The Five Most Common Strum Patterns

Common Strum Patterns Every Beginner Should Know

After learning their open chords, many students wish to expand their rhythmic palette.  They discover that while they can finger many of the chord voicings of their favorite songs, the strum patterns remain alien and outside their grasp.  Fortunately, rhythm patterns are akin to chord voicings in that some occur more frequently than others and learning a handful of them will greatly expand the song choices at one’s disposal.  Therefore, I have compiled the five most common strum patterns as listed in Heartwood Guitar Instruction’s database.

The “Folk Strum”

D      D   U       U   D 

1  +   2   +   3   +   4   +   

Of the songs chronicled in the database, this one occurs a whopping sixty-three times, forty-six more times than the second most common strum pattern. As such, this is the first pattern I teach my beginner students.  The syncopation on the “and”s of beat two and three are the main hurdle in this rhythm.  Focus on allowing the hand to fall downwards on beat three as though it is strumming but without attacking the strings. That way it is in position for the next upstroke.  Do not allow it to freeze in place on beat three; the right hand should remain in an alternating “down-up” motion as all times.  For a detail breakdown of how to learn this strum pattern, visit How To Learn The Folk Strum Pattern.

2.   B      D   U  B       D  

      1  +   2   +   3   +   4   +

Occurring seventeen times in the song database, this is the next most useful strum pattern as it is frequently employed in country and folk tunes.  The bass pluck is introduced in this rhythm as a means of imitating the steady motion of an upright bass.  After using the thumb and wrist to gently drive the pick though the lowest string in the voicing, the strumming hand should rebound upwards as though bouncing off a trampoline, leaving the hand in place to attack the next downstroke.

3.   D  d  D  d   D  d   D  D U   or    D  d  D  d   D  d   D  D U   or   D  D  D  D   D  D   D  D

      1  +   2   +   3   +   4   +             1  +   2   +   3   +   4   +             1  +   2   +   3   +   4   +

These three strum patterns are similar enough to be grouped together as each is based off a steady eight-note downstroke. Here, the right hand becomes very busy and departs from its alternating motion.  This movement will depend largely on quick forearm rotation.  Do not allow the right hand to flex at the wrist joint; this angle should remain stationary.  The quick “down-up” at the end of the first example should be used to mask the switching of chords.  Allow the right hand to strum as the left hand switches fingerings creating a muted attack.

4.   B  B  D  DUB  B  D   DU 

      1  +   2   +   3   +   4   +

This pattern begins to test our right-hand coordination as we mix bass plucks into an eight-note based pattern.  The bass plucks should bounce upward quickly in order to keep the pulse progressing forward.  Make certain not to pause after either of the upstrokes; they must be immediately followed by the subsequent downstrokes.  This pattern is frequently utilized at slower or moderate tempo when chords switch every two beats.  Therefore, again the quick “down-up”s should be used to hide the switching of chords.

5.   B      D        D   U  D  U

      1  +   2   +   3   +   4   +

Unlike other patterns that make use of the bass pluck, this one only does so once.  This pattern will often be used a high tempos (especially in country music), so when learning it, make sure to practice it to a decent pace.  If you have mastered the previous patterns, this one should not prove too difficult as many of its techniques have been covered in more difficult iterations.

This should serve as a suitable starter kit for any beginner seeking to improve their strumming.  The strum patterns listed here are utilized 139 times in songs in the Heartwood database.  For help on how to learn these strum patterns, read by blog How To Learn Any Strum Pattern.