How to strum a chord

There are a few different ways to strum a chord. With strumming we are referring to the right hand (if it’s a not a left-handed guitar) technique used to get sound from the guitar by playing several strings instantaneous.

Strumming techniques

Playing guitar is about making a harmony of two hands in motion. There are three main methods for strumming the strings, which are:

  • You play with the inside of your thumb.
  • You play with your index finger nail.
  • You use a plectrum.

Nothing is really right or wrong. It all depends on your own preferences and the effect you want to accomplish. The recommendation is to try all three methods to begin with. It is both a question of preference and what sounds best in certain situations.

Using the thumb or index finger

You will get a somewhat muffled sound using your thumb and a kind of crispy sound when strumming with your nail. Something to consider is that it could be harder to play accentuated upstrokes with your thumb than with your fingernail or a plectrum.

Using a plectrum

The advantage using a plectrum is that you effortlessly get between the strings without touching them. This refers mainly to when you’re plucking and not strumming. But regardless what you are playing for the moment it always good to learn to play with a plectrum. For best strumming practice, use a thin plectrum for strumming.


It's unusual to use a plectrum on a classic guitar - it won’t sound very good and neither is a plectrum needed due to the space between the strings. Plectrum is on the other side common on steel-stringed and electric guitars.

Strumming positions

Depending on the position you are strumming on the guitar the sound will differ. There are mainly three positions and they are sometimes referred to the Italian terms: normale - you play over the sound hole; sul tasto - you play nearer the fretboard; sul ponticello - you play nearer the bridge.

Strumming with speed

Sometimes it sounds better if you strum with speed. It can be hard to strum fast in the beginning, but eventually you get faster. Try to avoid moving your whole under arm from the elbow but instead move your hand from the wrist. This is much more economical and serves the speed since you are able to strum up and down with small movements.

Avoid getting monotonous

Only strumming chords can sound monotonous. Here are some tips for avoiding that:

  • Use both down and up strokes.
  • Vary the strum rhythm.
  • Vary the duration and beats on the chords.
  • Hit different strings and just playing parts of the chord.
  • Accentuate some strokes which creates dynamic.

You don’t need to use all these methods all the time, but try to use some of them.


Read also about other playing techniques.

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