Guitar Tip: Painting the Strum (Part 1)

Strumming. It sounds easy. But is it?

Well, actually, yes!

…and no.

There are several factors that can lead to good strumming, so this series will be all about the anatomy of a good strum.

That said, I should point out that my intention is not to make this more complicated than it should be. I just want to break it down a bit to help you observe well. All the pieces in this series should work together fluidly, but if, when you play, you notice your strum just doesn’t sound quite right, my hope is that you might observe that you could work on one or more of these parts for the benefit of the whole strum (since the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts, after all).

In addition, as I consider this subject, I realize chances are good you do not think of strumming first when you think of guitar playing. With electric guitars dominating the musical landscape, most people think of the left hand – the one that seems to play all those amazing leads by itself. It seems to move the most after all, and t.v. cameras tend to focus attention on how it travels the neck, slides, bends, hammers, and wavers around like a well-controlled dancer.

What this means is that you may not see its importance immediately. Though it might be pretty obvious to say that both hands must work together for guitar playing, how should your right hand function for the benefit of the whole?

That’s what I hope to address in these posts. It will not be exhaustive – only the “first things.” That’s what I tell my kids – “First things first.” This is the prolegomena of strumming.

Here’s a summary of the parts – the “anatomy,” as I see it:

  1. Right Elbow Position (and related: Posture)
  2. Smooth Arm Swinging
  3. Pick holding
  4. Technique: ways to paint

The last two will really bring out what I mean by “Painting the Strum.” I tell my students all the time to “paint the strings,” because this has been a helpful analogy for the motions involved.

As a acoustical guitarist, you are like an artist with a paint brush in hand. With the color of the left hand work, the artist paints on the canvas of the strings. While the left hand chooses the color, the right hand adds depth of field, soft or rough edges, and “thickness,” so to speak. It creates motion and range, adding tone and volume to the overall picture.

Yes, its crucial a painter should know how to choose his or her color well. However, many don’t realize until they have the paint on their brush that it matters how you apply it as well.

That’s what this series will be about. It’s about the factors that lead to applying your color well.

Beyond introducing the series, this post is to say: pay attention to what your right hand is doing.

Here are seven questions to help you observe:

  1. Do you tend to be stiff, or relaxed?
  2. Do you tend to paint the whole canvas, or just part (i.e. do you strum all the strings?)
  3. Do you tend to twist your wrist or swing your arm?
  4. Does your volume tend to be loud or soft?
  5. Where, in relation to the sound hole, do you tend to paint?
  6. Do you tend to have a “jerky” swing, smooth, or a little of both?
  7. How are you holding your pick?

In all of these, I am not setting up a test. I’m just saying, “Pay attention to what your right hand is doing.”

I’ll summarize with the following tip: Watch yourself paint.

Next time, I’ll cover the first part: Right Elbow Position.

  

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