Learning a handful of basic guitar strumming patterns is a great way to build your rhythmic skills, grow your chord repertoire, and learn songs you like along the way. It is a foundational skill of the guitar that you should spend some time becoming familiar and comfortable with. And after all, strumming on the guitar is one of the most enjoyable things you can do!
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Learning Guitar Strumming Patterns
Discovering how basic rhythms work in music will help you to unlock strumming on your guitar much faster. Essentially, most music is broken down into blocks of time called measures. Measures generally have somewhere between 3 and 6 beats or pulses inside of them.
The number of beats in a measure is notated in the time signature. Most rock and pop songs have a time signature called 4/4, meaning there are four beats in each measure. Can you count to four? Then, you are in luck! You can play music!
Basic Rhythm Durations
There are four basic rhythmic durations you should understand and they all nest inside of one another.
- The first duration is called a whole note. A whole note lasts for four beats. If you play a note or chord and count to four, then you have played a whole note. It is that simple.
- The next duration is called a half note. A half note lasts for two beats. If you play a note or chord and count to two, then you have played a half note. Two half notes are equal to one whole note.
- The next duration is called a quarter note. A quarter note lasts for four beats. If you play four, evenly spaced notes or chords in a row, you have played quarter notes. Two quarter notes equals one half note. Four quarter notes equals one whole note. See the pattern developing?
- The final duration is called an eighth note. An eighth note lasts for 1/2 of a beat. If you double the speed of the quarter notes you just played, you will have played eighth notes. Two eighth notes equals one quarter note, four eighth notes equals one half note, and eight eighth notes equals one whole note. Neat, simple, and elegant.
Time to Strum
Now that we have laid the rhythmic groundwork, let’s put some of these rhythms to work in a few different strumming patterns. If you are not familiar with the chord shapes in these strumming patterns, check out one of our articles on basic guitar chords.
Guitar Strumming Pattern #1
This first strumming pattern features four quarter notes played in down strums on an open position G major chord. Focus on playing each of the strums evenly and comfortably. Experiment with switch chords when you feel like it, but keep each chord to at least four equal strums.
Guitar Strumming Pattern #2
Strumming pattern #2 takes pattern #1 a step further with the inclusion of two eighth notes on the last beat of the measure. The eighth notes are played with a combination of a downstrum followed by an up strum.
Once you feel comfortable with the rhythmic pattern, practice switching chords back and forth between E minor and G major.
Guitar Strumming Pattern #3
Strumming pattern #3 builds one step further on pattern #2 with the inclusion of a quarter note rest on the second beat of the measure. See that squiggly ‘z’ shape symbol? That is one way musicians mark silence.
A common mistake for beginners is to rush through rests, so make sure you give the quarter note rest equal time as the quarter note strums.
Guitar Strumming Pattern #4
Strumming pattern #4 is a variation on strumming pattern #2. The pair of eighth notes have been moved to beat number 3. Again, play the eighth notes with the combination of a downstroke followed by an upstroke.
You can practice combining these two variations with different chords and string together an interesting progression and pattern for yourself to practice.
Guitar Strumming Pattern #5
Strumming pattern #5 features a two measure combination with eighth notes and quarter notes and two different chord shapes – an excellent challenge to pursue!
Time to Practice!
Strumming is one the basic skills that all guitarists should be comfortable with. Practicing strumming enhances your rhythmic skills, adds to your chord vocabulary, and provides ways to learn and write songs. Dive into these guitar strumming patterns and use them as a starting place to build your own!