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Acoustic Guitar Guide to Strum Mastery Part 5

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Published on 11-1-2016
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Of course it's important to learn new techniques and continue to build upon them as you progress through your journey into learning any instrument. But perhaps even more important is the acquisition of the ability to put all of the parts and pieces together so that you can use your new techniques smoothly and seamlessly while you play the guitar. This article will delve deeper and deeper into the practices necessary to begin to assemble all of the techniques that we have discussed over the last few articles in this series. Because of this, it is of the utmost urgency that you go back over the last few installments and review and practice the techniques that we have been discussing so that ideas disseminated in this chapter will not be as challenging to you.

Practice

We've discussed an extensive amount of material in this series that should help you to develop your strumming skills and help you to improve as a rhythm guitar player. Practicing each and every one of those techniques is not only necessary but imperative to your development as a guitar player and diligent and applied study will help you to master those them over time. Those who think that reading through each section once and attempting the techniques here and there during their coffee break or between meals may find that they're not quite getting the hang of it. Consequently, you may need to really step up your practice regimen in order to really grasp some of the material contained in this article series. Now that we're at the point where we will be attempting to put it together, this issue is even more critical!

Synthesis

Synthesis is simply the process of putting parts of something together in a cohesive, integrated manner so that it becomes one. This idea can be applied in numerous contexts but for our purposes it simply means putting all of the various parts and pieces of the techniques that we've been discussing together so that instead of just hammering and pulling off, muting in starts and stops, and playing scales we will now be learning to combine it all together in one big beautiful rhythm guitar stew. There are numerous techniques that can make this easier and these will be our focus presently.

Slide and Rake

This process is two-pronged and is a great technique to not only give you new sounds and subtleties in your existing playing, but also provide shortcuts and increase your speed with other techniques that you may already be using.

Slide

This is not the process of playing slide guitar but rather sliding one's fingers up and down to or from a particular chord. There are a number of ways to do this and each of them can produce different sounds from the fretboard as well as different outcomes. For demonstration purposes we'll be using the following chords :

Cadd9
E_0_
B_3_
G_0_
D_2_
A_3_
E_X_

A major
E_2_
B_2_
G_2_
D_2_
A_2_
E_X_

Play the C add9 chord and strum it with any pattern that you're comfortable with. Now, as you change over to the A chord allow the three fingers that you are playing the C chord with to slide gradually down the strings towards the nut. With this technique it's important to keep your hand in the shape of the chord that you are sliding. So, in this case it would be helpful to keep your hand in the C add9 shape as you slide your chord down.

So, don't simply lift your hand off of the fretboard to change to the A chord but allow your hand to slide down the strings and then play the A chord. This might be a different way of playing for many of you and may seem silly to you right now, but the reasons will come clear very soon. One very important note, this technique works a lot better if you strum as you slide down. So timing is of the essence here and if you can make sure to slide as you strum the slide will be more audible and effective. Practice this technique over and over again letting your fretting hand to glide gently over the strings after you complete the C add9 chord. There are a couple of different ways to do this:

1. Slide the entire chord down after playing it.

2. Slide any of the three fingers that you're using for the C add9 down. For example, after playing the C chord you could simply slide your middle finger down the strings towards the nut. Or you could slide the middle and ring finger, or any combination therein.

No matter which way you choose to do this you will be accomplishing two different things. The first is creating a transition sound that can help to smooth the break between chords and give your changes a little more style. The second and perhaps more important achievement is that by sliding out of your chords you are forced to keep your hand in contact with the strings of the guitar. The closer your fretting hand is to the strings, the easier and more quickly you will be able to perform subsequent tasks.

Rake

This is the other half of this technique which can help you to create some new sounds as well as speed up others. Play the A chord that we discussed but play it using your middle finger only in the slanting A style (for more on the slanting A technique, see my Intro to Guitar series in the Phase 1 section). Slanting A is simply the manner of holding down the A chord with one finger, the middle finger in this case. You could play a standard A chord using your first, middle and ring fingers, but the middle finger is best suited for this technique.

