Two questions- one on strumming, one on learning technique

I almost posted this in the lesson specific thread, but I thought it might benefit other beginners that are on either side of the particular module I was in. For context, I have just viewed the lesson on linking chords with scales in Module 15. If I need to move this to the lesson thread, Im happy to do so, moderators please let me know.

Reading through the thread on the lesson I noticed many people having a time trying to use the strum pattern Justin uses along with the fretting. I did as well. So it’s led to two questions:

  1. Is it a good time to do the entire strumming course in between Grades 2 and 3? I’ve paid for both strumming courses but haven’t gotten too far because I thought I might need some fretting technique under my belt to be able to do any potential strumming challenges. But here I am, finding myself struggling with strumming technique trying to do fretting challenges!

  2. (Having to do with the chord linking lesson in Module 15) Im trying to decide between learning this technique with the alternating bass pattern Justin mentioned. BUT on starting to drill the finger movements, I got the feeling I was setting myself up to memorize a very specific set of movements INSTEAD OF learning the technique so that it’s free flowing.
    Is this common for a beginner- to get in a rut of memorizing finger sequences that takes a lot of work to expand from, instead of learning the technique to use freely and with easy flow?

I had that familiar feeling, while making my fingers do the walking up and down exercise, that I get quite regularly when I’m trying to learn a song on piano, which grabs my attention. I was hoping to go about learning guitar in a different way than I play piano. I don’t want to brute memorize, I want to gain skill and use it comfortably.

At this stage, is it possible to be learning as anything but forcing muscle memory? If so, how am I looking at it wrong, and how do I practice so that I’m not just cementing down sequences (in not only this lesson but all the others)?

Hi Stacy, I can’t answer all of this as you’re furthur in than I am. As for strumming I think it’s a good idea for you to start ASAP.

If you feel you chould alreay be able to accomplish this, you kind of already answered your own question. I started the SOS course as soon as it was available, I think that was a good choice.

Also given your current level, I feel you’ll pick up the strumming very quickly, G1 is mostly timing.

Hopefully someone more advance may be able enlighten you more.


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I understand what you mean. That’s actually why I gave up on piano and came back to the guitar - I felt like I would have more chance of achieving this ability with the instrument I felt most comfortable playing.

You do need to do a certain amount of “muscle memory” stuff before you can get it to be free flowing. Your fingers need to learn to make shapes and patterns automatically, then it will (hopefully) switch to a different level where it comes out without too much conscious thought.

I like to think of it like learning a language. My efforts were only ever: “Hear it in Danish, convert in my head to English, think of reply in English, convert in my head to Danish, say it in Danish”. There must be a point where you just go from first to last step automatically (I never got there). But to learn a language you first have to drill a lot of stock phrases and practice using them, and then practice modifying them for different situations. At some point it starts to flow and you stop thinking about it.

That’s basically what Justin says about blues improv too. And what I am working towards.


Hi Stacy, I did Strumming Foundations and Strumming Dynamics during Grade 2 consolidation and finished the second one whilst going through Module 15 and it was the right time for me, part of the courses was repetition anyway but it forced me to train my rhythm and strumming competences which is an essential ability. I don’t know what you mean, when you speak about fretting challenges, but I would always start strumming excercises with simple chord progressions you know well and aren’t challenging to be able to focus on the strumming aspects. So don’t use a song with difficult chord changes in the beginning. Keep it simple at the beginning, to get strumming on auto pilot.
Concerning your second question: for me it’s always to go from simple to more complicated. So first technique, then excercises from simple (define simple :joy:) to more difficult ones, then implementation into songs (which is quite challenging for chord links and something to revisit at Grade 3 consolidation for me). At least that’s how I handle it…

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I often feel the same. I am slowly learning finger style and classical, and I often feel that just practicing a pattern only teaches me that pattern.

But lately I have been re-thinking this, partly because I have been realizing I have a lot of trouble just knowing where the strings and frets are with my fingers if I am not looking. I miss, a lot.

