Not something that came naturally to me was strumming correctly. I had played the guitar for about 20 years and hit a wall with my frustrating development, so I looked for a guitar tutor and went for lessons. I turned up for my first lesson with Ben Wright, and one of the first issues he highlighted was my strumming hand was poor. I went away confused as I had considered myself pretty good rhythmically and did some research and found that he was entirely correct. In all the information I had read about strumming and rhythm, the message had been there. I had just not picked up on it.
Swallowing my pride, I developed the rhythm playing as he and many others described, and after about two years, I had corrected this fault in my playing. Part of the issue was I had to unlearn every song I had ever learned and play everything differently, quite a task.
Now that I am a tutor, I do not wish anyone to have to go through this, so I encourage correct strumming hand motions from the start to develop a solid bass from which to build on. And in a statement, it is straightforward. The strumming hand must move continuously in time with the beat. The reality is that keeping that hand moving is one of the hardest things a beginner has to learn on the guitar.
The first steps are to move the hand down with every beat, missing the strings. From here, we progress to hitting the string on every beat. At this stage, almost everyone is successful. The next part is to hit the strings as we move the hand down and hit again on the up. At this point, a significant number struggle. Those that succeed try a chord changing without stopping the strumming hand, and almost every beginner cannot do this.
To learn how to strum correctly like this, we must feel the rhythm we are trying to play and internalise it. Once it is in our subconscious, we can start applying this rhythm while we play music and change chords. Unfortunately, humans struggle to learn more than one thing at a time. Therefore getting this correct has to be isolated from our attempts at learning songs and anything else our fretting hand may be doing. Going further, we have to feel the rhythm separate from getting a strumming hand missing and hitting the strings.
To this end, we clap the rhythm in time with our foot. We get the feel of how the rhythm sounds and clap how it feels till we can clap it without counting. Next, we get our hand moving down and up in time with our foot without hitting the strings. Say the rhythm out loud, then progress to hitting the strings to create the rhythm without changing the speed or timing of our rhythm
From this base, we can then progress to applying chords to play along with songs without the time-consuming task of unlearning the pauses we learned when stopping to change chords mid-song.
Learning how to transcribe songs is an art form that every aspiring guitarist should learn. It helps immensely with training your ear and provides excellent learning to how others approach music creation. However, before being at a level where we can do this, we have to rely on others to write out the music to play rather than just learning exercises.
As a teacher, I have to present materials that progress towards the end goal, not just the immediate gratification, hence the format that I use for transcribing songs. The transcribed song is presented to the student as a series of sections, not the complete article from start to finish. All the necessary information to play the whole song is there. The student then learns each section and puts it all together based on listening and playing with the music. I am not alone in this approach, as I see many articles and videos posted that teach songs in this manner.
There are three main advantages of this process.
Presenting transcribed songs in this manner does mean extra work. I cannot just go on the web and find a transcription and give it to the student. I have to listen to the song, learn each section, write it out in the above format. However, the benefit to my students is massive, and as any guitar teacher out there will tell you, if you don't have that passion for helping others learn, there is no point in becoming a guitar teacher.
There are times when I do get stuck trying to work out a song. I then look at other transcriptions…
That is a topic for another day
It’s a long journey from the first few fumbling attempts at chords to fluently and confidently reading a chord chart and playing a song after a few minutes of reviewing the chord changes.
To alter a quote from Bruce Lee (underrated for his teaching ability) - Before I learned the art, a Chord was just a Chord. After I learned the art, a Chord was no longer a Chord. Now that I understand the art, a Chord is just a Chord.
When we start to play chords, the learning is all about getting the fingers moving to the shape of a chord name. There can be a little discussion about which fingers should go where. The general understanding is that there is only one chord shape for each chord.
This chord knowledge has to be expanded to include other versions of the same chord and how we modify each chord to suit the different quality of the chord. The trick here is to make sure the learning method is not the same. Once the primary forms are in place, we must apply this knowledge to the new chords we are learning. If we learn by the same method, the understanding part of learning chords is delayed, leading to slowly progressing through the “Chord is no longer a Chord.” stage.
Once these relationships between the chords are understood, that knowledge is applied next. So here we are now building up our chord shapes and looking at chord progressions to create the most straightforward path for our fingers, our using alternate voicings to create movement within the music.
The lessons for this progress have to consider each individual and when they reach that “A-ha” moment. Some struggle with changing from chords being a fixed item to chords being a collection of notes they choose on the guitar. Some find this concept simple and change over their thinking easily.
The Chord Content still has to progress no matter which path the student is taking, ensuring everyone progresses.