Here, I’m going to introduce the only theory I think is compulsory at the beginner’s stage. When learning chords you only need to know how to play them to begin with, but when strumming and holding time, if you don’t know basic rhythm your playing’s not going to have any flow.
Holding a Guitar Pick
Holding a pick is a very personal thing. I can’t say one way is better than another, but, generally speaking, you want to hold it between your thumb and index finger. Figs.21-23 show how I hold mine so you can copy me. It may feel awkward at first, but it’ll become easier the more you play.
Figs.21, 22 and 23
Rhythm and Strumming
Note: These videos are old, and I refer to page numbers from my original book that won’t corelate to the ebook I’m offering with this course. I’m currently reworking these videos, but the content here is still applicable.
Theory can get complicated rather quickly, so for the sake of this course, I’m only going to show you what I think is essential for you to strum some chords together.
In the Scale Construction lesson, I explain sound as a spectrum, and from here we create tones. If you look at standard notation (fig.24), the line the dot lies on is the note representing the tone (in this case E). However, music doesn’t sit still, so the other information we need for creating music is how we play these notes along the time continuum, which we call rhythm.
While not all instruments utilize harmony (drums, rappers etc) every instrument must utilize rhythm; some musical techniques play outside of strict timing (rubato/free time), but, generally speaking, everything abides to the law of rhythm.
The first thing to explain in fig.4 is the 4/4 time signature located at the left of the staff. 4/4 is often referred to as common time, because as the name suggests it’s the most common, and you probably already know it vicariously from listening to music. Take notice of the group of notes labelled ‘Quarter Note/Crotchet’, these are what the time signature refers to. The top 4 means the bar contains four beats, and the bottom 4 means the values of these beats are quarter (¼) notes. Also note the ‘¼ note = 60’ to the left. This means the tempo of this piece is 60bpm (beats per minute), so you’re going to play one ¼ note per second.
Note: When it comes to strumming technique many people have many opinions. In my case, I rest my arm on the body of the guitar (in a sitting position) and pivot from the elbow (figs.25 and 26).
Figs.25 and 26
Now I’m going to work backwards to the half notes in fig.24. If you add two ¼ notes together you get a ½ note. In this case we’ve added two sets of two ¼ notes together, so now we have two ½ notes taking up a whole bar. These notes receive two beats per strum. So with the same motion as before, strum once letting the note ring for beats one and two, and on beat three strum again letting the note ring for beats three and four (the brackets surrounding the numbers show that the beat is counted but not strummed. Because you’re muting the strings just imagine the notes are ringing out). Even though you aren’t strumming beats two and four, you always want to keep your hand moving to the time signature, so your hand is making the motion of strumming these beats, but your pick isn’t touching the strings.
If you understood the last paragraph, this next part should be a piece of cake. Now we’re going to add the two ½ notes together to create a whole note. The value of a whole note means you strum on the first beat of the bar and let it ring for beats two, three, and four. Just because you’re only strumming once per bar don’t let your hand and foot stop counting, these are your timekeepers and play a vital role in making sure your playing flows.
Finally, on the right of the ¼ note bar you’ll see a bar labelled ‘Eighth Note/Quaver’. The principle for these is the same but instead of ¼ note x 2 = ½ note, ¼ note / 2 = 1/8 note.
When strumming 1/8 notes the principle is exactly the same but because we have twice as many notes as ¼ notes, you must strum in-between the down-strokes. This means you’re strumming on the upbeat, and to understand this, I want you to start by strumming ¼ notes. Now, without changing tempo or the movement of your arm, I want you to add a strum on the way back up. This strum should be an upward movement and take place while your foot is up in-between beats. Count this pattern as 1and2and3and4and (strum down on the numbers and up on the ands). Notice in fig.24 a ‘+’ represents the ‘and’
Note: Without trying to confuse you, I just want to explain that the terms whole, ½, ¼ and 1/8 note are only relative to themselves and in the time signature of 4/4. If we had a time signature of 5/4, then a whole note wouldn’t take up the whole bar. Because a whole note is worth 4 ¼ notes, we’d need to tie another ¼ note to it to make up for the 5th ¼ note. Don’t worry about this at the moment, but it’s something of which to be aware.
In the lesson on reading chords etc I mention I’m going to present our music in ‘chord chart’ form. The principles I’ve described for fig.24 are exactly the same for chord charts, except individual notes aren’t represented. Instead you are shown the name of the chord to play and within the bar lines are the strumming patterns. In fig.27, instead of using the note E, I use the E Major chord from the previous lesson. Everything else is the same just presented slightly different.
To practice this, we’ll use the same strumming you’ve already learned, but this time hold down the E Major chord (E) instead of muting the strings. You’ll notice there’s only one E per bar; this implies the chord stays on E until stated otherwise, so even on the beats which have nothing above them, the chord is still E Major. Also note that a letter on its own (in this case E) always implies a major chord, and a small m beside a letter (e.g. Em) implies a minor chord.
Before moving on I want you to practice each rhythmic division separately, and once comfortable, try mixing them up. Practice them until they become automatic; with a little time focused each day you shouldn’t take long until you can play these patterns without much effort.
More Strumming Patterns
Here I’ve charted out some basic strumming patterns (figs.28, 29 and 30) that feel more like music and not just rhythm drills. I’m not going to walk you through the first two, but if you’ve done your homework and learned the fundamentals in this lesson you should be able to figure them out. The third pattern is a little tricky because we play two up-strokes in a row. If you look at the + after beat 2, you’ll notice a tie to beat 3; this tie means you strum the + after beat 2, let it ring through to beat 3 (while moving your hand down) and strum up again on the + after beat 3. The third pattern may seem a lot to understand from a page, but it’s one of the most common strumming patterns around, and once you recognize it you’ll remember it.
If you’ve reached this stage and are comfortable with this lesson, congratulations, you’re now ready to start changing chords and playing music.