How to Strum a Guitar

Julian Acosta
Written by
Julian Acosta

How to Strum a Guitar for Beginners (with Patterns & Techniques)

Now that you've gone through the other lessons and learned the basic fundamentals, you're ready to do some actual guitar playing. In this Beginner Guitar Lessons for Beginners video, we'll show you how to strum a guitar using a guitar pick with your picking hand. Knowing the proper techniques is important because it will help you practice more efficiently and make progress through more advanced lessons. In addition, proper strumming will reduce your risk of injuries.

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Proper Way to Use a Guitar Pick

Although you can use your thumb and index fingers or fingernails to strum a guitar, it's always recommended to use a guitar pick. When using a guitar pick, you must know how to grip the pick and which angle the pick should be when strumming your guitar.

Gripping the Guitar Pick

There are several ways to hold your guitar pick. It'll take a little experimentation to find what's comfortable and easy for you. The most common and easiest way is to hold the pick with your right thumb and index finger naturally while the pointed end of the pick is aimed at you towards the left. It doesn't matter which way your finger bends as long as it's comfortable. There's another way to hold a guitar pick that gives you a little more control. Simply grip the pick with your thumb and two fingers.

Choosing a Pick Angle

In most cases, the angle at which you hold your guitar pick doesn't matter. It merely comes down to personal preference and comfort level. Most people tend to hold their guitar pick angled down towards the floor. Others like to hold their pick angled so that it's parallel to the guitar strings. As with figuring out how to grip your guitar pick, experiment with different pick angles as you strum your guitar.

Strumming the Guitar

The best tip you can ever listen to when it comes to playing the guitar is to relax! As a beginner, it's common for your body to be tensed up as you're learning. However, this can lead to inefficiency and injuries that could slow down your learning. The best way to relieve tension is to stop playing, relax your shoulders and begin playing again. Over time and with a bit of self-awareness, you'll learn to play more relaxed.

Basic Strumming Techniques

The correct way to strum is to make a movement that originates from both the wrist and the elbow. It's kind of like having a sticky finger with a piece of lint stuck on it and you're trying to flick it off. Like tensed up shoulders, new learners tend to hold their pick with a locked wrist and strum from the elbow. This creates additional tension, which can make it more tiring to play your guitar.

There are three basic strumming techniques including downstrokes, upstrokes and a combination of downstrokes and upstrokes:

  1. Downstrokes: To play using the downstroke technique, you'll simply strum each guitar string in a downward motion. Just remember to grip your pick at the chosen angle, relax your shoulders and use your wrist and elbow while strumming. It's okay if you don't your chords yet (you can always mute your strings), just practice downward strumming until it becomes second nature.

  2. Upstrokes: Using the upstroke technique is similar to downstrokes but in the opposite direction. Use the exact same gripping and relaxation approaches and practice until comfortable. Keep in mind that you don't have to strum all six strings when upstroking. It's perfectly fine to strum only 3 strings or 5 strings. Experiment to find your own sound and style.

  3. Downstrokes and Upstrokes Combination: Once you've got the hang of strumming using upstrokes and downstrokes on their own, you can try combining the two. This is accomplished by strumming downward and then upward and back down again so that you're alternating upstrokes and downstrokes.

How to strum a guitar
How to strum a guitar

Strumming and Picking Tips

When you're first learning how to use your pick, you might find that it's hard to hold. One minute you're strumming away, the next minute your pick goes flying off into the air. You want to get accustomed to holding your guitar pick just tightly enough so that you don't lose it but loose enough so that you aren't making your body too tense. Don't be afraid to adjust your pick while you're playing as it has a tendency to move.

If you've become comfortable holding your pick and combining upstrokes and downstrokes, you're ready to move on. In the next video guitar lesson, we'll introduce you to the 5 Best Strumming Patterns. Soon, you'll be well on your way to playing your favorite tunes!