Question from a very beginner guitar player about chords and strumming.
March 30, 2004 11:08 AM   Subscribe

Question from a very beginner guitar player about chords and strumming.

I have learned the positions and how to make the most common chords. And I got these Tab sheets of songs. Over the first word of the song there might be a G and then a A over the second half of the sentence. Ok. Got that. But how do you know what to strum? Obviously one strum of the G then one strum of the A isn't enough. Is it just a constant rythmic strumming of G until you get to the A? Do you only strum down, or do you upward strum too? Is the only hope to play it by ear?
posted by Seth to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Tablature is a very inexact science, and is usually useful only for getting "the gist" of a song. Even if you try to match up the chord-letter placement with a word, you'll find that it's wrong as often as it's right. You pretty much need to listen to the recorded music along with it to get the rhythm.

Try to play along with the recorded music, following the tab. The first time (or first few, depending on how comfortable you are), just play each chord once where appropriate, to learn the progression. Then, try keeping a steadier strum. You'll usually find that you'll naturally fall into an appropriate rhythm.
posted by mkultra at 11:13 AM on March 30, 2004

Is the only hope to play it by ear?

Pretty much. The chord charts are pretty much just a framework. You might fingerpick, or play arpeggios (i.e., play the notes of the chord one a a time instead of all together) or even hammer away at the bottom two strings eight times per bar if you're looking for a career in heavy metal.
posted by timeistight at 11:19 AM on March 30, 2004

Seth: Assuming it's a song that you're already familiar with, just listen to the music for the chord changes and strumming pattern. If it isn't a song you're familiar with, get a copy of it.

You've got two options with tab. Use it to get as close to the original version of the song as you can, or use it to make a reasonable facsimile thereof, with your own particular flavor to it. There're usually other copies of a song tabbed out, and each tabber can have a different interpretation (or a better version.) Some folks with too much time on their hands describe in detail the strumming pattern. You might want to check to see if other versions of the tab you have exist.
posted by precocious at 11:47 AM on March 30, 2004

good, precocious. I recommend your Plan B, which is much more fun than slavishly copying a song.

I'll also point out that there is nothing more boring, for the player and the listener, than the rhythmic strumming of a beginner on an acoustic guitar. As a permanent "advanced-beginner" I have fallen into the practice of using only my fingers, no pick, in a kind of percussive way to hit the notes within each chord that sound "right," and sometimes even doing some brief soloing that way, picking out individual notes with thumb and middle finger. It's a great way to get a feel for where the notes are in each chord, and it's pretty forgiving of mistakes (which I found not to be the case with a pick).

Someone of course will come on to warn you that this is probably the worst possible habit to get into, but it's been fun for me.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 12:07 PM on March 30, 2004

Listen carefully to the changes in the original song. You'll notice that chords usually change at logical places within each strumming cycle. Choose a simple song, say an old bon jovi or springsteen or whatever, and try to figure out the strumming cycle and play it for a while without changing chords. Once you can play it without thinking about it and can keep a steady rythm, try some changes.
Using upward or downward strums is mainly a comfort and style issue. Metal is mostly down, ska and reggae are mostly up.
posted by signal at 12:11 PM on March 30, 2004

As others have said, TABs have no rhythm information in them. If you want the full deal, you'll need to learn to read sheet music.

The way I started electric guitar was with tab/chord sheets while listening to the song I was trying to play. It's not too hard to mimic the rhythm of a song, so you'll probably just have to play around with it and try.
posted by frenetic at 12:38 PM on March 30, 2004

Do you only strum down, or do you upward strum too?

General strumming technique tips:

You should learn to strum so that your hand is in a constant up and down motion, but your hand only touches the strings on some of them. Downs and ups should correspond to down and up beats (a common synchronization for 4/4 time would be "1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and" with your downs on the numbers and ups and the "ands". A good exercise is to try actually doing this with the guitar ... strum on your leg or something. A pattern I've given a couple of beginners that's good to chew on is:

1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and

Only make contact with the strings (or whatever you're practicing on) on the capitalized downs/ups.

Don't make your wrist too tense, let more of the motion be rotation of your forearm as well as some slight up and down at the elbow.

Learn a couple of different strumming patterns, experiment with the different beat patterns and when you touch the strings. You'll come up with a library of patterns, like you have a library of chords, and start to recognize their use (or approximate use in songs).
posted by weston at 1:35 PM on March 30, 2004 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the advice. Some good stuff. I appreciate it.
posted by Seth at 1:58 PM on March 30, 2004

Unless you're playing rythym for metallica, in which case you must always strum down.
posted by jaded at 6:47 PM on March 30, 2004

Sidenote: weston, that's the weirdest way to strum I've ever heard of. You actually play like that?
posted by signal at 12:41 PM on March 31, 2004

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