Now start once again with the Cadd9 making sure to slide out of it and play the A major chord with your middle finger. If you're not used to playing the open A chord like this, take some time and get used to it as it will undoubtedly help you with other techniques in the future. One very important reason to use your middle finger is that you are playing a scale after you lift the chord off of the fretboard and now you have a finger readily available to play through your scale. Now here's where the rake portion of the technique comes into play. After you play the A chord allow your middle finger to pull off of the A chord as you strum it and play through this little scale pattern:

E|--------|--------|---------|---------|
B|----2---|--------|---------|---------|
G|----2---|----0---|--------|---------|
D|----2---|--------|-2--0---|-----0--|
A|---------|--------|--------|--3------|
E|---------|--------|--------|---------|

If you're not able to read tab, the diagram simple tells you to play the A chord, and then play the G string open, the D string on the second fret and then open, the A string on the 3rd fret and finally play the D string open to complete the scale pattern. The key to making this sound great is to rake your pick (or fingers if that's your style) across the strings as you play the A chord, but after you rake across the G string release it then strike it as that string becomes unfretted. In other words, you're strumming the A chord but you're lifting the chord up as you cross the G string. Just as in the case of the slide portion of the technique, timing is of the utmost importance. You may want to practice strumming the A chord in this fashion, focusing on strumming only down to the G string before lifting the chord up and playing through the rest of the chord. If you're having difficulties with shortening your strum, please review the previous guides to strum mastery for more insight into this technique.

Now once you have a better mastery over the A portion of the technique, put the whole thing together. If you're doing this correctly, sliding out of the C chord should allow you to make a smoother transition into the A chord, and raking the A chord into your scale pattern should allow you a smoother transition into the scale.

Pressure

Applying the proper amount of pressure with your strum hand is essential when using a rake technique. One way of looking at this process is to dig the pick in to the strings slightly more than a “normal” strum so that you can really feel the strings. The result of this increased pressure is that you will be more likely to emphasize the string you are pulling off, or attempting to strike. Practice with varying levels of pressure on the strings and pay attention to how that change affects other facets of the guitar, including your sound, the general feel of the pick on the strings as well as how other techniques are affected as well.

Time

Of course time is of the essence. Consequently, when using these techniques you will still need to keep everything in time and make sure that your rhythm isn't falling apart. Many players use a metronome for this purpose but if you don't have one or choose not to use one it can be especially helpful to develop an inner rhythm by tapping one's foot or keeping time internally. Once you start to add new techniques and scale patterns into your repertoire it can become difficult to keep time for some, so practicing and developing a strong sense of time is of the ultimate importance here.

Do it Again

Alright, so now you should have the basic gist of the slide and rake pattern so let's try it again with two new chords:

G major
E_3_
B_0_
G_0_
D_0_
A_2_
E_3_

D major
E_2_
B_3_
G_2_
D_0_
A_X_
E_X_

Again, pick a strum pattern that you're comfortable with and slide out of it making sure to keep your fretting hand close to the strings after you've slid into the nut of your guitar. Maintaining close proximity to the strings is an important element of this technique that will help to speed up your changes and smooth your overall strumming technique. In fact, maintaining close contact is the most important reason for developing the slide technique as it will help you to speed up chord changes and play riffs more smoothly and more quickly then you ever thought possible.

Practice sliding out of the G chord and into the D over and over again until you have a smooth slide and are maintaining close contact with the strings as you transition into the D chord. Then play this descending scale pattern as you transition from the D back to the G:

E|---------|----------|----------|---------|
B|---3----|-2--------|----------|---------|
G|---2----|---4----2-|----------|---------|
D|---------|----------|--5-4-2-0-|-------|
A|---------|----------|---------|---------|
E|---------|----------|---------|---------|

If you're not able to read this tab, it is simply telling you to play a Dsus2 (or D without fretting the high E string: xx0230) and then a descending D major scale, C# B A G F# E and finally D. Like the previous scale pattern, the goal here is to rake into the chord thereby facilitating and speeding up the process, as well as polishing the quality of your rhythm. A good first step would be to practice simply raking the D sus2 chord into the first note of the scale pattern or C#. Remember, the rake comes out of a slight increase of pressure or emphasis on the strings from the picking hand, or even an increase in the depth of the pick itself. Experiment with the first part of this exercise focusing simply on going from the D sus2 chord to the C# note.

Now that you're more comfortable with that portion of the rhythm see if you can play through the whole exercise remembering to keep your time straight and getting back to the G chord without missing a beat. At first this will be challenging for some but over time and application of the slide and rake, you will find yourself getting faster and smoother with your chord changes as well as your scalar patterns.

Sliding from the Upper Positions

The slide technique can come in handy in other applications as well including helping you to speed up changes and create ambient tones in between chord changes from various positions. An important element worth mentioning is the importance of changing the shape of your chord as you slide from one position to the next. If you're in the habit of waiting until you get to your chosen fret(s) to begin forming your chord then now is the time to change that habit. Forming chords “on the way” to where you're going will ultimately help you to speed up your chord changes and improve your rhythm playing. Consequently sliding, in combination with forming your hand into the next chord shape on the way to the chord, can be helpful tools in the process of speeding up changes and improving your rhythmic abilities.

