Strumming a Song All the Way Through
Being able to strum a song all the way through, without missing a change, is what ‘officially’ makes us intermediate guitar players. It is absolutely essential that we can do this. It makes us ‘band-ready’, reliable rhythm players.
And, once we have one song done, we do another, then another, at least until we have maybe 10 or more [if this is a goal – one cover is fine if we are going the way of the ‘originalist’]. For playing covers, building a binder of chord/lyric sheets of the songs you want to play is a good plan. Here’s a planning print resource [Set List PDF single].
The tune we’ve chosen here is a solid starter strumming song. For any difficult change [this song moves fast – and the goal is to play along with the song, against the audio], go back and forth for any chord pair until you have it in time [this is the Shape Connect method].
Down by the Water ⇔ The Decemberists
Each chord symbol is strummed for 4 beats, down-up, save the pair indicated as 2 beat strums [Em to D in the intro]. We have written C in the chart, but you can use Cadd9. You have this option as they are often interchangeable. All of the chords change on down beats, and this is good.
Strum Down By The Water, down-up, as straight 8th notes [hitting all the time], until you know your motor will not stop. When your engine is steady, then apply different strumming patterns [do less, by missing]. Once you can strum this tune without any struggle, repeat the process for 9 other songs of your choice, which will get you to 10 [band ready]. And again, conversely [or in tandem], just write your own stuff.
The tempo is pretty quick, so practice each chord connection [pair of chords] at the speed of the recording. Even better, train the changes faster than needed. This way, the tempo of the recording is easy. This is training beyond what is needed to play the tune [and a solid training principle for anything].
Building a Chain
To play a tune, we look for we look at all the given chords in a song. We then determine which connections are necessary, place them on the wheel, and make those changes, as sets of 2 chord, chord puzzles [make all of the necessary changes]. By doing this, we ensure that the song will not break.
Often pushing tempo beyond what is necessary in a tune [by working the chords in pairs] will guarantee that we can keep up with the tune. Always be thinking about the next change [early in the measure of the chord we are on]. And, feel [anticipate] when the change is going to happen. “It is going to change…now.” We are predicting the future. Feel the pull; see the change.
Lift on the and of beat 4, while still hitting [strumming] the strings. And land on the downbeat of 1. Synchronize this exactly.
On ‘Strumming Patterns’
If you can’t change chords in time, with a constant down-up strumming pattern, the actual ‘strumming pattern’ of a song is not relevant. For beginner’s who are moving to intermediate, I suggest: strum down-up, hitting all the time, until the chord changes are synced.
To play different ‘strumming patterns’, we listen to the recording and strum it like we hear it. Let this be natural. We don’t think in symbols – or convoluted language [“I hit, then miss, then press, then accent, then hit just these 3 strings, etc.”] when playing rhythm guitar. We strum. We miss when we feel there should be a gap. Strumming patterns change within songs, as drums do [beats, fills, etc.]. Trust me, strumming in different rhythms happens naturally, once the motor is set and synchronizations are happening.
I highly recommend using your musical rhythmic feel to strum what you hear, rather than only counting things out and needing it written out in symbols. The only time, as a coach, that I ever write out strumming patterns for students, is when/if they ask [and as proof that, in the beginning, trying to miss is not the way to train]. And, micro-managing missing and hitting rarely works. It typically produces some freakish hand movements. And, the fretting hand often carries a component of the overall rhythmic shape and feel [i.e. touching-pressing].
You already know, intuitively, how to strum and to create ‘patterns’. And, we can strum any song in any rhythm [not necessarily what’s on a recording]. Core idea: you know how to strum and create rhythms [you are naturally rhythmic], so just be natural in your approach. Trust your process, and it happens.
To see other ways to play these chords in all positions, check out G-Em-C-D in 5 Positions.