Whenever students came to me who had been playing a while they all had one burning question – how do I strum well.
Below I have attempted to give the answer.
For all right hand playing you will need a plectrum so if you don’t have one you will need to get one, in fact get several.
Plectrum technique is very important to any guitar player and you must master this technique to play to any level. The plectrum is held loosely between the thumb and first finger. Place the plectrum on your first finger as in the first photo. Then bring the thumb over, as in the second photo.
Photo showing the Plectrum (Pick) placed on the first finger (next to the thumb) of the right hand.
Photo showing the completed grip between the thumb and the first finger.
You should only have enough plectrum showing to hit the strings with because if you have too much plectrum showing you will have less control of it. The plectrum is held the way shown above because you want to be able to control the plectrum with your brain and to do this you control the first finger and wherever the first finger goes so does the plectrum. All plectrum exercises should be played along to a metronome. This creates even rhythm and control.
Many people tell of ways that speed up your playing, but only good technique can do this. Playing down and up across each string speeds up playing because you are making the most of your natural movement and thus good technique. If you think of it, if you only play notes on the downward strokes you still have to lift the plectrum upwards to play the next note so why not play a note with the upward stroke. Therefore you use the same amount of movement and get twice as many notes. However even a natural movement has to be trained to be consistent. You should practice getting the downward and upward strokes to be of even loudness (dynamic) always.
Strumming 1 String.
Having used your right-arm to hold the guitar you should still be free to be able to move your right-hand across the strings. The hand should feel comfortable over the strings and no part of the hand should be in contact with the guitar.
The right-hand is equally as important as the left-hand when playing the guitar as they must, eventually, play in perfect time together. Soyou must get the brain used to what the right-hand must do. Every time you pick up the guitar YOU MUST HOLD IT THE SAME WAY. The reason for this is simple, if you send movement information from your hand to your brain, your brain will remember it and reproduce it if you want it too. If you hold the guitar the same way every time and move your right hand the same every time then the brain will, eventually, move your hand without you having to think about it but if you position your hand differently every time then the brain is confused. You could also apply this to everything you learn about the guitar.
The best way of strumming is to make an arc with the wrist. The reason for this is that with an arc the plectrum is coming away from the strings at either end of the arc. The get the best arc for any number of strings you work out where the middle of the strings is, physically. Then place your hand over it and practice making an arc so that you play only the string(s) that you want. E.g. For strings 2-5 the middle is between the 3rd and 4th strings and the arc must rise to miss the 1st and 6th strings.
Diagram showing an arc over 4 strings.
Plectrum Exercise 1
You must train yourself to be able to play with the right-hand without looking at it as you can only watch one hand at a time and there is a lot more to think about on the left-hand.
Play down and up on the String 6 (the thickest string), firstly watching what you are doing and then looking away.
Once you feel confident that you can play on String 6 then add String 5 (the two thickest strings), alternating between the two Strings – playing down and up on string 6 (the thickest string), down and up on string 5. Then add each string, in turn, until you can play down and up for each string in turn, FLUENTLY.
Use a metronome at all times and increase the tempo (speed) as you feel able to. As with all exercises don’t think that you can just do this a few times and that is enough. You must train you right-hand every time you pick up the guitar or you will lose the ability.
Practice getting steady even strokes which hit every string evenly. This is the correct movement for strumming the guitar. Use the metronome to practice playing at a steady speed (tempo), also making sure that you don’t drown out the metronome. This should help you to play at a consistent volume (dynamic).
To play dynamically you must have a reference that you can call normal and this is what you need to achieve with your rhythm hand – every stroke being the same as the last and the next.
The right hand must, eventually, be like a metronome. This means that you can play in time and that there are no gaps in the music, that aren’t meant to be there. If you can’t play in time then you will never be able to play in a band.
So remember Use your metronome at all times.
Plectrum Exercise 2
1) Practice playing down and up over all 6 strings so that all the strings blend together to make one sound and none of the strings are louder than any of the others.
2) Practice playing down and up over 5 strings missing, firstly, the 6th string and then the 1st string (the thinnest string).
3) Practice playing down and up over 4 strings playing:-
(I) The 6th, 5th, 4th and 3rd strings.
(II) The 5th, 4th. 3rd and 2nd strings.
(III) The 4th, 3rd. 2nd and 1st strings.
4) Practice playing down and up over 3 strings playing
(I) The 6th. 5th and 4th strings.
(II) The 5th, 4th and 3rd strings.
(III) The 4th. 3rd and 2nd strings.
(IV) The 3rd, 2nd and 1st strings.
5) Practice playing down and up over 2 strings for all pairs available.
Practice this exercise until you can play an arc over any number of strings in any combination.
Remember you can only strum adjacent strings.