How Guitarists Can Kill It With Rhythm Patterns

If you need help with your guitar strumming technique, look no further... 

This article will explain how to build a foundation for strumming technique, we'll look at patterns, plus we'll explore dynamics...

By building on the basic down-up, alternate strumming action, we can create more intricate and more dynamic rhythm patterns.

For the most part, fundamental strumming actions will not change, instead they only need to be applied it in different ways. Most guitar players begin with strumming using a strict "Down - Up" pattern. However, it lacks feel because the pattern is so consistent. One of the fastest ways to change this is with a break to the pattern through missing a down-beat.

The "Down - Up / Up - Down - Up"  guitar strumming pattern

This particular pattern is one of the easiest modifications of that basic down-up strumming pattern. Before, we were simply hitting the strings on every downward/upward stroke.

The broken pattern skips a beat to create a jump in the rhythm and give it a more interesting groove... beats 2 and 4 are skipped.


It is important to keep those "un-strummed" beats flowing with your hand-swing. This works to maintain your constant down-up action, even if you're not hitting the strings during a stroke.In the big picture it maintains your sense of groove.

By missing the strings on the skipped beat, the action will still be there, and you will be able to get into position for the next stroke and keep a constant strum momentum.

NOTE: To miss the strings, move your hand out in a very slight circular motion, arching over the strings as you get ready for the next stroke.

You can create countless strumming patterns from modifications to this "Down / Up" strum technique. Pattern two is a slightly different modification of that foundation down-up strumming. In this case, beats 3 and 1 are skipped. With fewer missed beats and a more dispersed rhythm we achieve a very different rhythmic flow.

"Down - Up - Down - Up / Up - Down - Up / Up - Down - Up"


Try this strumming technique over a bass and drum backing track.

Below is a jam track in the key of A major.


Use A7, with the rhythm from above...

The great thing about playing these types of strumming patterns is that you start to focus on your strumming attack as your feel gets better. Strum attack is also referred to as "Dynamics." It has to do with how hard you hit the strings and also deals with muting technique.

To increase dynamics, try to get rid of the constant drone of ringing strings and inject more life into your strumming rhythms by focusing upon how hard you're hitting the strum attack.


"Down - Down /Up, Up - Down - Up."


Apply this pattern using 3 chords:
E minor, A minor and B7 (see below).


Layered strumming and string targeting

While the above guitar strumming techniques are used commonly in Rock and Pop, there are techniques that work better in other styles like Country and Folk. These strums stress on the bass and treble strings of the chords you're playing separately.

Strumming patterns used in Country and Folk require far more string accuracy, as you'll be targeting specific strings (bass or treble) within the chord on your down and up strokes.

Let's start with a basic example using the bass and treble strings of our guitar. This rhythm uses a basic down / up strum.

Start by hitting the bass strings of the chord you're playing with the first down strum, and the treble strings with the second up strum. The example audio below is performed using a "G Major" chord.


In the above audio clip the strum pattern is introduced (played slowly) on a "G Major" chord. Then, additional chords of, "E Minor," and "C Major," are added at a faster tempo. This three chord up-tempo strum pattern operates by using the same style of down strums on the lower strings with up strums on the higher strings. The overall idea is that you're targeting the low and high string groups with a repetitive strumming pattern.

This is similar to how a drummer would hit the bass drum followed by the snare (treble) drum to create a beat. When the example above gets going, it has a very punchy, energy because of the attack of the down strums on the lower strings.

Let's now look at a more complex way of using this technique.

Down picking with strumming ...


In the example audio above you should be able to hear the separation of the bass, mid and treble strings in the open G major chord. We start with a down strum on the bass notes of the chord (low E, A strings), followed by a down strum in the mid section of the chord (A, D and G strings), and 3 strokes of the treble section (G, B and high e strings). The mid and treble strings may overlap, but that's not really an issue.

String separation for each strum:

The key thing is to get some kind of defined separation between these chord tones from low to high (bass to treble). What this does is two things:

1. Layer your chord playing, making it more nuanced and textured (if, of course, you're bothered about those things! Not so important in punk rock, for example).

2. Give your rhythm more energy. Just like a drummer would use the bass and snare drum in certain positions to create a beat, so too can a guitarist position the bass and treble accordingly.

Keep practicing...
Experiment with the guitar strumming techniques we've learned here and apply them to your own music. Keep an open mind, but also remember the foundation. Those are the elements that help keep your timing and strum attack sharp.



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