So what I am realizing is a few things. We need the rote muscle memory just for our fingers to move the right way to our will. We can’t learn that while thinking about theory, or improvising. Too much. We need to run pattern after pattern again and again until our fingers can just do it, touch any strings in any sequence and do it correctly with the right string and right impact to make beautiful tone. This applies to fretting and cord fingering as well.

Once we don’t need to think about how to move our fingers, we free up our brains to think more about what the heck it is we want them to do.

Look at the book “Laws of Brainjo”. It explores how we, our brains and muscles, learn to play stringed instruments.


@ Libitina I think so too!

@ oztelemann thank you! yes its this next level that I want to be sure I reach. I think with piano maybe I was learning songs way too difficult for my skill level. Its like I took some lessons early on but then the next thing I remember I was teaching myself film scores and classical style pieces. Maybe it hindered my ability to grow creativity in my headspace by conditioning my brain to just pack in the memorization. I guess? I’m just speculating. Anyway, yes its that level of being able to use a skill like chord linking in improvisation- being able to improvise is how I want to be able to play guitar someday. It sounds like I need to go through the muscle memory stage first.

@ Helen0609 I just mean doing a new finger exercise like a walk down/turnaround/etc. Couple that with even a simple strum pattern and its like my brain can’t do both things at once. Not yet. How long did it take you to do both strumming courses (I know we shouldn’t base our progress on anyone else, but did it delay your Gr2 consolidation by…weeks? Months? Do the strumming courses call for weeks and weeks of practice per module? Is there consolidation for those courses as well? As you can see, I’m concerned about overloading my brain with consolidating things (as well as I just don’t have very much free time).

@ Jamolay ok so I’m not the only one! YES I am still not great with pick accuracy, I assume because there really hasn’t been a whole lot of lessons on things that challenge pick accuracy so far? I mean, scales, yes, pinkie exercise/finger gym, yes, but those are much different than picking out notes in a melody by ear or tab. I suck! I kind of wish there was a lesson directing us on picking out notes. I know so many times Justin says to explore. Well. I can’t just go around exploring the fretboard, I need some specific exercises…but then that is exactly why am in the boat I’m in asking these questions. How do we learn to explore (for me, its a lack of creative mind, in my opinion). Maybe there is a lesson on that very thing coming up later in the course.

Anyway, yes I see what you mean about needing the rote muscle memory first. I just hope my brain can flourish with that muscle memory instead of relying on it as a crutch.

Here’s the thing: at the beginning the technique is memorizing the finger sequences. You can’t achieve free and easy flow without first committing a bunch of these little licks to memory (brain and muscle). The more you memorize, the easier it becomes.

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Hi @jjw

Are you saying that feeling like everything you learn early on will feel pretty much like new, even if there are elements that are covered with previous learning? I certainly find this the case.

I certainly do hope it gets more familiarly fluid - and soon. :slight_smile:

Would you say that some experience with a lot of things or fluid competence with few things is more beneficial?

Hi Stacy.
Have you tried the visualisation technique?

I’ve just learned to play a blues piece from memory but I’ve never looked at the tab when practicing it on guitar.
I have the tab on my phone so I can look at it away from guitar and imagine playing it. I also imagine the sound of it.
When I actually play it on guitar, I don’t think of it as a finger pattern or sequence. It’s more a thought of playing what I hear in my head and my fingers know where to go.

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And I think that is perfectly normal, Trying to do a simple pattern is proving annoying ,more than anything. I can get 75% but then I’ll miss a string or even hit the wrong string but Grade 3 will address this.

This link is from the older videos that I found when I was searching for accuracy for a song I am Learning.
Pick Accuracy lesson

or Grade 3 module 17 which is more melodic.
Up to date vid

I still think strumming first will prove to be a great addition.

I think this statement is being very hard on yourself ! , This is very much putting the cart before the horse as they say.

You cannot explore before you know how to use, Trying to write music before you know HOW to write music. So, you need to learn more of the Guitar first before your mind opens up to more possibilities of what maks you pick up the instrument.



Stacy, I think that’s quite normal. I think most people need to train those capabilities for a certain amount of time. First by learning the technical aspects, then isolated for itself and then implemented in a context like a song.

