Fast Strumming

(written in 1984)

In this day and age, approaching a song rhythmically in the rock idiom usually requires knowledge of two basic techniques. There’s the muted eighth-note type of playing where you mute the strings with the palm of your right hand. Usually only the first two or three notes are strummed. Then there’s the full-fledged “k-r-r-r-anges” where you strum a chord all the way through, another example of “big rock tone”.

In any case, no matter what you’re doing rhythmically, it’s important to play in synch. That means in time. The exception, of course, is if your desired result is to sound drunk (or, if you are drunk). When practicing rhythm, a drum machine or metronome should always be used. In the cases where you’re trying something maybe a little beyond your physical capabilities, start at a speed at which you can play cleanly. It must be clean! Gradually bring the speed up.

Here is a speed-rhythm playing technique. This example requires a loose wrist. Shake your right hand as fast as possible (careful not to hurt yourself!). Now, when you apply this to strings, it probably won’t sound too good at first. Notice the position your wrist and hand form in order to move at the fastest possible speed. The object is to get the strings to sound clean when you apply the pick at this speed. Once this becomes clean with the up-down strumming motion, try adding accents to it and alternating your strumming pattern. In 6/8 time, try strumming this pattern using any chord:

(D = down strum, U = up strum):

The rhythm should be even. Start slowly and build gradually. Here’s one in 4:

The faster you get, the harder it is to get a full strum from the quick downstrokes. Try to get even 16th notes happening at a rate of quarter note = 108, or faster.

This technique is also good for odd rhythm playing such as 5/8.

To come up with some more examples to try, just randomly write down a bunch of D’s and U’s with all of the U’s followed by D’s and not having to play more than two D’s in a row. For example, D U D D U D U D U D D U. Then try to play them evenly.

Some other strumming ideas are:

1) At the bridge of the guitar, strum from high strings to low strings with the pick. This will exaggerate the high overtones of the notes, giving a bell-like quality.

2) Strum with the pick perpendicular to the strings. This will cause many nice overtones when you strum in the right spot. Experiment.

3) Try strumming with foreign objects for different tones, such as a smooth stone, a coin, a pencil, a letter, a razor blade (careful!), etc. Don’t hurt yourself, now!