Identifying a Strumming Pattern
What You'll Need For This Exercise...
The first step in this exercise is to be able to listen to the strumming pattern over and over (and over and over :). So, I recommend playing it back in a looper/slow-downer like AnyTune Pro (only available on iOS). That’s what I do and it makes this kind of analysis much easier. If you need a slow-downer on Android you could try Amazing Slow Downer… although I’ve never used it personally it seems to do the job.
How to Complete This Exercise...
Now that you have a slow downer (or some way of easily listening to the strumming pattern over and over…
- Listen to a small loop – 1 bar or 2 bars at the most.
- Count main beats (and determine time signature). Start tapping your foot to the music and try counting 1 – 2 – 3 – 4. Maybe you’ll find that it isn’t in 4/4, but in 3/4 or some other time signature. Identifying this core beat is the first thing to do because everything relies on your ability to do this correctly.
- Next, you should try to identify 1/8ths, 1/16ths or triplets. You can do this by subdividing the beats you identified in step 2.
- For 1/8ths, you inject an ‘and’ in between the main beats. For example, you’d say “1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and”.
- For 1/16ths, you inject ‘e’, ‘and’, ‘a’ in between the main beats. For example, “1 e and a 2 e and a 3 e and a 4 e and a”.
- For triplets, you inject ‘triplet’ in between the main beats. For example “1 trip-let 2 trip-let 3 trip-let 4 trip-let”. It is important to utter “trip-let” as 2 syllables (NOT tri-pl-et).
- Steps 2 and 3 may take some time. Don’t sweat it – take your time and get it right. This is a skill not unlike learning a new language. Don’t expect it to be easy or quick. Once you feel VERY confident that you’re counting they right beats, notice that not every beat (or subdivision) has a strum matching it. So, you may come up with something like: “1 and 2 and — and 4 — “. Once you are satisfied with your count, you should jot down your full count on paper to study.
- Finally, we can start strumming the guitar! In this step, you’re going to assign (down/up) strokes to each strum in your final count. Now, pay close attention to these strumming rules:
- If you’re strumming 1/8th based rhythms, then downbeats are downstrokes and upbeats are upstrokes. Easy!
- If you’re strumming 1/16th based rhythms, then you alternate down/up strokes. Downbeats (or numbers… like ‘1 2 3 4’ are downstrokes. In this context ‘and’ will also be a downstroke (unlike 1/8th based rhythms). ‘e’ and ‘a’ will be upstrokes.
- If you’re strumming triplet based rhythms, then you also alternate down and up strokes, but they will be irregular from beat to beat (for reasons that will become obvious once you do it.
- Now that you have identified the full count AND you have assigned each part of the count to a down/up stroke, try to play it! Can you technically play it correctly? If not, it may be too difficult for you and you’ll want to revisit your technical strumming skills by practicing 1/16ths and triplets more often (probably with a metronome). However, at this point at least it is only a technical challenge 🙂
Continuing to Improve...
Practicing this is crucial. Each time you succeed at doing this process, you’ll get better and better. Eventually, it will be second nature to identify full counts AND strum with the correct strumming patterns (consisting of down/up strokes).
IMPORTANT NOTE: When you’re starting out, never try to “just play” without paying close attention to the beats, subdivisions and down/up strokes. You’ll effectively be practicing bad habits which will ultimately make it much more difficult to master this valuable skill.