I’m not a good example concerning the assessment of those courses. Some ongoing serious health issues set me back since I started to play guitar and I had to slow down the whole process of learning and consolidating Grade 2 and starting out with Grade 3. It took me several months to get through both strumming courses, but I had several gaps inbetween the lessons (I believe @SILVIA has done the courses too, maybe she can tell you, how long it took her). I picked out one topic at a time. Yes, it takes time to get things automated, at least for me, but it’s worth the effort. If you don’t have too much time on your hands, you always can concentrate on topics, that are relevant for you and skip others. You can always come back and add further skills.

I had that feeling too during consolidation, and not only during consolidation. There is so much to learn, so much to practice and with every step ahead things to be done grow even more. Sometimes it is a bit overwhelming. Then I tell myself just to go step by step by step. I try to build up strong fundamentals and rhythm competence is one of the most important things to learn.

There is one, see Grade 3, Module 17

Stacy, you are too hard on yourself. I think your brain is full of thoughts about how to handle things and some self-doubts. I think, things have to settle to let you get creative. As long as you are busy with keeping all the juggling balls in the air, there simply is no room for creativity. Give yourself the time to grow! Yes, it is frustrating, everything takes soooo long, but you will improve, get more routine and then there’s space for more creativity. Some get there very fast, others not (I’m in the second category, I fear :roll_eyes:
I think a lot of the topics you are interested in due your pre experience with piano are covered by Grade 3.


I wouldn’t like to generalize, I think that will depend on the person and the how much of the material was previously learnt. My comment above to @artax_2 's question was intended to convey the idea that you need to put in the work to learn specific examples of a given technique, like playing those bass runs between C and G and again between A and D and then doing it again with alternating bass (and other chords as well). Once you can do that, almost without even thinking about it (and that will only come with a lot of practice), then you will start feeling the “fluid competence” and you can start improvising, exploring, throwing them into your playing without thinking about it. But you have put in the grunge work. At least, that has been my experience.

I think this is a common feeling, but I think it’s the wrong feeling, specifically the “and soon” part. I would venture to say that in learning guitar, nothing comes “soon”. The hope of reaching a certain level by a certain point in time, I’m guessing, is a primary reason why people give up the guitar (or any difficult activity). Guitar playing is fun! even if you haven’t yet reached the point where you may eventually want to end up.

Again, this depends on the person and the goals, too. Personally, I’d rather be really good at a few things, then ok at a lot of things. If your goal is to have a repertoire of 100 songs that you can sing along to, then casting a wide net might be appropriate. If you want to become competent in acoustic blues (which is what my goal is), then right hand coordination requires a lot of specific training.

That’s a great lesson. I would also suggest searching (on JustinGuitar) for “scales” and “riffs” and then select “Lessons” and also filter on “Grade 2” and “Grade 3”. There you will find plenty of lessons that help you develop the skills for picking out individual notes.

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Rachel @Libitina
Had a quick look at the video on patterns and example 1 is the pattern Justin shows in the song lesson for Wonderful Tonight. Just started to learn this as my first 4:4 finger style song.

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Yeah, totally spot on. Guitar is hard and we start playing because we want to already be able to play it. Reality has it way with us.

I am personally trying my best to be in the present. Learning is one of life’s great joys and this is learning, trying, struggling, succeeding, failing and trying it again. What more could I ask for?

The great thing is, is that is won’t one day end at “I am done learning guitar”. What keeps the greats going? Not being good, that is a dead end, but enjoying doing more, learning more and finding ways to make it play.

Some day, I will be better than I am today. I just know it!

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Hi Stacy, I’m not sure this can help you, but that “brute memorize” caught my attention…

As for the strumming course, the strumming S.O.S. is something I highly reccomend you start asap because it’s a whole concentration of goodness that will help you consolidate your foundations 'skills. I can’t tell you how long it took me, anytime Justin says to give one or couple of weeks to a certain exercise then I always end up giving it one or couple of months :see_no_evil: (I’m also very much engaged with Classical Guitar and my brain wouldn’t be able to process and digest too much at the same time, just a little bit everyday is my option). I’m now working on the strumming Dynamics and I’ve already put my heart at ease with the idea that it will take me ages to complete it, it needs time for me, I guess for anyone else, for skills to start developing. Hope this helps somehow.

