strumming technique

YeahSureOK
YeahSureOK
@yeahsureok
3 years ago
12 posts
So I have been having trouble with my rhythm/strumming technique. I was going to post a question but first thought I'd search the forums.
Love this thread. It addressed my problems and then some. I know it's a 5 yr old thread now, but I wanna say thanks, anyway, to everyone who contributed here.
Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
3 years ago
1,981 posts

@cself, thanks so much for posting the direct YT links to Dusty's vids-  Dusty's older link was from when this site, FOTMD, was on another platform years ago, and thus the link did not function anymore.  I've taken the initiative of editing Dusty's old post to reflect the new links you posted as well.  Dusty's videos are SO worth watching!   Thank you!  yes




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Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990

updated by @strumelia: 05/06/18 02:56:35PM
CSelf
CSelf
@cself
3 years ago
1 posts

**wave** I'm a new dulcimer player who is having trouble keeping the beat while strumming and I ran across this thread.  The link below to Dusty's three videos is broken, but I was intrigued so I did a little Googling and found the three individual YouTube links on Dusty's YouTube channel.  Thank you so much for taking the time to record these, your tips on how to hold the pick are already helping me strum a little more in time to the beat of the music.  Mary Had A Little Lamb will be sounding better soon!hamster

Dusty's flatpicking guitar technique for modern mountain dulcimer

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3


updated by @cself: 05/05/18 07:59:08PM
Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
8 years ago
1,458 posts

Thanks, Babs. I figure if you find just one or two ideas, then it was a success. Let me know if you have any questions.

Babs Greene said:

Nice vids Dusty, also given me some new stuff to get in to. Smile.gif




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Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

As a musician, you have to keep one foot back in the past and one foot forward into the future.
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Helen Seiler
Helen Seiler
@helen-seiler
8 years ago
119 posts
The link to Dusty's 3 videos can be found in his reply on page one of this discussion.
Helen Seiler
Helen Seiler
@helen-seiler
8 years ago
119 posts
Aww shucks Dusty. Thank you. Playing dulcimer would never have happened at all if I hadn't come across the great folks and info on here. FOTMD has changed my life. (Special thanks to Lisa)
Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
8 years ago
1,981 posts

This all sounds wonderfully helpful. Be sure to post the links here on this thread to the great videos you guys are referring to!




--
Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
8 years ago
1,458 posts

Glad you've found the videos helpful, Helen. It's interesting that John comes from the drums and I come from the guitar, but we both end up in the same place. Don't be afraid to peek at the third video. Basically, it shows how the same flatpicking pattern works for picking single notes and not just strumming all the strings. You may or may not be ready for it, but it can't hurt for you to begin thinking about where you could put a single note or short single-note run into songs you already play.

Theenthusiasmanddedicationyou have shown in learning this instrument and in playing in public is inspiring to us all, Helen. Keep it up!




--
Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

As a musician, you have to keep one foot back in the past and one foot forward into the future.
-- Dizzy Gillespie
Helen Seiler
Helen Seiler
@helen-seiler
8 years ago
119 posts
Just an update.....John, your video with the drum is great and I am pleased to say that is what I have been doing. Phew!Dusty, I looked at your first video and found so many useful tips and now completely get what you meant about that strumming style keeping you in time. I have adopted your pick hold and my strumming is improving out of sight. I am also practising the more circular style of strumming and like the depth it seems to produce. I am practicing several times a day to produce that steady strum. Practice is being made a lot easier because I took a peak at your second video and am very excited by the different patterns and strum muting techniques. Can't wait to get into those when I have the basics down pat. I am saving looking at your third video until I get a handle on all these great new techniques. This is the stuff I see good players use on videos and had been thinking 'I'll never be able to do that". Thank you so much for the link to your videos, you are a great teacher and I recommend them to other newer players and players who are ready to learn how to dress their playing up a level. My smileys dont work on this cell phone but if they did there would be a whole line of applauding smileys. As Gomer used to say, 'Why Thankya, thankya, thankya!!
Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
8 years ago
1,458 posts

David, I think we are talking about two different issues here. You seem to be concerned with how to arrange a tune, meaning how fast it should be, how much embellishment is appropriate, and so forth. I am talking about technique, meaning the ability to play accurately no matter what speed you choose to play. But I don't think I disagree with anything you've said.

