Here is my contribution to the art of guitar strumming. I must here congratulate Bandbaaja for the excellent work in helping people understand strumming better. I firmly urge people to read the threads below to better understand strumming. I know there could be other threads too in the forum. However, I haven't gone through all the posts yet; so for now, check these out:
Chords confusion finger positionings for a same chord like for G chord
The heart of music is time. Be it a single instrument, a singer, group of singers, or a group of instruments--all are bound by time to start, stop, fade, or to renter the musical composition based on time. Tabala and Mridangam are primarily used to keep time in Indian music; while the drum is generally used to keep time in rock and other forms of western music. The guitar provides not only the time but also provides the partial melody along with the time. Thus the sound of the chord gives the melody part while the strumming provides the timing.
I digress a little bit from the main path to introduce a little bit about drums, which would help beginners understand the concept better. The biggest drum is the bass drum, the one which has the pedal and which the drummer kicks to produce the sound. It is the same drum which is used to accompany marching. The cymbal makes a sort of clanging noise. It is the one which is shaped like a plate and towers over the drum set. The other drum stroke you here is made by the snare drum (not as loud as the bass drum. This drum in India is also sometimes referred to as the "tom-tom."
When I refer to the bass drum I shall call that stroke "kick"; the cymbal "chick"; and the snare drum as "snare" or "tom."
This is the easiest time with each stroke falling on a quarter note. Now let us assume that our whole note has a duration of 2 seconds. So each quarter note therefore will be half a second. So for each quarter note count a number. So as you count one number every half second "1-2-3-4" the drummer might play, kick-chick-tom-chick. This is also called "the common time Represented with a C.
This is actually a misnomer. In this rhythm, there are 3 strokes and actually should be called 3/3. Anyway, the experts have labeled it 3/4 so we go that way. So as you count one number every half second, 1-2-3, the drummer plays kick-tom-tom. Duration of each cycle will be one-and-a-half seconds. Are you lost? So am I!
In this rhythm as you count 1 number every half second, you will be counting 1-2-3-4-5-6. Yes, this will be for 3 seconds. The drummer will be playing kick-chick-chick-tom-chick-chick.
This timing is not very frequently played. However, it is good to know. As you count 1 number for each half second, the drummer plays 2 strokes in the same interval. The counting therefore will be 1-2-3-4-5-6 like the previous 6/8 rhythm; but the drummer doubles up and plays kick-chick-chick-kick-chick-chick-tom-chick-chick-tom-chick-chick.
This rhythm is also common in Hindi songs. Here, there will be 7 quarters and the duration is, of course, 3 and a half seconds. Counting 1 number for each half second, in this measure you will be counting 1-2-3-4-5-6-7. The drummer will play, kick-chick-chick-tom-chick-tom-chick.
I am reasonably comfortable in strumming. I can easily replicate any rhythm with relative ease. From my childhood I have been sort of rhythm oriented. Doors, table surfaces, cardboard boxes, and any solid surfaces for that matter were good enough for my fingers to create general rhythmic patterns. Influenced by listening to maestros like Zakhir Hussain, I thought I would learn Tabala. Visions of being like Zakhir were the driving force. Around circa 1993/1994, I joined tabala classes. I studied it for a couple of years. When it became too hot to handle or rather when my incompetence was greater than my competence, I called it quits. But I ended up with a good sense of timing. It has helped my guitar strumming (plectrum) immensely. Oh, again I have digressed--so back to the main topic it is!!
Guitar strumming, too, has its own share of myths:
1. Arms have to be moving to and fro. This is not true at all. Many beginners allow their whole arm to rock while strumming the guitar. All the movement of the plectrum should come from your wrists. In fact, do this exercise and see where you stand. Sit on a chair with the arm rest. Place your elbow on the arm rest and then begin to strum. As you strum, your elbow should continue to rest on the arm rest. If it moves, you know you are putting more effort into it than is necessary.
2. The left hand must hold on to the chord till the end of the bar/measure. This is also false. Many people I have noticed hold on to the chord till the rhythm for that chord is played. This makes the sound ring/sustain. You can slacken the grip also to get a muted sound. As you develop this skill, you will notice your left hand too will have a rhythm of its own. You can compare this rhythm to the rhythm of "running between the wickets" in cricket between batsmen.
3. It should always sound perfect. Many beginners fall into this trap. Many beginners play the first chord fine. When it is time for switching chords, they pause, get their fingers in place, and then resume strumming. The focus should be on not stopping strumming even while changing cords. You might not get the best sound but with practice, this will fall into place pretty soon.
4. A down stroke should always be followed by an up stroke. This is also not true. It is generally agreed that the down stroke gives you more power to be louder. Also you can make it soft too. Ideally, work on all up strokes and all down strokes too.
1. When I talk of strumming, I mean with the plectrum. Finger picking has extensively been covered by others more eloquently. The player I am assuming is right-handed holding the chords on his/her left hand. If you are a leftie, think and act the other way.
2. My basic unit of time is a quarter note, separated from the next quarter by a 2 spaces for clarity.
3. Letters within the group are to be played together and will be separated by a dash.
4. When you see "kick" or D, play the stroke with more power (louder) than the others.
5. "Chick" or X indicates a period of rest.
6. Mute or m tells you to mute the fingers with your fingers on the left hand.
7. "Tom" or d/u refers to the beats in the normal volume.
8. By default, strokes in a group usually begin with a down stroke, unless stated otherwise.
THE ROAD MAP
A rhythm can be broken up in to smaller groups. A group could have 1, 2, 3, or even 4 beats. A group could have more than 4 also; but let us not worry about that now. Now we are ready to play our first set of chords in rhythm. For a start, select any 4 chords of your choice, say C, Am, F, and G. For my examples, I will be using G, Em, C, and D.
VERBAL: kick-chick tom-tom tom-tom tom-tom
TABBED: Dx du du du
NUMBER: 1 2 3 4
As you can see there are eight notes above, (2 for each number) but only 7 of them need to be strummed. There is a pause after the first stroke. So hold G and strum the pattern; and as you reach and prepare to play the last stroke (tom), play the open string i.e. release the chord grip and prepare to play Em. So the last will be sort of open sounding. Do the same with Em. As you come to the last part, release your chord, and prepare to switch to C. Finally, after doing the same with C, go to D. After D, prepare to repeat the whole cycle by coming to G chord again. Practice this till you are comfortable. This sort of a rhythm is very common and can generally suit any song. Sultans of Swing, for example, is played in this rhythm.
VERBAL: kick tom-tom chick tom
TABBED: D du x d
NUMBER: 1 2 3 4
The first count here has 1 stroke and the third count has a full count of rest. I have eliminated the Xs here. For the technically oriented it would look so:
TABBED: Dx du x dx
NUMBER: 1 2 3 4
The additional Xs are not needed as they convey the meaning; but I have placed it on record for those who need it. Played fast, this rhythm would suit "papa kehtha hai". Some would say that the third count in that song should have a stroke. The idea here is, however, to get the beginners to have a feel of the rhythm they are playing. So that is why I have eliminated that stroke. Again, the beginners are encouraged to begin the cycle starting on G chord, shifting to Em, going next to C, switching to D, and finally returning to G to begin a new cycle.
Hope I have made myself clear to as many newbies as possible. More examples and exercises in my next post!!!!!