In the advanced stages of your guitar playing adventures, new doors open up for rhythmic possibilities. The brain moves out of the way and a musical soul takes its place, meaning thinking stops and feeling takes over.
In order to better access those possibilities, a little theoretical knowledge goes a long way. Most professional guitarists – myself included – will agree that knowing music theory is entirely optional. However, the more of it you learn, the easier it is to take certain skills to the next level.
Music theory is a vast subject that can easily overwhelm the average human. My recommendation for anyone wanting to strum like a pro is to learn the basics of rhythm. Learn 16th note combinations and triplets for a good baseline. If you want, you can venture into complex polyrhythms and 32nd or even 64th note possibilities, but it’s not a requirement to go that deep.
Dealing with various 16th note rhythms and multi-measure patterns are really what the advanced levels cover. 16th note combinations are vast, so this is really where you need to be internalizing what you are playing so you think less. Internalization happens with generous amounts of repetition and liberal use of the metronome.
Let me give a quick rundown of 16ths and triplets:
Just one beat of 16th notes (1-e-&-a) has 15 possible combinations. There’s “1”, “1-e”, “1–&”, and so on. I’ll leave it to you to map out all 15. And that’s just one beat. A measure of four beats can get rather complex if one wishes.
Triplets are an example of a polyrhythm. A polyrhythm is essentially where more than one rhythm is being played. In a triplet, it’s a rhythm of three played against four. We will demonstrate what exactly that means below.
For now, let’s work our way through some 16th note strumming patterns.
IMPORTANT TO KNOW BEFORE YOU START: The symbols below the chords and above the slashes are the direction of the strum. The two vertical lines with the horizontal beam on top indicate a down-strum, and the “V” shape represents an up-strum.
Strum Pattern #1: – “Dare You To Move” by Switchfoot
On the surface, one would not think this was an advanced strumming rhythm. It’s straight 16ths with no accent from the strumming hand. That’s actually what’s challenging about it. The idea is to keep steady and consistent with no speeding up, slowing down, or changes to velocity.
The accenting comes from the melodic changes in the chord voicings. Keep the hand moving and your volume consistent. Set your metronome to 16ths and be sure you are strumming exactly on those clicks.
Strum Pattern #2: “Come On Get Higher” by Matt Nathanson
This little slice of singer-songwriter cheese is pretty fun to play once you begin to let go of the idea of thinking about what you are strumming. This is the point where you begin to feel the rhythm of the entire song and stop worrying about what combination of “down/up” you are “supposed” to play.
It’s a pretty loose idea of “split strumming” and/or alternating between picking and strumming. Split strumming is when one divides the strings into groups of low notes and high notes.
Think of your guitar as you would a drum kit. The low E, A, and D represent the kick drum and the G, B, and E are the snare. Of course, this is a loose, general way of dividing the strings. The kick is typically on beats “1” and “3” whereas the snare is on “2” and “4”. Splitting up the strumming like this gives the chords much more inflection which in turn helps the strumming not sound so uptight and wooden.
Strum Pattern #3: “Slide” by The Goo Goo Dolls
“Slide” is another song that illustrates the split strumming idea, but this strumming pattern adds a couple of extra beats to the previous example. Again, focus on the “2” and “4” being your accents. This is the “snare drum” and generally the beat where people clap, so it tends to be a natural-feeling accent.
Don’t be too picky with this kind of strumming pattern. It actually sounds better when you stop thinking so much and get just a little sloppy with it.
Strum Pattern #4: “Bad Moon Rising” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
This is not a terribly difficult strum rhythm, but it takes a while to get the triplet idea down. It’s subtle. Nobody really knows that they are listening to a shuffle and truth be told, not a lot of musicians – even ones that know how to play this song – notice the shuffle.
The secret to a good shuffle is to have a lazy strumming hand.
Strum Pattern #5: “Crash Into Me” by Dave Matthews Band
If you are the type who thinks Dave Matthews is just some quirky Virginian/South African who sings funny, you will quickly gain some respect for him as a guitar player if you try playing his stuff.
This is an example of how a measure that is subdivided into 16ths can get complex and fun. Each of the four beats has a different cadence: “1—” (¼ note), “2–a” (dotted ⅛ + 16th), “3e&-” (two 16ths + ⅛), “4-&a” (⅛ + two 16ths). Repeat.
To make things more interesting, this is split by picking the bass note of each chord before going on with the strumming.
Strum Pattern #6: “Psalm 13” by Shane & Shane
At first glance, this seems easy. It’s a simple rhythm, but here’s what separates the men from the boys: “Grooving” vs. simply “playing in time”.
Starting this rhythm line is a pick-up note sliding from a G note up to an A (or Ab up to a Bb since this is played with a capo on the first fret). There is a 16th shuffle so the “&” and “a” of the 2nd beat are played with a triplet feel. The last strum is an up strum as is accented.
These idiosyncracies create a groove, not just a rhythm. The difference between those two ideas is playing in time is nothing more than sticking to a consistent tempo. A groove is more like a place you go; it’s an atmosphere you create with your music.
Study the video and notice the small details in the way the strumming is performed.
Strum Pattern #7: “So Damn Lucky” by Dave Matthews
Dave Matthews appears again with a rather busy strumming rhythm. This is in 6/8, so the 16th notes get half of a beat rather than a quarter of a beat as in 4/4 time. The two final up strums of each pattern are accented giving it that distinctive syncopation.
To give this an extra groove-like quality, the fretting hand can relax on certain beats to dampen the chord in a percussive way and perform hammer-ons in select places. It’s really a fun groove to play.
Spotify List of All The Songs Above
Recommended Further Reading
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