I hope this is the place to ask this question so bear with me.
I have been learning to play just over a year now and feel I’m making good progress on chord changes, strum patterns etc. What I am not making progress on (in my opinion) is making the strumming sound good. I had a good handle on Knocking on Heaven’s door so decided to record myself. It sounded so awful I got very discouraged. The strumming sounds very disjointed and strained, as if each string is being pulled individually when I record myself. But when I’m playing, the strumming feels to me like I’m doing it smoothly and evenly. I’ve tried the soft pick and played with the angle etc. I haven’t found the strumming topic addressed from the standpoint of pressure on the strings or whatever the problem might be. Is this just a practice issue, do you think? I’m getting a bit discouraged to be honest, as I’ve tried and practiced according to the conventional wisdom and lessons around the topic. The strumming patterns are not the problem, as I have a good feel for the timing and rhythm of each, I hope all this makes sense. It’s hard to describe the problem. Thanks for any insights from all you fellow travelers out there.
Hi and welcome to the Community. It’s hard to tell without giving it a listen, we are our own worst critics. Would you be able to share an mp3 file if you are camera shy on hosting service such as google drive, dropbox, soundcloud etc?
Hi Deirdre and welcome to the community.
I’m only a year ahead of you and I can definitely relate to your comments about strumming feeling disjointed.
Over the past few weeks I’ve been doing a lot of work on refining what I know and trying to get everything to sound just right in my strumming.
A couple of things that have worked for me:
Try holding the pick as lightly as possible between your fingers and feel how you can change the sound by squeezing the pick more or less.
Try brushing the strings as lightly as possible with the pick as you strum. See how much sound you get even with a light touch.
Practice both of these for a few minutes a day, then when you are playing, feel how you can change the sound of your strumming by varying the pressure you use to squeeze the pick and how lightly you brush the strings.
In the winter, when my skin is dry I sometimes find that licking my thumb makes it easier to hold on to the pick, especially when using light pressure.
Finally - don’t get discouraged. The fact that you can now hear that your strumming isn’t as smooth as you want it to be is the first step towards getting better. I think that we all have moments where we feel like we are regressing in our playing, but the reality is that our listening is getting more refined and we start to hear the imperfections that have always been there.
Welcome Deirdre, glad to hear of your progress and as is an inevitably empathise with your current struggle.
Lots of good advise from @Rider2040
I’d concur with @adi_mrok … it would be most helpful if you could post up a short video of you strumming through Knocking (not necessarily the whole song). As he said, you may find that others don’t hear it quite as “strained and disjointed” as you do and be able to give you some specific tips/suggestions, if necessary. It may just be a case of ‘keep on keeping on’ since strumming well is not easy, takes everybody time and persistence to develop get rhythm and feel.
I think I know what you mean , like your playing lacks a certain quality, musicianship… because if so then I’m experiencing the same thing - I think! It’s really difficult to describe, it just sounds boring and a little chaotic. I have also been learning for 1 year.
I know that improving my technique and control will solve this and this will take time. So my advice is to relax and enjoy all the small improvements. @Rider2040 gave some good advice. To this I add:
- That you could experiment with which strings you strum (e.g. just the higher sounding strings on upstrums).
- Strumming some beats/strums a little harder or softer than other strums.
- Continuing to practice chord changes so that chord changes are faster/ more controlled so that that strumming sounds sharper.
- Practice strumming each strum consistently the same so you get to really feel the level of force/ control you are putting in.
…that’s what I’m trying to do… I don’t know if it will help me or you but I’m hopeful!
Don’t give up. You are doing great.
I’d highly recommend Justin’s Strumming Techniques Course. Strumming was something I felt I struggled with and halfway through the course I feel a lot more confident with my strumming and to me, at least, it sounds much better.
Does it feel good when you record yourself as well?
One thing I felt was that I felt I sounded great and then when I hit the record button I was too nervous and self-conscious.
If that’s your case, it’ll get better!
Hi adi_mrok, thanks for the welcome and the reply. My attempts to record weren’t very successful, as knowing I was recording to upload was as bad on the nerves as a live audience! I completely choked. But it did motivate me, along with the good advice from others on here to keep at it. I think I might record myself as much as possible so firstly I get used to it; and secondly I can assess my progress. Thanks for taking the time to reply.