Obviously, if people are playing together and one is playing faster or slower than the others, that is not good. As every kindergarten teacher knows, the ability to play well with others is important. That is why someone usually counts off "12ready go" or whatever they choose before they start playing together, to ensure they play at the same tempo. Often in bluegrass bands the fiddler will begin with the "taters," just a couple of notes (usually in a bum-ditty rhythm) to set the tempo. But one big difference between professional and amateur musicians is the ability to play in a constant rhythm. And for many stringed instruments (guitar, mandolin, dulcimer, etc.) the key is right-hand technique. (For the record, I do indeed use a metronome a lot when I practice.)

I think how busy one is when playing should in part at least be a function of how many musicians are involved. The more musicians, the less you should be playing. As you point out, some songs just don't call for much embellishment at all. But these are questions of arrangement, not technique.

In the case of the three versions of "Simple Gifts," I agree with Wayne, Babs, and (I assume) David that the first version is better. But we are making that judgment based on the arrangements of the song, not the playing ability of the performers. That song is a great example of one that should be played slowly with a sparse arrangement and little embellishment. Personally, I play that song on the penny whistle and the autoharp, but not on the guitar or dulcimer. If I were to play it on the dulcimer I would choose a baritone with a deep voice and good sustain so I could letall those half-notes (and even those few whole notes) ring out.

At the end of the third video to which I point Helen as part of my explanation of my flatpicking technique, Idemonstrate the song "East Virginia." (It is an old Carter Family tune but it is alsoa generic country song melody and I know of at least two other songs that use the same melody.) You never hear dulcimer players play this song. It is filled with a lot of notes that last 4, 5, 6, or 8 beats. It works great with a singer accompanied by a guitar strumming chords. But on the dulcimer, leaving all those long notes to ring out creates problems. One is that it is hard to know when to start playing again, and the risk is great that you'll come back too early, thus ruining the rhythm of the song. It is also the case that all those long notes ringing out when there is no playing going on increases the nap factor, meaning it will put the audience to sleep. I demonstrate on that video what the song would sound like if you played the melody as written. But then I demonstrate what it would sound like if you add the kind of chordal accompaniment a guitar would offer. It becomes a song at that point. And then I also demonstrate how those long pauses are places one might choose to add some filler licks. The end result is a version of the song that clearly differentiates between the melody, the chords, and the filler. Basically that version combines the jobs of singer, guitarist, and (perhaps) mandolin player. And it is all made possible by a right-hand technique capable of keeping a steady beat. The point is not that you have to strum chords on every eighth noteor fill every pause with lots of extra notes, but that the same technique that will allow you to play Bile Dem Cabbage steadily at any speed will also allow you to play chordal accompaniment or add filler when you deem it appropriate .

Just yesterday I was taught a song by Karen Mueller at the Redwood Dulcimer Day: "Jeff Davis" by Norman Blake. If you excuse my sloppy play (I was just introduced to thesong yesterday) and weird lighting (I'm using a halogen shop light), please look at the "A" part of the song. The first part of that selection begins with an eighth note pair followed by a quarter note, and that pattern repeats a few times. It is essential that the eighth note pairs have the same duration as the quarter notes that follow them. And then thelast two measures are a longeighth note run.

When we worked on the song at the festival, a lot of people had trouble with the rhythm of the song. That was unfortunate, since the workshop was supposed to be on how to use the 1+ fret, not how to play accurately. So Karen had to explain to folks how to alternate their strumming so that they could get accurate differentiation between eighth notes and quarter notes and could someday be able to play the last measures at a speed faster than the sleep-walking speed used to teach the song. Note that what I play here (other than that last strum at the end) is nothing but what is written as the melody. I add no chords and no embellishment. The right-hand technique I've developed, though, allows me to learn that song without having to count in my head to ensure that quarter notes get twice as much time as eighth notes and allows me to begin playing it up to speed (I've still got a ways to go) even though I amjust learning the song.

