Beyond Strumming Patterns
First up, what we call ‘strumming patterns’ are the hitting/missing dimension to the strumming system. This is one component among many, for creating rhythms and rhythmic skills.
Here’s the world’s most popular strumming pattern in rhythmic notation & and with commonly shown arrows.
We keep our hand moving and miss where the gaps are located (gaps on the & of 1 and downbeat of 3). Try this now, on any chord.
What the actual strumming pattern (the hitting/missing component) is of any given song is relevant only after you can make chord transitions with your fretting hand (or while strumming a single chord), while your strumming hand does not stop.
If you can’t strum and change chords without stopping, working on strumming patterns (with chord changes) inhibits rhythmic development [by creating awkward motions or stalls]. And, how you work on them matters. When a strumming pattern is the primary concern [because it makes the song sound like the song], but we can’t make the chord changes, I liken this to demanding to know how the motor of a car works, before turning the ignition. When we train beyond any given song, all songs [the chord rhythms], fall into the hands naturally.
We first train the motor by hitting down-up all the time [for one chord or simple two changes]. Hitting all the time is most that we can do [with hitting/missing]. Over time, we get more complexity with our motor rhythms by doing less [missing].
To play different strumming patterns, we think in rhythms. Once we have steady, deliberate control of the changes [with constant motoring], we then have the opportunity to be musical [think musically]. We allow this to be natural. We never think in symbols when playing rhythm anyways. We strum. We get rhythmic. We miss when we feel there should be a gap. Over-thinking missing [‘what’s the strumming pattern’], can produce some awkward motion, and non-musical actions.
‘Strumming patterns’ also change within songs, as drums do [beats, fills, etc.]. Strumming in different rhythms happens by doing, not thinking. And, there are many variables to an overall strumming texture [not just missing].
Variables include hitting/missing, pressing/touching, accents, ranges, timbre, changing elements, palm muting, dynamics, tempo, double-timing & splash/let ring. Micro-managing all of these variables is tedious, if not impossible.
I highly recommend using rhythmic feel to strum what you hear, rather than always counting things out and needing them written out in symbols. There’s too much variation to learn them all in rhythmic notation. The only time, as a coach, that I ever write out strumming patterns is for students, when/if they ask [often to prove that it’s not as effective as just doing it – it’s often a question of confidence].
You already know, intuitively, how to strum and create patterns [once base level functional is happening]. And, we can strum any song in any rhythm. Core idea: you know how to strum and create rhythms, so just be natural in your approach. It happens [when your strumming motion is natural & constant & you are confident].
I used to publish a bunch of strumming pattern rhythms for hitting and missing (there is one above!). Currently, I consider them potential roadblocks to true rhythmic development. Students often get hung up on this point. Remember: we can play any song in any style or rhythm [universal, easy, actual]. We don’t let the actual of any given song get in the way of our development. When we develop our strumming skills, we can play all songs, not just the first ones. Again, be natural & play by feel. It’s the only way to play everything we hear.
Beyond classical guitar strumming [rasgueado, which I never truly enjoyed as much as pick strumming], I never learned ‘strumming patterns’. I learned common ‘patterns’ by training every possibility (exhaustion) & feeling and playing my way into rhythms. When asked over decades, ‘so what’s the strumming pattern’, my answer is always the same…’down-up’ [down-down is still down-up].
I’m hearing the question ‘what’s the strumming pattern’ less and less, and this is encouraging.