I think there’s something to that! I tried to record to upload as per adi_mrok suggestion, and couldn’t get through a single three chord repeat without flubbing it. I think I need to work on my recording stage fright before I have a hope of getting useful feedback! Thanks.
Yes! I’m stringing chords together, not playing music! So how it sounds on recording is soooo disappointing, and it sounds worse to me than I imagined it would be. Thank you for your suggestions. I think I need to get more methodical about strumming practice, just like chord changes etc.
After reading all the advise, it comes down to practice. It is encouraging to know that it’s not an unusual struggle. I thought after a year it would sound more smooth and musical to my own ear, but not necessarily so. It’s hard to know what’s normal and not in terms of progress, doing this without an in person teacher. This community is so valuable to us beginners. Thank you for taking the time to reply.
All the answers have pointed me in the same direction - more practice. I will take your suggestions and use them thank you. The most valuable thing I got from posting my question was knowing it’s a normal struggle, even after a year. It’s hard to figure where one should be on the learning curve when doing things on line. Thanks for taking the time to reply.
The place to be on the learning curve is where you are!
I had to do some very, very slow work strumming, mostly with intent of being smooth and consistent with my attack. I still go back to this frequently (13 months expert here ) because it needs a lot of work. This is also a good plan when trying out dynamics.
I also have played with the metronome for up and down strums. I felt I had trouble timing the downs and ups evenly (the down strum comes on the tik but where does the up strum go, right in the middle wherever that is), so I set the metronome to twice the speed I wanted and went down on 1, up on 2, down on 3 etc, 2 cycles giving 4/4 time. This helped a lot. Hope it makes sense.
If you’re struggling to record because of nerves etc, why not record you practicing for a long period say 20 minutes of so, just working through your favourite songs then going through and editing down to your best bits. If you record for long enough you should start to forget you’re recording. You could even do this everytime you practice if you want, eventually it’ll feel less weird.
I’m working with a Looper at the moment. It’s pretty awful at the moment but I know eventually I’ll get used to starting and stopping on the “1” and then not rushing the first few strums.
I like your metronome idea on the up and down strums. I’ve used the metronome for chord changes but not strumming. Good idea. Thank you!
I am just starting Beginner Grade 2, but I knew I had a strumming issue as my strumming was sounding agressive and very rough/loud, and I had to change the strings every 4 months or so for a 1 hr daily practice.
I talked with a guy that is a guitarist for 20 years and music school grade 1/3 . He told me the following advice he got for one of this teachers:
Dont hold your pick tight; hold it until you lose it, then step back just a little so you dont loose it.
And just caress the strings.
Thats maybe something I missed from Justin’s beginners lesson or that it’s not clear enough for beginners.
I tried and it’s just completly changibg the sound.
So I will go that way.
Other strumming issues: not hitting strings 5 and 6 on D, Dminor, F and the likes.
This remains a mystrery to me.
For D and D minor makes sense - D is your root note so you want the lowest note to be as root. For F chord doesn’t make any sense if we are talking about full E barre shape chord as note F is first string 1st fret so you indeed want to play it, on A string you play the 5th so again, no sense. Unless he was taking about different barre shapes but still you either would play the 6th or 5th string regardless.
One more thing that comes to mind is playing mini F barre, where you don’t fret 6th and 5th string (unless you can wrap your thumb around) - that’s the only way you could skip low E and A strings but other than that I don’t see why should you.
I am not good at strumming either, but after 1.5 years, it is coming along.
Part of it, for me, as another thread will tell you, is I am lefty playing righty. So remedial training is necessary.
However, I think it really just boils down to intentional practice. You need to hit the correct strings, you need to time it right, you need to apply pressure to each string sequentially and evenly (important) and learn to vary intensity and time. It is a lot, for what seems like it should be a simple thing.
Watch Justin and other good players strum. Slow it down to see how smooth they make these movements and how precise they are.
Then slow down, way down and intentionally work on all the aspects you need to. Mute the strings with your fretting hand if your incessant dry strumming practice annoys others, but do it enough to drive the dog out of the room. It will come!
yes I was refering to the F you play nearly as a C shifted down one string