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Beginners Guide to Chords

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Common questions asked in the Guitar tricks forum are:
"How do I hold a pick ?" and "How do I strum?"

I will attempt to answer these questions in the following lesson.

How do I hold a pick?

For all of those people who chose to use a pick, an example of how I hold a pick is shown in the
picture above. The pick is an alternative to picking with your fingers (or even fingernails) and is good for
several reasons.

1) It gives a nice sharp pronounced attack (that is the start of the sound wave that is very important in
defining the way the sound is perceived), 2) It enables you to do fancy things like sweep picking, 3) It also
makes playing things like artificial harmonics easier (IMHO).

How do I strum?

Now, what angle to strike the strings at? I'd suggest about a 45 degree angle relative to the body of
the guitar to begin with. When strumming the lowest note to highest note (i.e. a down stroke) I lean the
pick towards the floor. When playing an upstroke, I reverse the angle of the pick, leaning it towards my

You may find that altering the angle you hold the pick at relative to the strings changes the sound
the note makes (albeit subtlety) . In the video, I am playing the chords D, A and E major. These chords
are detailed in the next several lessons.

Starting at the (tonally) lowest note of a chord, place the pick behind the lowest string (towards your
body) and sequentially strike each string. Now do it a little faster. And a little faster (don't hold the pick
too lightly or you will drop it or too tightly). OK now you are strumming what is called down strokes (used
extensively in early punk by bands like The Ramones). Once you are happy doing this, then try starting at
the (tonally) highest note and strum in reverse, coming back towards your body. This is called an up-
stroke. Up strokes are used a lot in Reggae (think Bob Marley and the Wailers and you won't go too far

OK, now we are cooking, now you want to try to not only hit just the strings you intend to hit but
also practice strumming up strokes and down strokes. You can see me strumming in the video below,
Notice how I only hit the strings I am aiming for when playing an E than an A then a D chord (see next
lessons "Basic Chords: 2, to 6").

A really good exercise to practice when you are starting to play the guitar is to get a song book full of
songs you like (it doesn't have to be very complicated) and can hum with out listening to the record. Now
in the songbook will be the chord accompaniment. Now listen to the rhythm of the song, how does it go?
This is what will determine the strumming pattern, i.e. the combination of up strokes and down strokes
and the speed of the up strokes and down strokes. If you have it correct you should be able to easily hum
the melody over the top of the guitar part, which will provide an accompaniment.

You now have everything you need to start practice playing those songs... so get to it !!

OK tiger, go get 'em and after a while your wonderful partner may make you a pickshroom just like
mine (I'm showing off now)!

Lesson Info
Instructor Dr Simon
Beginners Guide to Chords
Tutorial Lessons