Why Developing Your Strumming Hand Is Vital To Becoming a Good Guitar Player
No matter what instrument you play, rhythm and timing is vital to becoming good at music, especially if you want to play music with others. That is a why I believe it is truly important that guitarist focus on the fundamentals of rhythm and timing right from the get go. If you are already playing guitar, you have probably noticed that strumming is controlled by your dominant hand (right if you are a righty, left if you are a lefty). In the beginning, strumming can seem very foreign and awkward, but, over time you can develop your hand to the point where it had a mind of its own. Honestly! Imagine being able to strum along to a song without even having to think about it. Well that is totally possible.
All you have to do is take the right steps towards building up the muscle memory in your strumming hand. I have developed a step-by-step approach that has helped my students get rocking and rolling with their strumming hand very quickly. Usually in a matter of weeks. Here is an outline of the process I use:
- Focus on timing right from the get go
I put students on a metronome as soon as possible. This not only helps them track their progress, it helps them start to build timing skills. I will often play along with students so that they can work off my timing like they would have to do in a real life band setting.
- Start small
I start by focusing on whole note, half note and quarter note strumming patterns to develop coordination and build confidence in their abilities to strum along with various strumming patterns. We start by using one chord and then add chord progressions to the strums. You can see in the examples below that rhythm is kept very simple in the beginning.
As a guitar teacher, I know it is very important to build confidence in the beginning stages of learning the guitar. I have yet to meet a student I couldn’t help master basic rhythms skills in a relatively short amount of time.
- Build upon your foundation
Once students have mastered the basics and built a foundation for timing in their strumming hand, we then build upon that foundation by adding more complex strumming patterns that include up strums and syncopated rhythms.
The timing of up strums can be difficult for some students and is why it is essential for you to have a good foundation before progressing to the next level.
Syncopated rhythms are when you do not have a down strum on the down beat, meaning there may not be a down strum on the 1, 2, 3 or 4 count. This can really throw students for a loop and, again, is why I recommend getting a good foundation for non-syncopated eighth note strumming before progressing to syncopated rhythms.
Example of non-syncopated eighth note rhythms:
Example of syncopated eighth note rhythms:
- Mix things up
There are some songs that use the same strumming pattern for the entire song, but many songs switch between rhythms quite frequently. When learning songs with students, I usually keep them on one strumming pattern for simplicity and ease of playing. But, as I notice a student’s strumming hand relaxing and become more adapted to the different strumming patterns, we will start mixing up strumming patterns. Maybe the verse is 1 or 2 strumming patterns and the chorus is something completely different. We work on the skills required to fluidly move from one strumming pattern right into the next without pausing or stopping. I find that students who have moved through my strumming system don’t have much trouble applying this skill because in the foundational stages I build in this type of practice without them even noticing.
By the time students are done with the first 3 phases of my strumming program they can:
- Count and play along in time
- Read basic rhythm patterns
- Know the different between quarter and eighth note strumming
- Understand the difference between 3/4 and 4/4 time
- Change chords while maintaining rhythm
- Switch between rhythm patterns without hesitation
- Apply strumming patterns to the songs they love
- Have more fun with their guitar and feel confident in their abilities
I have yet to have a student fail to learn rhythm while using my step-by-step rhythm system. People with no music experience were amazed that they could actually read music, understand it and play along to it.
Use this method when building your rhythm skills and I guarantee you will see success. Have patience and don’t rush any part of the learning process. Jumping ahead before you are ready can cause frustration and it why I set speed goals that must be hit before we move on to the next stage in the process.
About The Author:
Lauren Bateman is a successful guitar teacher and voice coach living just outside of Boston. She owns and operates two successful music schools and enjoy working with beginner guitar students and rock vocalists. Lauren was told at a young age that maybe music wasn’t her thing. This is why she is passionate about making music accessible to those who never thought playing music was possible or were told they could not do it. You can learn more about Lauren via her website www.laurenbateman.com or her music school at www.lbmusicschool.com