Your First Strums – For Beginners

It is normal that those who are learning how to play guitar usually have a hard time struggling with their fret hand, and as soon as they get bored of trying chord combinations or a scale, they find relief by strumming the strings. Brushing them with their fingers and listening to the sounds they´re able to make with the instruments, is part of the freedom the guitar allows when playing it.


However, it too requires a technique and the patience to master it. Here are some tips to help you start strumming your guitar like a pro in no time.

The first thing that worries beginners is whether they should use a pick. It cannot be established if playing with a pick is better than playing with your bare hands. There have been debates on this raging for decades.

We recommend playing first with a pick, as it is easier and less painful than grinding your hands against the strings the very first day. However, if you´ve decided to go with your fingers or if you do not have a pick handy, you can start strumming with your thumb and index finger and start developing calluses.


Many great players never use a pick in their lives.

For holding the pick correctly, extend your straight hand in front of you like if you were respectfully greeting someone important. Curl your index finger so it now points directly towards you. Place the pick and your thumb right on top the finger, the tip of the thumb touching the index knuckle, and the tip of the pick pointing towards your fret hand side.


Hold it steadily, but only let the tip stick out of your fingers so it won´t slip out when you´re playing. This is the basic way to hold a pick, but you will maybe change it slightly with time as you experiment. Do not squeeze the pick too hard, just hold it tightly enough so it won´t go off flying when you´re strumming.

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You should be holding the guitar correctly as well. It should be right against your chest and stomach, and its waist or indentation on the leg that is farthest from the headstock. Your bicep should rest on the side of the guitar, holding it against your leg, and tilting the guitar slightly upwards. Your strumming hand must be able to reach the sound hole, and your elbow should point to the upper corner of the guitar body.


Now the key to a good strumming is in the wrist. You should also try to remain relaxed while you´re playing. Most beginners strum only from their elbows, while their wrists remain stiff, and this is a bad sign. A good strumming should show more wrist movement than elbow movement. A good analogy that would describe how the arm should move is to imagine you are holding a burning stick and you´re trying to put the fire out by shaking it.

The correct place to strum the strings is almost anywhere between the neck and the bridge. However, the sound obtained varies greatly. When you strum close to the sound hole and neck, you obtain a fuller and bass-y sound, while strumming close to the bridge gives a brittle and harsher sound. You are free to find the right spot that gives the sound you desire.

You should first learn how to do uniform down strokes. Pick an easy chord, and try to get a clean sound with no muted nor buzzy strings. Now start stroking downwards in uniform beats. Each stroke should sound as one big chord, and not a collection of consecutive notes. Keep stroking downwards keeping a slow tempo, maybe one stroke per second. Once you get a defined uniform sound, you can start changing the chord every four beats. Try not to lose your tempo as you change chords.

After a while, you should try the same exercise but with upstrokes. Do not forget to listen for buzzy or muted strings. If you hear one, adjust your fret fingers accordingly without stopping you strumming hand.

Lastly, you can combine downward and upward strokes. Always start downwards and then go up. First do one stroke per second, alternating down and up movement (Down/up/down/up/down/up/down/up). Once you get used to it, then do it in half the time, doing one down stroke every second.
Stroking can be done in many interesting ways too. For example, you can keep your up-down wrist movement, but just skip some of the strokes. This adds rhythm to what you´re playing. For example, skip the first two up strokes, and then the third down stroke. The result should be: Down-down/up-up/down/up. Your hand is still going up and down every beat, you just “miss” the strings. This is the base for one of the most used guitar rhythms in Rock and Roll history, and it sounds very cool.

One other way to add variety to your sound is to mute the strings while you strum. Place the side of your strumming hand on top of the strings right next to the bridge. Do not push the strings, but make sure that your hand touches all of them. Now start strumming trying to keep your hand in place. This is called a palm mute, and it adds a percussive sound to your strumming. You can also use your fretting hand to mute the strings by releasing the pressure on the strings while doing a chord, or covering the fret board with all your fingers.

Basic Terminology Guitar Players Should Know

In order to learn how to play the guitar, we must first learn the basic terminology and lingo used by people in the guitar milieu. Some of the words used might sound complicated or weird, but they are commonplace among guitarists and musicians in general. They refer to the parts of the guitar, as well as some of the techniques that help us become better at this unique instrument.


The largest part of the guitar is where the sound of the strings resonates. Acoustic guitars have a large hollow wooden body, which also known as sound box.

Electric guitars do not always rely on their resonation boxes. They use magnetic pick-ups that capture the vibration of the strings and transform it to electrical signals that are sent to an amplifier. Electric guitars might have solid bodies, which can only produce sound through electronic pick-ups, or semi-hollow bodies, which have a resonation chamber but also use pick-ups to amplify their cleaner sound.


This is also called the peghead, and is where the tuning keys are. The machine heads are used to control the tension and pitch of each string. The headstock is connected to the neck by a nut.


It is the small strip of bone, plastic or metal, connecting the headstock with the neck. It has grooves that hold the strings and guide them. This important piece marks the start of the vibrating length of the strings.


The longest section of the guitar is what holds the tension of the strings. This is where the fret board is located.

Fret Board

Section of the fretboard

Section of the fretboard

It is the topmost part of the neck. This wooden board is divided by metal strips called frets. There are between 20 and 24 frets in most modern guitars, and each one represents a half tone interval.


