How to strum a chord

Guitar fantasyThere are a few different ways to strum a chord. By strumming we are referring to the right hand (if it is a not a left-handed guitar) technique used to get sound from the guitar by playing several strings instantaneous.

Strumming techniques

Playing guitar is about making a harmony of two hands in motion. There are three main methods for strumming the strings, which are:

  1. You play with the inside of your thumb,
  2. You play with your index finger nail, or
  3. You use a plectrum.

Nothing is absolutely right or wrong. It all depends on your own preferences and the effect you want to accomplish. The recommendation is to try all three methods to begin with.

Using the thumb or index finger

You will get a somewhat muffled sound using your thumb and a kind of crispy sound when strumming with your nail. Something to consider is that it can be harder to play accentuated upstrokes with your thumb than with your fingernail or a plectrum.

Using a plectrum

The advantage using a plectrum is that you effortlessly get between the strings without touching them. This refers mainly to when you’re plucking and not strumming. But regardless what you are playing for the moment, it is always good to learn to play with a plectrum. For best guitar strumming practice, use a thin plectrum for strumming.

It is unusual to use a plectrum on a classic guitar – it won’t sound very good and neither is a plectrum needed for plucking due to the large space between the strings. Plectrum is on the other side common on steel-string and electric guitars.

Strumming positions

Depending on the position where you are strumming on the guitar, the sound will differ. There are mainly three positions, and they are sometimes referred to the Italian terms: normale – you play over the sound hole; sul tasto – you play nearer the fretboard; sul ponticello – you play nearer the bridge. Notice that this will not be relevant playing on an electric guitar.

Up- and downstrokes

When it come to strumming, you can create rhythms by using up and downstrokes. In addition to that, you can use techniques such as muted strings: you mute the strings for one or several strokes to create a percussive feature.

There are also room for variations. To avoid a wearisome sound, all strings in the chords mustn't be strummed in every stroke.

Strumming with speed

Sometimes it sounds better if you strum with speed. It can be hard to strum fast in the beginning, but eventually you get faster. Try to avoid moving your whole under arm from the elbow but instead move your hand from the wrist. This is much more economical and serves the speed since you are able to strum up and down with small movements.

Rolling chords

One alternative to strum in the common way are so-called rolling chords, which are played by hitting each string in a fast sequence. In music tablature, rolling chords are indicated with a wavy line.

Chord chart with explanations
G Major as a rolling chord

Avoid getting monotonous

Only strumming chords can sound monotonous. Here are some tips for avoiding that:

  • Use both down- and upstrokes
  • Vary the strum rhythm
  • Vary the duration and beats on the chords
  • Hit different strings or just playing parts of the chord
  • Accentuate some strokes to create dynamic.

You don’t need to use all these methods all the time, but try to use some of them.

Read also about other playing techniques.