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Acoustic Guitar I

Strumming basics to help with learning to play guitar

NB Best viewed in Google Chrome to be able to access the audio clips

Basic Chords

Learn the (mainly) open chord shapes shown below and playing many popular songs becomes accessible. Guitar in standard tuning EADGBE.

o = open string, x = not played, eg3 = fret number

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Eighth Note Strumming

Strum the guitar variously with the thumb, finger, thumb/finger in a "pinch" or with a plectrum. Only strike those strings making up a particular chord.

With typically 4 beats to a bar of music, each a quarter note length, each beat can be divided in to two eighth notes. At it's simplest the strum pattern comprises an eighth note down-strum and up-strum to each beat, hence eighth note strumming.

It's helpful to speak the eighth note pattern, which at it's simplest is DUDUDUDU, where D = down strum and U = up strum.

Basic syncopation is achieved by inserting a rest, ie omitting one or more strum strokes. For example, omitting the second up stroke in the simplest pattern yields D-DUDUDU.

Generally the strumming technique will maintain a regular up-down hand motion, with the hand missing the strings on appropriate strokes. This requires plenty of practice so that it becomes smooth and automatic.

Song specific strum patterns & styles variously use strum rests, accents and muting to syncopate, ie vary, the rhythm.

NB You may need to view this page in Google Chrome browser to hear the audio clips.

Straight Eighth Note Patterns

The following example patterns are useful in themselves. You can easily derive further variants to extend your playing. The clips have been created in Tuxguitar at 95 bpm, with some additional use of beat-slicing.

DUDUDUDU Try emphasising downstrokes on beats 1 & 3 versus on beats 2 & 4
D-DUD-DU Rest stroke has effect of emphasising beats 1 & 3
DUDU-UDU This requires a missed downstroke on beat 3.
D-DU-UDU This strum and the one above have a calypso feel and are well suited to ballads etc.
D-DUDU Simple waltz style strum pattern in 3/4 time, still at 95 bpm.

The above clips are on a C-major open chord.

Introducing Swing Eighth Note Feel

In "straight", i.e un-swung, rhythm the downstrokes and upstrokes have equal spacing or time value. Swing however alters this so as to add some bounce or sway to the rhythm, by lengthening the (onbeat) downstrokes and shortening the (offbeat) upstrokes.

There are degrees of swing, but it is routinely based on triplet time division. Each beat is divided in three and the middle one is treated as a rest so that the downstrokes ring out and sound for twice the length of the upstrokes. Or to put it another way, two thirds of a beat is occupied by the downstroke and one third by the upstroke. The effect aurally is to clump each upstroke with the downstroke immediately following it. The result is add a "shuffle" effect to the rhythm, used widely and especially in blues music.

Swing is very much a global effect, so in learning different strumming patterns, check whether they can be played both with and without swing.

DUDUDUDU The DU syntax at left is kept simple. With triplet rests shown becomes D-UD-UD-UD-U
D-DU-UDU This is a very useful strum pattern. With triplet rests shown becomes D--D-U--UD-U

The above clips are on a C-major open chord.

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Adding Palm Muting on Beats 2 and 4

A distinctive percussive effect can be added to your strumming by quenching the downstrokes on beats 2 and 4. Bring your right palm (fleshy outside edge) momentarily against the strings to mute them.

Palm muting (or "chuck") is a quick action and must fit in the with the rhythm pulse, so practice makes perfect. In the absence of a drummer or drum track it strengthens the rhythm by mimicking the percussive hit of a snare drum on beats 2 and 4.

DUCUDUCU Straight rhythm. The C in the syntax is a palm muted downstroke or chuck.
DUCUDUCU Swing rhythm.
D-CUDUCU Straight rhythm.
D-CU-UCU Straight rhythm.
D-C--UCU Straight rhythm.

The above clips are on a C-major open chord.

Bass-Treble Strumming with Accents

It gets boring if chords are sounded on all the relevant strings, all the time. Asided from palm muting, rhythmic reinforcement can be added to vanilla strumming by:

- strumming beat 1 and 3 down/upstrokes on the bass strings of the chord e.g. strings 4-5-6 or 4-5
- strumming beat 2 and 4 down/upstrokes on the treble strings of the chord e.g. strings 1-2-3

The effect is similar to that delivered by a really basic drum backing eg kick-snare-kick-snare across beats 1-4.

Further rhythm emphasis can be added by playing accented strums, each with a small increase in volume. At a basic level one can accent either beats 1 and 3 (typically giving a country feel) or beats 2 and 4 (with swing, gives a Chicago shuffle feel).

The following clips just illustrate the basic idea. They have been created in Guitar Pro 6 at 90 bpm.

DUDUDUDU Straight rhythm bass-treble strumming with accents on beats 1 and 3.
DUDUDUDU Straight rhythm bass-treble strumming with accents on beats 2 and 4.

The above clips are on an A-major open chord.

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