Sunday, May 10, 2009

Dynamics Are The Secret to Strumming

The dead giveaway of a brand new guitarist is that their strumming has no oomph. No personality.

Every beat, every strum has the same emphasis. It sounds mechanical. Unmusical. The best description is that it is lifeless.

Think of a heartbeat. The pulse of life doesn't go:


Instead, it goes:

'BUMP Bump... BUMP Bump... BUMP Bump....'

The difference? Dynamics. Loudness. Life.

Not all beats are the same: Some deserve more emphasis than others.

I encourage my beginners to start practicing dynamics as soon as possible. If not in the first lesson, then in the first few weeks.

Playing some simple dynamics immediately brings a smile to the face of a beginner student. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, the plodding chords they've been plunking become animated. What was once a boring ├ętude is now music.

Once you've got your rest stroke down, the very next thing you can do to improve the sounds you are getting out of your instrument its to work on dynamics. Here are some simple exercises to get started playing dynamically.

First, a simple four strums to the bar rhythm with no dynamic marking. A G chord is indicated, but you can use any chord:

The > in this example is an accent mark. It indicates for you to make the first strum of these four strums louder.

Play this example and it goes 'STRUM strum strum strum':

Play this until it's comfortable and easy. Concentrate on making the quieter strums REALLY quiet. That's tricky to do.

The next example has TWO accent marks on the odd beats, so this one goes 'STRUM strum STRUM strum':

This one turns the beat around. The dynamic accent marks are on the even beats 2 and 4, giving you a nice snappy backbeat:

Not all music divides into 2's and 4's, though. 3 is, as they say, the magic number. Try a 3/4 rhythm with a little accent on the first beat, and BOOM, it's waltz time!

'STRUM strum strum STRUM strum strum':

Throw a little curve by accenting the second beat:

Now that you've got the basics down, try something a little trickier.

'STRUM strum strum STRUM strum strum STRUM strum' or

ONE two three FOUR one two THREE four:

Try thinking up some combinations and grooves of your own combining different groups of 2 (STRUM strum) and 3 (STRUM strum strum).

You could apply dynamics to your up strums, too. Hmmm?

Have fun! L'Chaim!

Advancing Guitar Lessons: Washington, D.C.
Professional Musical Fun for Beginners and Beyond


Anonymous said...

Great post. Check out John Frusciante's strumming in the song Soul to Squeeze. He's just strumming chords during the second half of the song, so how interesting could it be? But he does it with such attitude that it passes for some truly bitchin' guitar playing - even if he is still just playing chords!

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