It marks the end of the vibrating length of the strings, and hold them to the body of the guitar. It also transfers the sound of the strings to the resonance box in acoustic guitars.


These are actually magnets which create an electromagnetic field around the strings. Every time a string vibrates, it creates a disturbance in the field. The magnet picks up this vibration and transforms it to weak electrical signals that are then transmitted to an amplifier.


Also called “amp”, is the receiver of weak electrical signals from the guitar pick-ups. The amp then amplifies these signals and sends them to a loudspeaker in the form of sound.

Capo capo

Sometimes you need to play a song in a different key. The capo is a small device that, when attached to the fret board, changes the tuning of the guitar depending on the fret it is on.


Also called plectrum, is small piece of plastic, bone, or metal, used to strike or pluck the guitar strings. The sound produced by it is brighter and more focused than the one achieved with the fingertips, but the variety of sounds and textures is greatly reduced.

Whammy Bar

This device is often attached to the bridge. It is used to change the tension of the strings and produce a pitch-bending effect or vibrato effect. It is also referred to as a Vibrato system.


A melodic phrase that is often repeated as a part of a song. It is the basic building block of composition, and serves to accompany the main melody.


It is the residual sound caused by the reflection against walls or objects. When playing in large halls, the sound of the guitar seems louder and fuller as it has great reverberance. This distinctive sound can be emulated digitally by using effect boxes or amps that have built-in reverb effects.


Guitar tablatures, or “tabs”, are the written expression of music especially directed at guitar players. They do not usually contain classical notation, and the notes are expressed in finger positions on a fret board. They are easy to read and very useful when learning to play the guitar.


When playing a melody, a vibrating sound is often used to add certain feeling to the phrase. This is achieved by bending the string slightly in quick successions.


Sometimes the notes of a chord are not played simultaneously, but in a quick sequence or pattern. It is often done by alternating the bass tonic with the higher notes, creating a rhythmical sound.


This means striking a string individually in order to make it vibrate. It can be done with the fingers or with a pick.

Palm Muting

When plucking a string, one can place the side of the picking hand on top of the strings and close to the bridge. This produces a damped and percussive sound characteristic of punk and heavy metal music.

While this list is not as extensive as we would like, we hope it helps new musicians and guitar aficionados to get familiar with the slang used on most publications and posts about the wonderful world of guitars.

Guitar Care Tips

Guitars do not require heavy maintenance like other instruments do. However, there is one thing that should be taken into consideration when storing them. Guitars are made of wood, and like almost anything made of it, they are vulnerable to moisture.

Guitar Care Tips

Relative humidity, a concept meteorologists and guitar lovers should be familiar with, refers to the quantity of water that the air can absorb. The air that surrounds the guitar can affect the wood in undesirable ways if it is not kept on check.

Like anything in this world, each guitar is unique. From the moment they are being assembled, they are exposed to unique humidity conditions. Those initial conditions end up permanently sealed in the guitar once it is finished. It means that every time the guitar is exposed to humidity variations, its wood shrinks or expands unevenly, even though the dimensions of the guitar remain the same.

Controlling humidity and its effects can be frustrating, as the more expensive a guitar is, the more it seems to be affected by relative humidity as they are made completely of solid woods. Moreover, the damages caused by moisture changes can be costly.

Guitar bridge severely damaged by water

Guitar bridge severely damaged by water

The effects of continued exposure to moisture are many. The sound of the guitar becomes muddled or dampened, projecting a lifeless or “waterlogged” sound. The most extreme cases can show signs of bloating when the constant expansion and shrinking of the body causes the layers of wood to detach.

Guitar Damaged due to very High Humidity

Guitar Damaged due to very High Humidity

The extreme loss of humidity, on the other hand, can cause the wood to shrink too violently. The stress on the wood can result in cracks along the body, and make the sound brittle and harsh.

Damage to back of guitar by dryness

Damage to back of guitar by dryness

There are some things that can be done in order to avoid problems with humidity:

Always keep your guitar in its case. Humidity conditions can vary drastically even in your home. Guitar cases are closed environments that guard your guitar from these drastic changes.

Additionally, it is easier to control the humidity inside of them.

Keep an eye on your guitar. Common signs of damage by high humidity are: swollen portions on the back and sides of the body, cracks on the finish, buzzing sounds when playing the highest frets, dampened sound. Low humidity can be detected if you see cracks or dips in the wood, or frets sticking out of the fret board. If you see any of these signs, try to store your guitar taking the appropriate measures, like using a humidifier.

Watch the moisture. Normally you can tell if the weather is dry or humid, so you can adjust the conditions of your home accordingly. If the weather is too dry, try to get a humidifier or buy some plants. If it is too humid, probably during the hot season, remember that air conditioning is your friend. If possible, get a digital hygrometer to help you read the environmental changes.

Avoid rapid temperature changes. If your guitar is in a cold room and you need to take it to a warmer environment, do not open your case right away. Allow it to sit for a while so the temperature of the case equals that of the room. Drastic changes can severely affect the moisture of the wood.

Know where not to store your guitar. Keep your instrument away from cold damp areas. Your basement is not the best place to store your beloved guitar as it gets cold really fast. Hot and dry air is also a killer. Never place your guitar close to the heating ducts or in front of the air conditioning.

Consider taking care of your guitar as a long term investment. The wood of a guitar is said to “mature” with time, if properly kept, improving its sound and purchase or resale value.

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