Instructor: Julian Acosta
Julian understands the aspects of music and the importance of the steps necessary to connect with music. He studied music at the University of Texas and has taught ukulele, piano, guitar and voice since 2009.

The 5 Best Strumming Patterns for Electric or Acoustic Guitar


Terms & Tips Symbols Pattern #1 Pattern #2 Pattern #3 Pattern #4 Pattern #5

If you want to learn how to play the guitar, then you'll have to learn about how to strum properly first. Sure, a solid quarter note rhythm will work for some tunes, but there comes a time when you've got to kick things up a notch. That time is now; today, we're going to go over some more complicated eighth-note strumming patterns that will serve you well as you continue your quest toward complete guitar mastery.

Guitar Strumming Terms & Definitions

Let's get some of the terms and definitions out of the way first, shall we? This way, you won't confused when we start getting into the nitty gritty of these strumming patterns.

Eighth-Notes

You'll recall that your quarter-note is equivalent to one beat. In other words, if your metronome is set to 4/4, each click would represent a single quarter-note passing (one-two-three-four). Eighth-notes are quicker. The time it takes for one quarter-note to pass is equal to two eighth-notes, so while you're counting in 4/4 time, your eighth-note rhythm will instead be one-and-two-and-three-and-four.

Muted Strumming

Even though the strings are muted, you can still strum them. The sound will be flatter, more percussive, but it's an excellent tool for executing rhythms that feel just a little funkier than with our normally strummed chords. All you need to do is use your palm to cover the strings lightly before striking them.

Constant Strumming v. Strumming w/Rests

This one is fairly self explanatory. Constant strumming refers to continuously strumming and hitting the strings, creating a constant rhythm on the eighth-notes in the patterns we'll learn today. When you're strumming with rests, however, you'll perform your strumming pattern while consciously missing the strings on a few beats. This creates the moments of silence that we refer to as rests in music, and can make certain rhythms more interesting.

Strumming Dynamics

When you play a melody, you don't hammer every note at full volume, right? The same applies to the rhythms in our strumming patterns. You should concentrate on playing softly and loudly where appropriate, taking care note to reflexively equate "soft" with "slow" and "fast" with "loud." Keep your rhythms precise, and control your volume like a professional.

Guitar Strumming Tips

In addition to controlling your dynamics, you'll also need to stay aware of the proper technique to exercise when performing your strumming patterns. The trick is in the wrist. Beginners have a tendency to lock their wrist and strum using an elbow motion, as if they were chopping something with a hatchet. Avoid this temptation. Loosen up, and use gentle wrist motions to perform your strumming action as opposed to the awkward forearm swing.

While practicing the following patterns, remember that it is not always necessary to hit all of your strings. For six-string chords, you'll want to hit everything on the downstroke, but for some chords, you only need to hit specific strings to get the sounds you want (especially when performing an upstroke). Some music notation will call attention to this fact, showing you where you must hit all strings, just the bass, middle, or treble strings to achieve success.

How To Read Guitar Strumming Patterns

When working off a sheet of music, you might see different symbols that denote the manner in which you're supposed to strum your guitar.

Guitar Strumming Pattern Symbols

Arrows pointing downward or upward, for instance, can indicate downstrokes and upstrokes on some pieces of music. Alternatively, you might see what look like an "upside down letter U," a "bold letter V" and a "small letter X" to denote your strum patterns. These stand for downstrokes, upstrokes, and muted strokes, respectively.

For additional knowledge, I strongly recommend that you read How to Read Guitar Sheet Music, as well as How To Read Guitar Tabs before you begin.

Already know how to read strumming patterns? Awesome, let's begin!

Guitar Strumming Patterns

In this strumming lesson, I'm going to teach you the five best strumming patterns you need to know if you're a guitarist. Here's the patterns we're going to cover:

  1. Downstrokes All Day
  2. Downstroke, Upstroke
  3. Add a Mute to It
  4. Inserting Rests
  5. Rests on the Downstroke

Strumming Pattern #1: Downstrokes All Day

You'll probably find this exercise easy, but that doesn't mean it isn't important. For this lesson, we're going "all-in" on downstrokes. For every eighth-note, you'll hit the strings in a downward fashion. Like all strumming patterns, timing is paramount to success, so keep your eighth-note counting pattern well in mind: one-and-two-and-three-and-four:

Guitar Strumming Pattern: Downstrokes

  • Beat 1: Downstroke
  • And 1: Downstroke
  • Beat 2: Downstroke
  • And 2: Downstroke
  • Beat 3: Downstroke
  • And 3: Downstroke
  • Beat 4: Downstroke
  • And 4: Downstroke

Grab your metronome, set it to 100BPM in 4/4 time, then try to nail this strumming pattern without pressing any strings using your fretting hand. Once you've got it down at 100BPM, increase by increments of 5BPM until you can successfully play your downstroke eighth-note pattern faster, at 160BPM.

