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Strumming a Song

Being able to strum a song all the way through, without missing a change, is what 'officially' makes us intermediate guitar players. It is absolutely essential that we can do this. And, once we have one song done, we do another, then another, at least until we have 10 or more. We suggest building a binder of chord/lyric sheets of the songs you want to play. The tune we've chosen here is a good one. For any difficult change [this song moves fast], go back and forth for any chord pair until you have it in time.

Down by the Water ⇔ The Decemberists

Each chord symbol is strummed for 4 beats, down-up, save the pair indicated as 2 beat strums [Em to D in the intro]. We have written C in the chart, but you can use Cadd9. You have this option as they are often interchangeable.

Follow this link to get this tune. It is a great beginner strumming song. All of the chords change on down beats.

We look for every necessary chord change in the song and make sure we connect those chords. Then we know the song will not break. We have a strong chain via linking. To be thorough, we make sure we can change to every possible combination as well, even if the song doesn't call for it [G to C in this example]. Go back and forth between C and Em until the link is strong and controlled. Do that for each pair connected by the lines.

Song Form

Down by the Water is a great beginning strumming song; a good solid, steady, interesting, simple tune.

If you can play this tune, without stopping, hitting all the changes, comfortably, you are instantly an intermediate guitarist in my book. After nailing this tune, your next aim is to just go out & find tunes to play. Or, conversely [or in tandem], make up your own progressions. To do this, just experiment with the chords in this tune [or any chords you know]; go in any order. Making up our own progressions is the beginning of the songwriting process.

Chord Voicings

g c e minor d in tablature

Cadd9 is named such because we have added the 9 [D tone on 2 string, fret 3] to a C triad. If an E wasn't present in the C chord while the D is present, it is typically called a Csus9. sus = suspended [we would have suspended the E - the 3rd of the chord down to a 2 - a D tone].

c major chord

Again, it is okay to use a normal C chord or Cadd9 in this tune. In most songs where one of these two chords is written [either C or Cadd9], they are interchangeable, depending on the sound we are desiring to hear. It is okay to use Cadd9 even when a C is the chord written on a lead sheet [and vice versa].

Simplified Voicings

g c e minor d in tablature, easy versions

These are simplified fingerings for these chords.

G » For the first G, we have left off the pinky [the 3 finger will mute the one string].

G » For the second, G5, the pinky is off, & the 2 fret on string 5 [B tone] has been left out. The 2 finger will mute the 5 string. The chord's name has changed because the B tone is the 3rd of the chord. Normal G is G-B-D [Root-3rd-5th]. The B not being present only leaves G & D tones. This makes it G5. It can be used as a G. G5 = GD tones [No 3rd, B].

Cadd9 » Like the first G, we are leaving off the pinky.

D » For the D, we have left out the 2 fret on string 1. This tone is F#, which is the 3rd of the chord. Therefore, it is D's and A's only, so it is also a Root-5 [R5 = DA tones] called D5. It can be used in place of a D chord.

Em » The Em shown isn't necessarily easier, we are just indicating a different fingering. Which fingering we use for Em is based on preference & context. I actually prefer this fingering most of the time.

These fingerings are available anytime for any of the chords, wherever they appear. And, they are actually pretty commonly used.

Strum It

Strum Down by the Water as straight 8th notes [hitting all the time], until you know your motor will not stop. When your engine is steady, then apply different strumming patterns. Once you can strum this tune without any struggle, repeat the process for 9 other songs of your choice, which will get you to 10 [band ready]. And again, conversely [or in tandem], just write your own stuff.

The tempo is pretty quick, so make each chord connection [pair of chords] at the speed of the recording. Even better, train the changes faster than needed. This way, the tempo of the recording is easy. This is training beyond what is needed to play the tune [and a solid training principle for anything].

Building a Chain: To play a tune, we look for we look at all the given chords in a song. We then determine which connections are necessary, place them on the wheel, and make those changes, as sets of 2 chord, chord puzzles [make all of the necessary changes]. By doing this, we ensure that the song will not break. Often pushing tempo beyond what is necessary in a tune [by working the chords in pairs] will guarantee that we can keep up with the tune. Always be thinking about the next change [early in the measure of the chord we are on]. And, feel [anticipate] when the change is going to happen. "It is going to change...now." Lift on the and of beat 4, while still hitting the strings. And land on the downbeat of 1. Synchronize this exactly.

On Strumming Patterns: If you can't change chords in time, with a constant down-up strumming pattern, the actual pattern of a song is not relevant. For beginner's that are moving to intermediate, we suggest that you strum down-up until you have the chord changes.

To play different strumming patterns, we listen to the recording and strum it like we hear it. Let this be natural. We don't think in symbols when playing rhythm. We strum. We miss when we feel there should be a gap. Strumming patterns change within songs, as drums do [beats, fills, etc.]. Trust me, strumming in different rhythms happens naturally.

We highly recommend using your musical rhythmic feel to strum what you hear, rather than only counting things out and needing it written out in symbols. The only time, as a coach, that I ever write out strumming patterns is for students, when/if they ask [and as proof that, in the beginning, trying to miss is not the way to train]. And, micro-managing missing and hitting rarely works.

You already know, intuitively, how to strum and create patterns. And, we can strum any song in any rhythm. Core idea: you know how to strum and create rhythms, so just be natural in your approach. It happens.