Fun ways to quickly improve Strumming and Rhythm skills

Dhanesh Sarangadharan 

Most beginner to intermediate guitarists want to play popular songs on Guitar effortlessly.

What people fail to understand is most of the effortlessness comes from a free flowing right hand, that can play any rhythm without too much conscious effort put into learning the rhythm. This is especially effective when it comes to strumming.

Most Guitarists resort to the age old methods of first getting their hand going and then playing some predefined patterns in order to get better at strumming.

The problem with this approach is that you get limited by the strumming patterns you learnt and tend to use it on all of your songs, with very less variation. It also makes your strumming sound very robotic for a long time till you completely internalize the art.

This also makes the listener feel bored easily and turn away from what you are playing, whereas you could do so much more to ensure that they enjoy each and every song that they play.

There’s nothing wrong with consciously learning a lot of different strumming patterns. However, strumming is at it’s best when it becomes an internalized activity that happens on auto-pilot.

Here we’ll look at a totally fun way of developing your strumming and rhythm skills and take it to a very high level in shorter time.

This exercise can be practiced at any level, but is highly recommended for Guitar Players who have basic strumming skills and know a few strumming patterns, but want to expand their strumming and rhythm skills to higher levels faster.

Before we get to the actual method, let’s review the important aspects of ensuring that your Strumming always sounds natural and free flowing.

It’ll also help you if you have never been introduced to these concepts before.

●    Keys to Great Strumming

a.  Grip on the Pick

This applies to guitarists who use a pick to strum the Guitar. Ensure that you hold the pick firmly enough to not drop or twist it in the process of strumming. This strength should only come from your fingers and not your entire wrist or arm.

You can practice this even when you are away from the Guitar, by just pressing on the Pick firmly with your Thumb and Index finger of the strumming hand and keep holding onto it for 5 to 10 secs. Relax after that and repeat it as many times as possible.

Remember that you’ll only apply strength from the fingers here.

b.  Loose and Free Flowing Wrist

This is slightly challenging, because it’s contradictory to the motion described in the previous step. However, it gets easier and easier the more you do it consciously. For best results with Strumming in the initial days, it helps to keep the wrist loose and free flowing in both directions. You can imagine as if there’s something on your wrist that you are flicking away.

c.  Downstroke and Upstroke

This can be developed slowly, but doing this consciously will help you get there quicker.

Keep your downstrokes accurate. E.g. If the chord requires you to Strum only 5 strings, then try to start your downstroke at the 5th string and only hit 5 strings. As you go along, you’ll develop high levels of accuracy with this, but do not get discouraged if it doesn’t happen the first few occasions. You’ll become completely accurate and also utilizing muting the strings in future to enhance this further.

Your upstroked will be completely

d.  Zero Hesitation

Your focus should be on continuous down-up motion, without any hesitation. Even if you miss a few downstrokes or upstrokes, you should not care to stop and think about what your next move should be. Your hand will be like a wiper, once turned on, it only stops when you want it to stop.

●    How to Develop your Strumming and Rhythm skills at a rapid pace

This is going to be a totally fun lesson to work on. Here there are no set instructions or Steps to follow.

This lesson is completely subjective to each individual's perception of Rhythm and ability to recreate that on Guitar.

But don’t underestimate the value of this lesson as this can be another tool in your arsenal of creative expression and song writing.

Even if you don’t want to do all that, this still serves you well when you just want to entertain an audience that comes up with weird song requests.

e.  The Assignment


i.        You’ll pull up Chord Progressions for completely unusual popular songs, which were never played on Guitar or never meant to be played on Guitar.

ii.       Listen to the Rhythm of the song, and then you have to imitate or copy that Rhythm on Guitar. Do not shy away from picking rhythmically odd or complex songs, slow songs, fast songs etc… Anything goes for this exercise.

iii.      I’ll give you a trick to get this going. Try to figure out the drum part or percussion in the song and just imitate that rhythm on the Guitar.

iv.     Try to not think too much about the down-up movements as you try to imitate the rhythm

v.       Do not get discouraged in the beginning, this might take a while before you master the art of imitating odd rhythms on guitar

vi.     Add this to the fun part of your practice routine and experiment with these rhythms

vii.    Try to interchange the rhythm between songs and see how the chord progression sounds.

viii.   Play different drum parts from a drum machine or get a drummer friend to play along with you. Your job is to imitate the rhythm played on the drums on your Guitar

ix.     Once you feel comfortable doing this with strums, apply the same concept to Lead Guitar

x.       Play different scale fragments or melodic lines, which trying to imitate the odd rhythms played in songs or drums.


●     What should you do with this information ?

1.   Don’t just read the steps.Implement them one by one. You can begin with any song that you feel is easy to play.Even if you try these steps with only with 10 -15 songs, you’ll be well on your way to mastering this art of strumming in the shortest possible time.

2.   Don’t just stop at this, once you feel you have practiced this over 10-15 of your favourite songs, pull up chord charts for any song and start playing on the fly without stopping or judging how well you are playing. Here you should only worry about how carefree you are while trying to bring out the rhythm of the song.

3.   Enjoy the process as this is the most fun aspect of learning Guitar.

4.   Create opportunities for yourself for short Gigs with Friends and Family where you can test yourself without being judged too much. Test yourself to play some really odd rhythmic pieces live.


About The Author:

Dhanesh Sarangadharan is a certified guitar teacher in Pune, Maharashtra India, who is passionate about helping students progress faster towards their guitar playing and musical ambitions.