Rhythm Exercise – Eighth Note Strumming Patterns

By: Adi Hughes

Eighth note strumming patterns are bread and butter to an acoustic guitarist. It’s therefore essential that you are comfortable in performing a variety of patterns.

The exercise in this article sets out a fundamental approach to building strong rhythm skills, as well as a fun and challenging way to explore different strumming patterns.

For this exercise, you will need your guitar, a piece of paper, a pencil, and an eraser.

Let’s look firstly at counting a 4/4 bar of music broken down into eighth notes:


1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +


Each beat is individually numbered 1 to 4, and each off beat is counted as an “+” (and) in between each beat.

If we were to strum this as a rhythm, we would strum every beat as a down-stroke, and every “+” as an up-stroke.

The resulting strumming pattern would be, down up down up down up down up. However, it’s important that we uniquely identify which beat is which, so ensure you count it as, “One and Two and Three and Four and”.


Rhythm Exercise

Take your piece of paper and write down the bar of music, except this time, randomly underline 6 of the eight notes, like in the example given below.


1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +


You’ve now created a strumming pattern. Count this as, “One Two Three and Four and.”

Pick up your guitar and hold down a comfortable chord, you are now going to strum the notes that are underlined.

Ensure that you are strumming downwards on the beats and upwards on the off beats. It’s important that for the notes that you do not strum, that you still move your hand in the correct direction, but do not make contact with the strings, we’ll refer to this as, “ghosting.”

So your action is still down up down up down up down up, except now you are only making contact with the strings where the notes are underlined. You would do this even if you only strummed one note per bar.

Strum this bar repetitively without stopping. It’s important that you can join the end of the bar back up to the starting point for you to really master the pattern.

As this is an eighth note rhythm it’s nature is relaxed, therefore apply a relaxed tempo. The movement will be controlled by the forearm pivoted on the curve of your guitar, and your wrist should be loose, but not controlling the strumming direction.

Check that you are sat comfortably and that there is no tension in your position or arm/wrist. Strike cleanly through the strings for a crisp tone.

Now pick up your eraser, and remove one of the lines previously marked, as in the example given below.


1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +


Try strumming the above, ensuring that you are still ghosting the notes that are not underlined.

Note how different the pattern feels even though we’ve only taken away one strum. In western music, beats “1” and “3” are usually accompanied by a bass drum, so to take one of these away creates a less predictable sound.

It’s important when undertaking this exercise, to make note of any new “feel” you achieve through adding or omitting certain beats and off beats.

Let’s take another one away:


1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +


This one might feel trickier, as the 1st half of the bar you are strumming on the beat, and the 2nd half of the bar you are strumming off the beat.

The joining of the end of the bar to the start when you are repeating it may feel quick, even though you are not changing tempo.

Try changing to a new chord each time you reach the 2nd half of the bar, staying on the new chord until you reach the same place in the following bar, then changing the chord again. Again – make a note of the effect this creates.

You should continue with this exercise, removing one note at a time, until you are only left with one note to strum in the bar.

There are two results that you should gain from undertaking this exercise:

Stronger Rhythm Skills: You are building a structured framework for learning / performing any eighth note rhythmic pattern, whilst building strong coordination up for feeling where each beat and off beat is placed within a bar of music.

Creating New Strumming Patterns: You are creating a series of new strumming patterns to include in your song writing repertoire. The approach of selecting / removing beats at random means that you are unlikely to repeat the same old strumming patterns, but are instead creating interesting patterns that previously may never have been explored.


Have a question or comment about this lesson? Post your thoughts in the comments section below.

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