But that same right-handed technique allows one to add chords and add fillers when one chooses, with the confidence that the notes will always beon rhythm. That doesn't mean we will always play the correct chords, or our filler will always be tasteful or we won't ruin a wonderful song by playing it like Speedy Gonzales on chrystal meth. But we can rest assured that our playing will always be accurate and steady. The back-and-forth right-hand technique is nothing but a tool that allows us to play steadily so that we can concentrate on the more creative aspects of making beautiful music.

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Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

As a musician, you have to keep one foot back in the past and one foot forward into the future.
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Helen Seiler
Helen Seiler
@helen-seiler
8 years ago
119 posts
Thanks John Henry, Dusty, Wayne, Babs and Dave. I can see Dusty's point re keeping time, and Dave and Waynes point of view. I like the idea John Henry, of playing how the tune feels in my head. I think that is what I have been doing. I do practice with a metronome sometimes and it drives me mad. I have played a tune with two guitarists once and had no trouble keeping in time. But other dulcimers might be a different story. But thats the beauty of the dulcimer, it is easy enuf to play to put your own touch on songs. I agree Babs on the first example being preferable to my ear but I still enjoy seeing what other people can do with a tune.
David Lynch
David Lynch
@david-lynch
8 years ago
35 posts

here are some examples of what I mean about timing and extra notes etc etc. Same song, played by 3 different players:

Now I am not suggesting that we all have to play the same way, and that we should never adapt a song.....geez that'd be boring.....but to take a simple ballad and turn it into a dance tune....well, that is something I just don't get.

David Lynch
David Lynch
@david-lynch
8 years ago
35 posts

If I am reading this right, Dusty, the reasoning for the multiple strums (be they actual strums, picks or air strums) is to enable one to maintain the proper timing for the song? So lets say there are 3 people playing side by side in this fashion; What happens if your sense of timing is just a hair faster than the guy next to you and his is just a hair faster than the 3rd guy? See where I am going with this? Timing is more than just being able to maintain a steady beat. In my opinion if someone really has that much trouble maintaining the proper timing they would be better off spending some practice time with a good metronome.

Don't get me wrong here.....if it works for someone playing solo that is great. But they may find that when they get together with other players that their timing is far different than others in the group. Unfortunately I have seen this happen all too often at a jam where supposedly everyone is playing the same song, but in reality it sounds like there are 4 or 5 different tunes being played.....Tongue.gif Everyone is so busy being busy, that is, adding bum-ditties or extra picked notes to "fill in the blanks" or to "make it their own" that they pay no attention to those around them.

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
8 years ago
1,458 posts

Given the last set of comments here, I just want to offer a clarification of my own position. In my mind, there is a set pattern for strumming. It is in-out or out-in on a regular beat. Usually that is an eighth note pattern but on some slower songs it might actually be a sixteenth-note pattern. That is the pattern that is implicit in your right hand. But that pattern does not have to be actualized on the strings. Depending on the song, you might only hit the strings on a fraction of those strums. What the pattern does, however, is ensure that you are exactly on beat when you choose to strum. In other words, you need to be able to strum in-out or out-in in a regular pattern, but that does not mean you always do it.

Secondly, what we refer to as a strum might indeed be a pick. Just as you can choose to hit no strings on a strum (what some instructors call air strums) you can choose to hit only one or two strings as well. In my mind there ought to be no difference in your right hand between strumming and picking. And you should be able to shift between strumming all the strings and playing single-note runs or arpeggios with no alteration in the basic rhythm of your right hand.

So the way think of this, your right hand develops an out-in (or in-out) pattern which is usually based on eighth notes, so it moves out on the down beats and in on the upbeats, but on any strum you can choose to play three strings, two strings, one string, or no strings. What the pattern assures is that you will always be exactly on beat.

There are an infinite number of specific rhythmic combinations you can choose from. (The Bum-ditty is one example, where you are playing this out-in strum based on eighth notes but choose not to strum on the & following the 1st and 3rd beats. In other words, you are playing a quarter note, two eighth notes, quarter note, two eighth notes.) And I thoroughly agree with the emphasis of David and John's posts above that you should not get locked into one rhythmic pattern but should vary it as the song and even the phrase suggests.




