How To Strum While Striking Different Strings

So far, in the series of lessons on how to strum, we have looked at the fundamentals of rhythm and how they apply to right hand movement. Those two elements of strumming are what could be defined as the primary elements. Without them, strumming just doesn’t work.

There are other, more secondary elements to strumming as well, which might not be as obvious as the first two but are still very important elements of strumming like a pro.

In this lesson, we are going to look at string selection with the right hand. We know that when it comes to strumming, the right hand’s main function is to move up and down, connecting with the strings at certain points to create rhythm. What we are looking at with string selection, is which strings to hit when strumming. While it is possible to strum all six strings for every down and up strum that you perform, in reality, it is very common and musically appropriate to vary the strings that are struck.

Hit And Miss

The interesting thing about string selection, is that it is only ever really thought about vaguely at best. It really is a matter of feel, taste and experimentation. You will very rarely come across a strumming pattern that demands a specific set of string selections and even more rare is the consistency of string section within any given song. Still, we can look at the variables and you can and should experiment with string selection, even just to gain first hand experience as to what it is. It should be pointed out that in this post we are referring to the string selection that occurs within strumming, as opposed to string selection that occurs when playing a specific figure or riff. The Red Hot Chili Peppers song, ‘My Friends’ is a good example of the latter. There is a specific guitar figure that is being played that requires the sounding of individual strings, even though they often occur within a chord. This is different than the generic strumming approach that we are looking at in this post.

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Experimentation Is Key

There really are endless possibilities with string selection. Again, most guitarists do not think about it when playing. It is something that occurs naturally and the variables are almost free to change at their own will. A good exercise to do to understand the principle is this. Clap your hands together in a steady, quarter note rhythm continuously. Keep the tempo even but don’t think too much. You should notice that the tone of each clap varies slightly from one clap to another. This is not necessarily intentional and the sonic differences may be very subtle, yet they are there. It sounds good. As long as the claps are even in tempo (demonstrating control) the natural modulations of sound are quite pleasing. This is really how it is with string selection. While you can definitely be quite selective about which strings you strike (and when experimenting, you should should be selective, at least for a while) there is also something very desirable and comfortable about letting the right hand ‘do as it pleases’.

How To Vary Strings When Strumming

The concept of string selection is pretty straight forward. You simply vary the strings that you strum. It could mean that you leave out the 6th string and strum the bottom 5 (on the way down). Or you only strum the first 3 strings on the way up. Or perhaps you aim for only the 2nd and 3rd strings. These variations, when done tastefully, can bring a strumming rhythm to life.

Let’s look at a few visual examples. Because we are focusing on strings, I will use a tablature template to draw arrows on. Keep in mind though that the arrows are effectively in opposite directions to that of the examples on strumming directions. That is because with tablature, the 6th string is at the bottom and the 1st string is at the top, therefor a down stroke from 6th to 1st looks to the naked eye like an up stroke and visa versa. In these examples we will be using a constant 8th note rhythm as the rhythm that we are working with.

String Selection Example 1

This is an example of the continuous 8th note rhythm striking every string for each strum.

string selection example 1

String Selection Example 2

string selection example 2

String Selection Example 3

string selection example 3

String Selection Example 4

string selection example 4

String Selection Example 5

string selection example 5

We are using only one rhythm here but varying the string selection. Of course, the principle of string selection really comes to life when used over different rhythms. You should experiment extensively with variation whilst keeping the rhythm the same and also experiment extensively with changing rhythms. Remember, this is probably the easiest element of strumming to experiment with because you can’t really ever ‘get it wrong’. There are often more tasteful options, but as long as the rhythm is correct and steady, any string selection choice can theoretically work.

Another thing to keep in mind is that string selection is a variable that almost goes hand in hand with another strumming variable – dynamics. Often, a specific string selection works well when it is approached using the appropriate dynamics, which leads nicely to our next topic in the series on strumming.

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