@ jjw1 Thanks! It is helpful to have it confirmed that it has to be this way for awhile. I just really hope later on I find a way to mentally have it be more than just a sequence.

@ BurnsRhythm Great suggestion! I do have the ability to hear the notes/melodic sequence in my head, so I certainly have a sense for when a chord change is coming…however, I would say at this point in time I can’t guess correctly which chord it will be every time. Say for example, the next melodic note goes up, but the chord will actually be a lower pitch, but is a chord that contains the note that is next in line melodically, if that makes sense. So sometimes I’m just not getting the visualization correct, but as I said, I am at least able to hear the sounds, so I think that’s part of the process! I think you’re right that if you’re fingers know where to go as a coordination with the sound in the head, that is much close to the goal I am talking about of having the skill versus just memorizing.

@ Libitina Yes, I hear you. Even simple patterns can be challenging with picking. Same with me, I can get good accuracy about 70% of the time, so I’m thrilled that Grade 3 addresses it. Thank you for those lesson links, I’ll check them out. Especially the old one since I won’t be eventually coming to that one through the regular Gr 3 course. And thank you for the encouragement about creativity. I am really hoping I can learn how to be creative and its just a matter of not being past the foundational teachings yet.

@ Helen0609 Ugh! Don’t we wish there were no issues (health, family, work etc) that pull us away from something as joyful as learning guitar. If anything, I think Grade 2 needs the slowdown and extended consolidation because there is actually quite a lot going on in that part of the course. As it turns out, after having getting back in the strumming course to find where I left off, I’d gotten to the end of Strumming Foundations and had left off at the point of beginning the practice routine. So of course I think now is a good time to start regular practice on it. And thank you for the perspective about letting the brain settle first before trying to find creativity. I agree, it makes sense that having too much going on must stifle creative ability. We’ll see if that’s the case for me in the future!

On your point about Grade 3 covering a lot of the topics I’m finding myself preoccupied with- I was thinking that was probably the case. Glad to hear it, not knowing exactly what Grade 3 has in store (yes I reviewed all the lessons ahead of me, but the titles aren’t always indicative of what the lesson has in it). I had a feeling that I am beyond Grade 2 in a lot of ways except for technical explanation and practical skill with my hands, it is a weird feeling to think I am moving too slow and too fast at the same time. I know rushing the grades is not the right thing to do, but I do think giving myself a year and a half for the foundational concepts was too long for me mentally…but, of course, physically is a different story.

@ SILVIA Thank you! Yes I’m diving back in to the strumming courses. Fun stuff. Some of it I am well past, but I think they’re still worth doing the practice on, none of it could hurt to keep the timing and strumming motion well established. We could all find something to do with strumming to improve on, be it foot tapping, or continuous motion or creating new strum patterns.


Being able to hear/imagine the sound in your head - audiate - is a great asset.
If you can visualise the fretting at the same time (chords and single notes), then your mind starts to connect the two. It associates the sound with the fingering and starts to guide your fingers to the sounds you want to hear. It becomes less of a finger pattern and more of a sound pattern.
Try playing a familiar scale with just one finger. Different finger pattern - same sound pattern.

I can’t tell you what this visualise/audiate will lead to because I’m only just learning it myself but I’m quite convinced that it’s a very good learning tool.
I hope and suspect it will lead to the kind of flowing play that you are looking for.
Ask me in another 5 or 10 years! :smiley: :guitar:

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In response to your question #2, if you perform the “linking chords with scales” exercise using C-Am-F-G (two bars of each), you’ll be practicing using both the sixth string (barre F and G) and fifth string (C and Am) bass notes. Practicing the alternating bass pattern may be a good next-step after you are comfortable with this exercise, as you’ll already be comfortable finding the sixth and fifth strings with your pick from doing the “linking chords with scales” lesson.

No need to make this exercise any more challenging than it already is, as there is plenty of new things for your brain and fingers to learn in this exercise already.

Hope this helps.