If you want to take your guitar playing to the next level, you will need to learn strumming patterns. Strumming patterns are used in practically all styles of guitar playing because they help add rhythm and a little bit of flare to chords and progressions.
There are many different strumming patterns, and they all consist of unique combinations of upstrokes, down strokes, muted strums, and rests. In this article, we’ll go over some basic strumming patterns that every guitar player should be comfortable with playing.
Overview of Strumming Patterns
Strumming is what you do on your guitar whenever you are playing multiple strings at a time, so anytime you play a chord. Strumming can be done with your fingers, but it is most commonly done by using a pick. If you aren’t familiar or comfortable with using a pick, read this article.
Early blues, rock, and jazz guitarists starting using strumming patterns to help write songs, add rhythm, and to put more emphasis on certain chords in progressions. They are found in nearly every song with chords and there is practically an endless combination of strumming patterns.
Here are some terms you should be familiar with when discussing strumming patterns:
- Down stroke – playing your guitar strings down, in the direction from low E to high E, so basically the direction you normally play.
- Upstroke – the exact opposite of a down stroke, strumming the strings in the opposite direction. Think ‘up’ as in up towards you.
- Rest – this means don’t play anything on this beat.
- Mute – a muted strum is a down stroke, but you ‘mute’ the strings with the palm of your strumming hand. This gives the guitar a percussion-like sound and it is very common in hard rock and metal. If you still aren’t sure about how to play a muted strum, check out our article on it here.
To get good at playing strumming patterns, you’ll need to have some basic knowledge in dealing with time signatures and whole, quarter, and eighth notes.
If any of those are unfamiliar to you, make sure you read this tutorial we have on basic time signatures and rhythm. Once you are familiar with that, you’re ready to start playing these patterns.
Here’s the notation we’ll use when showing examples of strumming patterns:
D: Down stroke
When writing the rhythm for these patterns, if you see 1234, that means whole notes for each strum. If you see 1&2&3&4&, this means quarter notes for each. We won’t go into eighth notes with these patterns, and all strums will be the same type of notes.
We go into some pretty basic strumming patterns in this article so you can get a feel for different types of patterns. If you’ve mastered these, check out our advanced strumming patterns.
Five Basic Strumming Patterns that You Should Know
Strokes: D D D D
Rhythm: 1 2 3 4
That’s right; just down strokes, which is the easiest strumming pattern out there. You can do the exact same pattern with all up strokes as well, but now let’s look at a little more technical pattern.
Strokes: D U D U D U D U
With this pattern, you are simply alternating between up and down strokes with each chord. Still extremely basic, but mastering this one is essential for learning to alternate strokes.
Strokes: D U D U R U D U
This one teaches you how to play a rest in the middle of your pattern. This is important for training your mind not to play at certain parts, although you may be tempted to play a stroke on the rests.
Strokes: D R D U D R D U
Similar to the previous pattern, this one is just practicing patterns containing rests.
Strokes: D U M U D U M U
This final pattern introduces you to using mute strums in your strumming patterns.
Now it’s your time to start perfecting this new skill you’ve learned. Pick a single chord and play each of these patterns. As you start to practice more, try adding in different chords throughout the pattern. Changing chords within a pattern is where these can get difficult, and it’s important you practice this.
Remember, there are many different strumming patterns out there. We know that playing these basic strumming patterns can be a little boring, but mastering them shouldn’t take too long. Once you are comfortable with these patterns, you should start practicing more difficult ones. Here are some real songs that have great strumming patterns in them:
Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
Bad Moon Rising – CCR
Wonderwall – Oasis
Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd
Smooth Criminal – Alien Ant Farm
Most songs will have strumming patterns and they are an important skill if you want to master playing rhythm guitar. These songs provided here will prove to have much more difficult patterns than the examples we provided here.
The patterns we provided are a great foundation for practicing strumming. Practice those and then move onto playing different strumming patterns in songs you want to learn. Like every skill with playing guitar, the best thing you can do is practice, and strumming patterns are no different.