Learn How To Strum An Acoustic Guitar

learn how to strum an acoustic guitar - man playing acoustic guitar

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You’ve already started this exciting journey of learning to play guitar. Treasure everything you learn, every posture, every movement, every technique. Practice each one and keep them as tools in a toolbox. Because every one of these things you learn now, you’ll keep using them as long as you keep playing guitar. If you’ve decided to start playing acoustic guitar, there’s something very important to learn. That is to learn how to strum an acoustic guitar.

Once you know the most important chords, strumming will be your main tool to take advantage of them. Strumming chords on an acoustic guitar is the most fun part of the whole thing. If you achieve a minimum of good technique, you will be able to enjoy playing chords through strumming. These first tools are your ticket to playing your first songs.

Follow all the advice we give you here at All Stringed. Here are some basic tips on how to have a correct body, arm, hand, wrist, and finger posture. This way, you can start strumming an acoustic guitar correctly. 

Correct body posture to play guitar

To learn how to strum an acoustic guitar, it all starts with good posture. Sit straight in the chair you practice on. Hips bent at 90 degrees, the back straight, without resting on the backrest. You must have both feet on the floor. Rest the body of the acoustic guitar on your right thigh and put both hands in position. The left hand on the neck and the right hand on the body of the guitar. The right hand is holding a guitar pick.

To strum correctly with the pick you hold in your right hand, you must keep your right arm resting on the upper part of the body of the guitar. So that your elbow and forearm are in the air. Keep your forearm and hand loosely to generate a smooth and constant movement. This way, you will be able to have the best possible control over the movements of your arm, wrist, and hand. And you can strum the pick on the strings of the guitar with mastery and accuracy.  

You must place the guitar on your right thigh so that it is properly balanced. Generate pressure with your right arm on the top of the guitar to keep it held gently against your body. With your left hand, you hold the neck of the guitar. You should place your thumb right in the center of the back of the neck. While putting your thumb on the back, you put your fingers on the strings to form the chords. 

Correct right-hand posture for strumming

Make sure that the weight of the guitar rests on your right thigh. Hold your body with your elbow and make sure you can move your strumming hand without moving the whole guitar. The truth is, you’ll be doing most of the work with your wrist. That’s where the big secret to a good strumming lies. Your forearm will do part of the movement, but it will be your wrist that will take your hand and fingers to move on the strings. 

The more you can relax your arm and wrist, the better your performance will be. This is a very important point. If you don’t keep your arm and wrist relaxed, the sound will suffer as a result. You also run the risk of getting tired faster and causing a contracture in your arm muscles. Keep the palm of your hand in front of and parallel to the body of the guitar. The pick is held between the thumb and the forefinger of your right hand. Bend your thumb, place the pick on the first knuckle of your index finger and hold it by placing your thumb on it.  

This way, you are holding the pick like a pincer between your thumb and index finger. The pick will become an extension of your hand like an addition to your index finger, making it longer. Let the pick be pointed at your chest. 

The best exercises to strum an acoustic guitar

There are several different strumming patterns you can use to exercise and to help you learn how to strum an acoustic guitar. Initially, try moving your hand up and down. Play from the sixth string to the first string and have all six strings sounding together. Do this exercise successively without playing too hard or too soft on the strings. Try to achieve a clear and even sound of the six strings. Always play one by one from above and below but in one movement.

A second exercise can be playing the strings alternately, once down and once up. When playing downwards, try again the same as in the first exercise, playing one by one from above and downwards in one movement. When playing upwards, play only the first three or four strings, avoiding the upper strings. Always try to get clear and even sound from all the strings.

As a third exercise, you can try to play once down and up, a break, then from below, from above and from below again. Like this:

  • down
  • up
  • break
  • up
  • down
  • up
  • break
  • break

You can alternate different patterns to achieve different possible strumming rhythms. As it is always easier to see this type of exercise on a video, here is a video with 5 essential guitar strumming patterns for beginners.

Different patterns of strumming

You can practice doing one chord at a time with a downward strum and move from one strum to another in a sequence. You can do this in groups of three major chords as in the following sequence by playing: G – D – C – G – D – C – G – D – C. Try always to keep the rhythm while playing. Try to play every chord with all the strings that each one requires. That is the proper way to strum your acoustic guitar. For example, to play the G chord, play all 6 strings from the sixth to the first, for the D chord, play from the fourth to the first, and for the C chord, play from the fifth to the first.

Play each chord as correctly as possible, getting the cleanest possible sound on all strings at once. If you don’t press each string correctly, the chords will sound bad. You will produce a “dead string” sound if the string is not pressed properly, with your finger pressing just between the frets on the string you are playing.

Final tips for proper strumming

Learning to strum can be very frustrating if you are not doing the chords correctly. If your strum sounds bad, stop, reassemble the chord by looking closely at where you are putting each finger, then strum again with the chord properly assembled. Exercise your strumming in different places on the body of the guitar. You can try playing right over the hole of the body. Or you can try playing closer to the neck or back closer to the bridge of the guitar. This will allow you to experiment and get to know the sound you can create in different parts of your guitar.

Practice both downward and upward strokes. Ascending strokes are usually more difficult to execute correctly. Remember to keep your wrist loose and relaxed. Good strumming depends almost entirely on how you handle your wrist. Always keep your elbow tight on the instrument and balance the body of the guitar evenly on your leg. 

You can try to play without a pick by hitting the strings directly with your fingers. If you keep your index finger and thumb in the same position that you use to hold the pick, you get a finger position that you can use to play on the strings. But I advise you to start with a pick. Since it is easier, you learn it faster and avoid the pain of playing on the steel strings directly with your fingers. 

The correct grip of the pick can be a problem for beginners. If you take it too close to the base of the pick, you can drop it. Be sure to hold it by letting only a small amount of the pick out, between your index finger and thumb. If you keep these tips in mind and keep practicing, I’m sure you’ll be able to learn to strum your acoustic guitar without any problems in no time.

Photo of author
Damián is an author of All Stringed. He started playing with an electric guitar when he was 14 as a self-taught boy at home. He has almost 30 years of experience playing electric and acoustic guitar. You can find more about him here.