter note. This means a quarter note can be subdivided into 2 half notes. Practice eighth notes by setting your metronome and playing not only on every beat in the bar but on every ‘off-beat’ too (i.e. the spaces between the beats). Take care, because the eighth note is the first point at which not everything you play will be ‘on the beat’.

Measure

When you look at sheet music you will see horizontal lines that divide the music into what is known as measures. If you are in 4/4 time, each measure will receive 4 beats and the quarter note will be the beat. If you were counting quarter notes in 4/4 time you would count, 1 2 3 4 for one measure.

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Best Guitar Strumming Patterns for Songs

The first rhythm is simple but could be deceptive. You'll have to work hard at the straight 8th note downstroke to keep it nice and groovy with super-tight timing. This pattern comes up a lot in rock and punk music and can be thought of as "1-&-2-&-3-&-4-&" in terms of timing -- two downstrokes for every beat in 4/4 time. Practicing this rhythm with a metronome or drum loop will ensure that you're properly locking into the groove.

For the second rhythm, you will need to understand what a shuffle is. Stick with the 8th note downstroke, but this time shift the "&'s" of each beat, introducing a syncopated feel. This gives the pattern that "swagger" that you hear in blues music and will become very apparent if you use it to play the 12-bar blues form.

There are plenty of good reasons to learn rhythms as a guitarist.

The third guitar rhythm pattern is probably the most common, and that's the up/downstroke. This pattern also makes use of a syncopated 8th note rhythm, but introduces upstrokes and downstrokes and also leaves a bit of space in between some strums. Once you've mastered this pattern, you can feel comfortable jamming with anyone!

Key Reminders

When you are learning rhythm and strumming on the best online guitar classes in India, the most important thing to learn is to just keep going. Even non-musicians will know right away that something is wrong when the rhythm stops, but many people will never notice a wrong or slightly wrong chord.

The ability to relax is the other very important factor in strumming. Make sure you keep your arm as relaxed as possible. Of course, strumming needs a little tension to move and hold the pick, but otherwise, keep your whole body as relaxed as possible and try and learn to let the music flow, rather than forcing it.

strumming guitar
Don't overanalyze your strumming ... just go with the flow. | Image credit: Drew Patrick Miller on Unsplash

Many guitarists also worry about the exact angle of the strum over the strings. This is not important at this stage, as a beginner. It changes depending on what you are doing, so beware of over analysis! At these early stages, you won't develop any bad habits that can't be fixed a little later.

Check out this one-stop guide to learning guitar rhythms.

Some strumming patterns may look intimidating on paper but sound catchy and easy to play. Sitting down to figure out the rhythmic notation of the song you want to learn is not always going to be the most efficient way to learn a piece of music. A good deal of your development as a guitar player should be by listening and watching the guitar players you want to sound like.

As already mentioned, musical notation is an incredible way to understand music. However, it is equally true that notation can only give you a general idea of what something sounds like. If you want to learn how to read strumming patterns, immerse yourself in guitar music and imitate what you see and hear. Reading music notation is a great start, but you won’t progress until you practice for hours and hours with your instrument.

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Shreyanjana

Shreyanjana is an archaeologist who ironically finds the written word to be the most powerful means of storytelling. A travel buff and a photography enthusiast, she has been writing and sharing stories of all sorts ever since she can remember.