3. Strumming in 4/4 time with Upstrokes(BC-103)

Topic Progress:

If we were only ever to strum using a single downstroke on each beat, our music would soon become very boring to play and to listen to. Fortunately, we can start to inject a bit of variety into our strumming by introducing a new type of stroke called the upstroke. If we go back to strumming our open strings, to play an upstroke, we would place our pick on the outside of the high E string and strum the strings upwards, ending at the low E string. In this case, we strum in the opposite direction to the downstroke we were playing previously, as shown below.

 

 

In other words, we start at the thinnest playable string and we strum upwards towards the thickest playable string. Again, if we go back to our D major chord, this would mean starting at the high E string and strumming back towards the open D string, as follows:

D:1[D Major]
EADGBE

 

Try playing an upstroke now. First try strumming the the open strings, then try playing the D chord, making sure not to hit the low E or the open A string. Notice that the the upstroke sounds slightly different to the downstroke – although we are playing the same notes, we have reversed the order in which we are strumming them, so we get a different sound to our strum.

Strumming on Downbeats and Upbeats

With downstrokes, we strum on the beat (also known as the downbeat) as we count through each measure, i.e. we strum using a downstroke on the 1, the 2, the 3 and the 4 count (as we have been practicing). Upstrokes are always played between each downbeat. This is called playing on the upbeat, and it means we need to introduce a way of counting the beats which allows us to include a count for an upstroke as well as a downstroke as we count the beats in each measure.

The way we do this is to include the word ‘and’ between each number as we count, so instead of counting, “1….2….3….4”, we start counting, “1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and” (we will write this as “1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &” to make things easier to read, but when counting out loud/in your head, sound out the word “and” between each number).

To practice playing upstrokes and downstrokes, we’ll start by using the chords we learned in our previous lesson. Remember to play a downstroke on each number, and an upstroke on each “and” (+) count. The downstrokes are coloured in blue, and the upstrokes in orange in the examples below.

G:1[G Major]
D:1[D Major]
Am:1[A Minor]
C:1[C Major]

First the G major chord:

GGGGGGGG
1 …..&…. 2 …..&…. 3 …..&…. 4 …..&….

etc…

Then D major chord:

DDDDDDDD
1 …..&…. 2 …..&…. 3 …..&…. 4 …..&….
etc…

The A minor chord:

AmAmAmAmAmAmAmAm
1 …..&…. 2 …..&…. 3 …..&…. 4 …..&….
etc…

The C major chord:

CCCCCCCC
1 …..&…. 2 …..&…. 3 …..&…. 4 …..&….
etc…

Now that we’ve had some practice with individual chords, we can try our new strumming pattern using the chord progressions from the song we have just learned, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”:

GGGGDDDD
1 …..&…. 2 …..&…. 3 …..&…. 4 …..&….
AmAmAmAmAmAmAmAm
1 …..&…. 2 …..&…. 3 …..&…. 4 …..&….
GGGGDDDD
1 …..&…. 2 …..&…. 3 …..&…. 4 …..&….
CCCCCCCC
1 …..&…. 2 …..&…. 3 …..&…. 4 …..&….
etc…

Tip 1: Tap Your Foot. As we did previously, tap your foot on the downbeat when counting from one to four. Now that we have introduced upbeats, you might notice that your foot is on the floor on the downbeat, and is raised off the floor on the upbeat (the “and“). Timing your strum so that your downstroke coincides with your foot hitting the floor and your upstroke coincides with it being raised off the floor can be another useful way to work out which type of stroke to use.
Tip 2: Slow it down! Getting the timing right can be tricky when figuring out strumming patterns. If your’re struggling to get to grips with up and downstrokes, start off very slowly until you get the feel for the technique, then gradually build up speed.
Tip 3: Use your wrist. When we first started to strum using downstrokes, our strumming technique was fairly rigid, with little wrist movement. Now we want to try to move the wrist a little more with each upstroke and downstroke to ensure fluid movement.
Tip 4: Mute those strings. Now that we have two different strumming motions, it can be difficult to play chords where we don’t use all six strings, e.g. the D major. Don’t worry too much if you aren’t managing to miss the strings you shouldn’t be playing – just try your best to hit the correct strings. There are techniques we can use to try and minimise playing unwanted strings, and these include various ways to mute the strings we don’t want to play. If you are familiar with muting, you can try this technique whilst practicing your strumming; if not, don’t panic, we’ll cover these in a later lesson!

We’re starting to get to grips with upstrokes and downstrokes, but this strumming pattern sounds fairly tedious and we’re going to want to introduce some variation to the rhythms we can produce as we strum chords. Fear not! We’re going to look at ways to spice things up in a moment, but first we need to take a slight detour and have a look at the guitar tablature we were introduced to at the beginning of the lesson.

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