Feeling confident? Good, because now you're going to throw some chords into the mix. Start by getting comfortable with this strumming pattern using a C Major chord. Then, switch things up by playing two beats of C Major and then two beats of G Major. Lastly, put your chord changing abilities to the test by adding a full measure of an A Major chord to the end, like so:

  • Measure 1: C Major on beats 1 & 2; G Major on beats 3 & 4
  • Measure 2: A Major on beats 1, 2, 3, and 4
  • Now repeat

Easy enough. Now, let's take a look at mixing downstrokes with upstrokes.

Strumming Pattern #2: Downstroke, Upstroke

Instead of using downstrokes exclusively, try alternating between downstrokes and upstrokes for each eighth note:

Guitar Strumming Pattern: Downstroke, Upstroke

  • Beat 1: Downstroke
  • And 1: Upstroke
  • Beat 2: Downstroke
  • And 2: Upstroke
  • Beat 3: Downstroke
  • And 3: Upstroke
  • Beat 4: Downstroke
  • And 4: Upstroke

Like before, use your metronome to secure your timing, then try switching between different chords to ensure that you can keep the strumming pattern going steady while making those important transitions.

Strumming Pattern #3: Add a Mute to It

Remember what we said about muted strumming? Time to put it into practice. We'll start simply, by adding a mute to the downstrokes on beats 2 & 4:

Guitar Strumming Pattern: Muted

  • Beat 1: Downstroke
  • And 1: Upstroke
  • Beat 2: Muted Downstroke
  • And 2: Upstroke
  • Beat 3: Downstroke
  • And 3: Upstroke
  • Beat 4: Muted Downstroke
  • And 4: Upstroke

While practicing this exercise, you might want to start slower than 100BPM to ensure you perform the muted downstrokes properly. Once you feel confident about that technique, though, speed things up, and start adding those chord changes as well. Perhaps the trickiest part will be trying to remember to include the muted strums with the chord changes, but careful, continued practice will put you on the road to success.

Strumming Pattern #4: Inserting Rests

Up until this point, we've been executing the constant strum, a continuous barrage that never relents. Now, we'll try inserting some rests, on the "and" of beats 1 & 3, to make our alternating strum pattern a bit more interesting:

Guitar Strumming Pattern: Rests

  • Beat 1: Downstroke
  • And 1: Rest
  • Beat 2: Downstroke
  • And 2: Upstroke
  • Beat 3: Downstroke
  • And 3: Rest
  • Beat 4: Downstroke
  • And 4: Upstroke

You'll still perform your up and downstroke motions on each beat, but for those where you're supposed to rest, don't hit the strings (so that you don't make a sound). Again, employ your metronome to help maintain a steady rhythm, and consider counting along with the beats so that you remember exactly where you are in this pattern. Those rests need to be in precise locations; ignoring your counting is the quickest way to lose your place and ruin the rhythm.

Strumming Pattern #5: Rests on the Downstroke

In the previous pattern, our rests were on beats where we would have performed an upstroke in the alternating strumming routine. Now, we're going to make things more difficult by placing a rest on a downstroke, beat 3:

Guitar Strumming Pattern: Rests on Downstroke

  • Beat 1: Downstroke
  • And 1: Upstroke
  • Beat 2: Downstroke
  • And 2: Upstroke
  • Beat 3: Rest
  • And 3: Upstroke
  • Beat 4: Downstroke
  • And 4: Upstroke

Don't get discouraged if you can't conquer this pattern on your first attempt. It's a complex pattern, and will likely take a few tries to execute correctly. As with all the other patterns we've covered, start slow, speed up gradually, then add your chord changes when you feel more confident about your abilities.

Applying The Strumming Patterns

Now that you've got these five patterns under your belt, seek out more, and see if you can come up with a few of your own that sound cool. If you want to kick things up a notch, why not try adding a few accents, rests, or muted strums in new locations during the eighth-note strum?

When listening to music, see if you can pick out what kind of strumming pattern the artist is using, and when you're practicing yourself, always remember to observe proper technique. These patterns might not all come to you easily, but once you've got them down, you'll have opened the door to a whole new world of playing rhythms with your guitar.

Next Lesson:

Guitar Fingerpicking Patterns

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