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Time to learn some strumming: Basic Guitar lessons for the beginning acoustic or electric guitar player

Though the feel is slightly different when strumming an electric versus an acoustic guitar, the skills are essentially the same. There are a few common and basic principles when learning to strum the acoustic guitar, but by perseverance and consistency, a beginner can strum smoothly in a few days to a few weeks.

Step 1: Holding the acoustic guitar properly: When learning to strum a guitar, at first, holding chords with the chording hand is not necessary to get the proper feel for strumming. We will refer to the right handed player in this lesson, so if you happen to be left handed, simply reverse the hands and be sure you are playing a left-handed guitar, as the pick guard is opposite of a right handed guitar and the strings are strung in reverse as well. If the guitar is a venetian (cutaway), this will also be on the opposite side for a left-handed acoustic guitar. First, sit in your chair with your back away from the back of the chair. It is best to start seated closer to the edge of the chair with your back fairly straight (not slouched). The guitar body (as described in a previous lesson) should rest on the right leg in such a way that your right arm can rest on the large bout curve, on the inside of your upper arm (bicep area) so that your elbow can hinge freely. The wrist should be fairly straight but the arm and fingers should not be tense. Your left hand should hold the guitar neck near the head, and those fingers should not touch the strings at first, but should let them ring freely as you are beginning to learn how to strum the guitar.

Step 2: Hold the pick properly: When holding the pick, you should consider applying pressure as thought you were holding a feather, and then adding just a bit more to make sure the pick does not fly loose while strumming your acoustic guitar. Even the most advanced players lose their picks from time to time, so don't be discouraged if you have to continually pick your pick (plectrum) off the floor. Now, take the right hand, and extend it in front of you and begin to make the “ok” sign with your index finger, except curl your finger as tightly as it will curl without being too tense. Allow the other 3 fingers (2-4) either relax in a straight formation or curl them up in a loose fist. These 3 fingers can be either extended while you strum or curled in a fist, as this will allow for personal comfort preferences as well as different playing styles that you can experiment later. For now, go with what is most comfortable and gives you the smoothest strumming consistency on your acoustic guitar. As you advance from a beginner guitar player to a more advanced acoustic guitar player, you will find what works best for you in different playing styles.

With your index finger curled, use your left hand to place the pick on your curled finger, with the pointy end of the pick facing away from the palm of your hand. Next, lightly place your right thumb on the pick and trap the pick between your index finger and thumb of your right hand. The idea is to get as much of the surface of the pick touching as much of the skin of your curled index finger with the least pressure or tension so you can maintain control of the pick without having tension in your strumming hand and arm.

guitar lessionStep 3: Proper Strumming for the beginning acoustic guitar player: Now that you are seated properly with good posture, and the acoustic guitar is resting properly on your leg, your pick is held properly between the right index finger and the thumb, and your left hand supporting the neck of the guitar from behind, you are ready to strum. Place the pick on the thickest of the 6 acoustic guitar strings (which should be closest to the ceiling). Tilt the pick slight toward the floor and simply glide the pick across all 6 strings. Your pick should be touching the strings near the sound-hole of the acoustic guitar. If it is too close to the fretboard or too close to the bridge / saddle, the strumming may be awkward and the tone quality will be significantly changed. Some more advanced players will strum in different locations for more advances tone control for particular songs, but to become the best beginner acoustic guitar player possible, it is best to begin with the fundamentals until they are mastered. Additionally, this will result in less frustration and a better chance of long term success. You can listen to the ticking of a clock or tap your foot consistently (1 – 2 – 3 – 4) while counting and strumming down 4 times. Simply return the pick each time to the large E string, and strum downward again. (You should be strumming on the way down, and missing the strings on the way back up)

Next, practice strumming the acoustic guitar upward. Do the same practice while keeping time with a ticking clock or a metronome if you have one. Strum 4 consecutive upward strums on the guitar, while tilting the pick toward the ceiling slightly. (You should be strumming on the way up this time, and missing the strings on the way back down)

Finally, combine upward strumming and downward strumming. While repeatedly counting to 4 in this manner, strum downward on the numbers, and upward on the plus “+” sign or say “and” during the plus signs as follows: 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + (and repeat). You would chant this during this strumming exercise: “one and two and three and four and” , then repeat it. Take the tempo or pace as slow as needed at first. Speed is not the focus for a beginning acoustic guitar player, rather, keeping a consistent meter or timing, lick the consistent “ticks” of a clock while producing the smoothest and cleanest song are the most important factors.

Before purchasing your first guitar, be sure to read more acoustic guitar reviews at This lesson on strumming was provided by Aaron Schulman, a guitar player since 1990. He owns an Ohio web design company and publishes websites professionally.  


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