How to Strum a Guitar Using Your Fingers
While pick-style guitar playing definitely dominates the airwaves, strumming with your fingers can create some incredibly beautiful sounds. You never know when you’ll be around a guitar without a pick, so it’s a great idea to learn at least the basics of how to strum using your fingers.
I actually prefer playing without a pick. After spending almost my first full decade of guitar playing with a pick in my hand more often than not, I converted very seriously to fingerstyle and haven’t looked back. Being able to play through ornate fingerstyle arpeggios and then burst into powerful strumming without losing a beat is an amazing capability to have in your guitar toolbox.
For the most part, you will be using your index finger to strum the guitar.
The movement for your index finger is very similar to a flick. You flick your finger out and let it brush across all six strings. This is called the downstroke.
Then, you bring your index finger back toward your palm and brush the strings as you pull back up. This is the upstroke.
Initially, it’s good to focus just on the downstroke. The upstroke feels more awkward to most people. So, let’s look in more detail at the downstroke.
Your hand is going to stay pretty still as you flick out with your index finger. Eventually, we’ll incorporate a little more hand and wrist movement as you build speed, but it’s really important for you to get used to moving your index finger independently.
Allow it to flick out while the other fingers remain relaxed and tucked into the hand. (It’s important to keep your other fingers tucked back up toward the hand so that we can use them to strum the strings later on when we bring in some simple Flamenco-derived full-hand strumming techniques.)
As you practice, take real care to brush up against all of the strings. Let each string ring in response to your finger brushing through on its downstroke.
You don’t have to go fast here. Just take your time and get used to the full index finger flick.
Take a look at this video for an audio/video look at how to do the index finger downstroke strum:
Once you’ve got that down, it’s time to work on the upstroke return.
For the upstroke, it isn’t as important for you to strike every single string. In fact, it’s often preferable to brush up against only the top strings. So focus more on the four highest strings and don’t worry so much about re-striking the 5th and 6th strings.
Again, try to work just the index finger without bringing your other fingers, the wrist or your arm into the movement. Isolate the index finger upstroke and work it slowly until it feels comfortable. This will take a while—some months, probably. But the result will be a fluid, steady index finger strum capability that will create some amazing effects in your playing.
Here’s a video covering the down- and up-stroke index finger strum:
It’s funny how things at the beginning, when we’re practicing them very slowly and deliberately, don’t sound very good, isn’t it? Just keep the faith—if you build in the flexibility to this stroke, you’ll be cruising along at a very rapid clip in no time.
The videos for this lesson will definitely help you get the movement down much better. Check them out and let me know what you think in the comments!