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  • Writer's pictureRon Dickson

Getting the Strumming hand moving correctly

Not something that came naturally to me was strumming correctly. I had played the guitar for about 20 years and hit a wall with my frustrating development, so I looked for a guitar tutor and went for lessons. I turned up for my first lesson with Ben Wright, and one of the first issues he highlighted was my strumming hand was poor. I went away confused as I had considered myself pretty good rhythmically and did some research and found that he was entirely correct. The message had been there in all the information I had read about strumming and rhythm, and I had just not picked up on it.

Swallowing my pride, I developed the rhythm playing as he and many others described, and after about two years, I corrected this fault in my playing. Part of the issue was I had to unlearn every song I had ever learned and play everything differently, quite a task.

Now that I am a tutor, I do not wish anyone to have to go through this, so I encourage correct strumming hand motions from the start to develop a solid base on which to build. And in a statement, it is straightforward. The strumming hand must move continuously in time with the beat. In reality, keeping that hand moving is one of the hardest things a beginner has to learn on the guitar.

The first step is moving the hand down with every beat, missing the strings. From here, we progress to hitting the string on every beat. At this stage, almost everyone is successful. The next part is to hit the strings as we move the hand down and hit again on the up. At this point, a significant number struggle. Those that succeed try a chord changing without stopping the strumming hand, and almost every beginner cannot do this.

To learn how to strum correctly like this, we must feel the rhythm we are trying to play and internalise it. Once it is in our subconscious, we can start applying this rhythm while playing music and changing chords. Unfortunately, humans struggle to learn more than one thing at a time. Therefore getting this correct has to be isolated from our attempts at learning songs and anything else our fretting hand may be doing. Going further, we must feel the rhythm separate from getting a strumming hand missing and hitting the strings.

To this end, we clap the rhythm in time with our foot. We get the feel of how the rhythm sounds and clap how it feels till we can clap it without counting. Next, we move our hand down and up in time with our foot without hitting the strings. Say the rhythm out loud, then progress to hitting the strings to create the rhythm without changing the speed or timing of our rhythm.

From this base, we can then progress to applying chords to play along with songs without the time-consuming task of unlearning the pauses we learned when stopping to change chords mid-song.

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