How to Strum the Guitar

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In the following examples, a vertical line is a bar. The stuff between the bars is a measure. The :|| means to repeat from the beginning of that part. Each name of a chord and dash gets one beat except in the last example in 6/8 time. Following each song I write how I would strum each measure in that song. All the strums are downward.

Bill Cheatham - 2/4 time signature
Part A
A-|A-|D-|D-|A-|A-|D-|EA:||
Part B
AD|EA|AD|AE|AD|EA|AD|EA:||

Part A
Hit the bass note A, strum A chord.
Hit the bass note A, strum A chord.
Hit the bass note D, strum D chord.
Hit the bass note D, strum D chord.
Hit the bass note A, strum A chord.
Hit the bass note A, strum A chord.
Hit the bass note D, strum D chord.
Strum E chord, strum A chord.

Part B
Strum A chord, strum D chord.
Strum E chord, strum A chord.
Strum A chord, strum D chord.
Strum A chord, strum E chord.
Strum A chord, strum D chord.
Strum E chord, strum A chord.
Strum A chord, strum D chord.
Strum A chord, strum E chord.
 

Rocking the Baby to Sleep - 3/4 time
Parts A and B
D--|G--|D--|D--|A--|A--|1G--|D--:||2D--|D--||

The measures |1G--|D-- are played the first time a part is played and the measures |2D--|D--are played the second time through.

Parts A and B
Hit bass note D, strum D, strum D.
Hit bass note G, strum G, strum G.
Hit bass note D, strum D, strum D.
Hit bass note D, strum D, strum D.
Hit bass note A, strum A, strum A.
Hit bass note A, strum A, strum A.

1st time
Hit bass note G, strum G, strum G.
Hit bass note D, strum D, strum D.

2nd time
Hit bass note D, strum D, strum D.
Hit bass note D, strum D, strum D.
 

Angeline the Baker - 4/4 time
Parts A and B
D---|D---|D---|G---|D---|D---|D-G-|D---:||

In this song the alternate bass note is played on the 3rd beat unless a new chord begins there. (See Guitar Bass Notes and Runs for more info about alternate basses.)

Parts A and B
Hit bass note D, strum D, hit bass note A, strum D.
Hit bass note D, strum D, hit bass note A, strum D.
Hit bass note D, strum D, hit bass note A, strum D.
Hit bass note G, strum G, hit bass note B, strum G.
Hit bass note D, strum D, hit bass note A, strum D.
Hit bass note D, strum D, hit bass note A, strum D.
Hit bass note D, strum D, hit bass note G, strum G.
Hit bass note D, strum D, hit bass note A, strum D.
 

Planxty Irwin - 6/8 time
Part A

DG|D-|GD|A-|DG|D-|GD|AD:||
Part B
D-|A-|DE|A-|DG|D-|GD|AD:||

When playing back up guitar for songs in 6/8 time, each name of a chord or dash gets three beats. While the fiddle is playing 6 beats per measure pretty fast, the guitar will either hit the bass or strum on the 1st beat and then strum on the 4th beat.

Part A
Strum D, strum G.
Hit bass note D, strum D.
Strum G, strum D.
Hit bass note A, strum A.
Strum D, strum G.
Hit bass note D, strum D.
Strum G, strum D.
Strum A, strum D.

Part B
Hit bass note D, strum D.
Hit bass note A, strum A.
Strum D, strum E.
Hit bass note A, strum A.
Strum D, strum G.
Hit bass note D, strum D.
Strum G, strum D.
Strum A, strum D.
 

Strumming Techniques

Hitting the bass then always strumming down is the best way to play backup rhythm guitar for old time fiddle music. And it's easy not having to coordinate between strumming up and down. On some songs I do play a little up strum right after the down, but it never gets its own beat.

There are a couple of techniques that will increase the rhythmic drive you're providing. Try dampening the strings with your strumming hand right after you hit the bass or strum. This quick ending of the sound actually accentuates it. You can also quickly mute the sound with your chord fingering hand by slightly taking pressure off the strings right after you strum. Keep the rhythm and play the next bass note or chord on time. 

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