Take these two chords for example:

A major (9th fr)
E_0_
B_10_
G_9_
D_11_
A_0_
E_X_

A major
E_0_
B_2_
G_2_
D_2_
A_0_
E_X_

These are simply two A chords in different positions on the fretboard right? The first is a C shaped A in the upper frets and the second is a simple open A chord. But let's use these two chords to apply the concept of sliding out of the upper positions.

Pick a strum pattern that suits you and begin strumming the A on the 9th fret. I'm using a progressive strum for this exercise D DU DD, DU DD or down down-up down down, down-up down down giving me a nice strong rhythmic feel. On the last strum of this pattern, a down stroke, I am sliding down the fretboard and into the open A chord. As mentioned previously, you can slide the entire chord down the neck or pick just one or two fingers to maintain contact with the fretboard. You can experiment with this and see how the sound of your slide will change as a function of which fingers stay on the fingerboard of your guitar. In this case I am choosing to keep my ring finger (which is on the D string) on the string as I slide.

An important note, which we discussed in the slide and rake section, is the importance of strumming into your slide. In other words, the volume and quality of the sound coming from the slide itself will often depend on timing your final strum in sync with the slide. You may need to experiment a bit and practice this facet of the technique in order to get a good sound. I like to call this “launching.” The final strum before the slide launches your fingers down the fretboard and gives you a nice clean audible slide that will enhance your rhythm. A poorly launched slide may not be as audible to you or your listeners.

Now we're going to transition from A 9th fret to the open A using the slide technique and changing the chord shape as we go. This is an important piece of this process in lieu of the fact that if you need to construct your chord when you get to the appropriate frets it's going to slow you down and keep you from utilizing this technique to its maximum potential. A good way to approach this issue and practice it is to apply the idea of finger glue (see also my Intro to Guitar series in the Phase 1 section of the site) or what's commonly known as muscle memory. Practicing making the shapes of the chords away from the fretboard can be a great way to learn those shapes thoroughly and completely in your head as well as in your hands. Further, you can practice transitioning between the chord shapes that you will be using so that when you use them on the fingerboard they will become more natural to you.

Strum the A chord on the 9th fret getting comfortable with your strum as well as the feel of the chord. Now, making sure that your final strum launches the chord, make the transition to the open A chord. Pay close attention to a couple of things:

1. That your final strum on the A 9th fret coincides with your slide.

1. 2. That you are in the process of forming your open A chord as you move down the frets. This is an important piece of this technique as you will need to coordinate sliding with reforming your hand into the new shape. Practice this over and over until you have become more comfortable with making this change smoothly. This process will vary from chord change to chord change.

Okay, now let's try this again with two new chords:

Am 9th fret
E_0_
B_10_
G_9_
D_10_
A_0_
E_X_

Am
E_0_
B_1_
G_2_
D_2_
A_0_
E_X_

Using the same process as delineated above, begin strumming the Am chord on the 9th fret. Now coordinate your slide with the final strum in your rhythmic pattern and launch your hand down the fingerboard towards the open Am chord. Make sure that you're metamorphosing your hand into the new chord shape before you get to the open frets so that your hand is ready for the new chord before or right when you get there. Some practice will likely be necessary to make smooth transitions between these and other chords that you are playing with as well. Try other chord sequences using this method and pay attention to how much faster and smoother your changes can become.

Sliding Up

This is basically the same process as sliding down with one key difference, instead of launching your hand downward, you will now be pulling it upwards and into place to the new chord. Let's use two new chords to try this:

D major
E_2_
B_3_
G_2_
D_0_
A_x_
E_X_

D 10th fret
E_10_
B_10_
G_11_
D_0_
A_x_
E_X_

Once again, get comfortable with strumming the open D chord and then pull your strum hand upwards and into the D in the upper position. Make sure that your final strum on the open D corresponds with your pull and change your chord shape as you slide upward. Then, once you're fretting the D on the 10th fret, slide back down using what you've already learned and repeat the whole process. Try this with different sets of chords making sure to keep the whole thing in time (no easy task sometimes, right?) and played as smoothly as possible. Once you become more comfortable with sliding your chords around, raking your strings into scale patterns and sliding up and down between chords you will notice a measurable and remarkable change in your playing.

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