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Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

As a musician, you have to keep one foot back in the past and one foot forward into the future.
-- Dizzy Gillespie
John Henry
John Henry
@john-henry
8 years ago
257 posts

John Henry
John Henry
@john-henry
8 years ago
257 posts

Hello Helen, just felt that I would like to make a comment ! As a completely untutored noter/drone player (for a while some time back I thought I was the only one leftin the world !!!)I do not pretend to be an expert on strumming, rather the opposite, but am happy with what I do whilst playing. I often play ballads (even sing to 'em sometimes ,lol) and use a variety of things to strum with, including quills, wooden, bone or leather pics, and without exception, whatever I am using I rely on 'the tune in my head' to tell me what to do. Which means I do not work to a 'set' pattern, it '' jus ' appens "! Which,I think,is what David has already said ? I referyou to a vid which I have just posted, which may be of interest, 'cos I sorta play a ballad in two tempo's, involving differing strumming pattens. I repeat, I do not offer this as 'the way', just 'a way' !

best wishes

John

Helen Seiler
Helen Seiler
@helen-seiler
8 years ago
119 posts
Thanks for your thoughts on this Dave, I have been thinking that might happen. I have watched some strumming videos and found (as Dusty said earlier) that I am not as far off the mark as I thought. I believe with ballads thats less is often better than more.
David Lynch
David Lynch
@david-lynch
8 years ago
35 posts

The best suggestion I can make Helen is to not lock yourself into a set pattern.....vary it according to the song. While using a 8 strum pattern for a whole note (4 strums out and four strums in) can be useful it can also lead to a lot of clutter especially if you feel the need to fill in all those strums with "something". All to often I have seen beautiful ballads turned into fast fiddle tunes because the player HAD to fill in every fraction of a beat with a strum. I've also heard songs that have become unrecognizable because of all the added notes and bum dittys thrown in.

Helen Seiler
Helen Seiler
@helen-seiler
8 years ago
119 posts
Thanks Dusty...such a relief that I dont have to completely relearn to strum. Your last sentence gave me a bit of a ah-ha moment. Will be watching your videos today.
Helen Seiler
Helen Seiler
@helen-seiler
8 years ago
119 posts
Thats good advice Lisa. Thankyou.
Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
8 years ago
1,458 posts

Helen, I just took another listen to your John Stinson, and it is clear that you are getting very close to a steady back-and-forth strum. You do not have to reinvent anything you are doing.

In that song, the first measure is simply four quarter notes. You strum out on all of those. Good! The second measure has two quarter notes and then four eighth notes. You strum out on the quarter notes and out-in on each of the eighth note pairs. Excellent! You are doing just what I would be doing.

All you need to work on is keeping that strum as steady as possible so that you are always on beat. And remember that whenever you strum out, your hand has to come back in before you strum out again. That in strum should happen evenly even if you choose not to strum any strings. Although you might play "Bum bum ditty ditty" or "Bum ditty bum ditty" your hand should be moving "ditty ditty" all the time. (The bums are just quarter notes and the ditty is a pair of eighth notes.)




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Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

As a musician, you have to keep one foot back in the past and one foot forward into the future.
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Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
8 years ago
1,981 posts

Helen, also keep in mind that in learning something new, you never have to completely change everything all at once. Continue doing as you usually do, then take a few minutes at each practice to experiment with the new technique. Over time it will seem easier and then you can decide whether you want to incorporate it into more, or all, of your playing.




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Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
Helen Seiler
Helen Seiler
@helen-seiler
8 years ago
119 posts
Thanks so much Dusty, John, Lisa, Ken and Carrie. This is all so helpful. I have been out all day (Oz time)and and it is so great to come home to good advice. Dusty, your explanation for this new type of strumming (for me) is very easy to follow and makes a lot of sense. I look forward to viewing your videos along with others suggested. Looks like I got me some learning to do. I am going to stick at it for a month and if I have at least started to get the hang of it at the end of the month I will continue with it. If I am miserable I will go back to my old way. I do want to learn and grow as a player.
Strumelia
Strumelia
@strumelia
8 years ago
1,981 posts

Yet one more video about where to put in extra strums, or not: http://dulcimer-noter-drone.blogspot.com/2010/01/video-tips-for-beginners-where-to-add.html

Ultimately, as others have said, you should do what makes you feel good , whether it's learning new stuff or continuing what you are doing now.




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Site Owner

Those irritated by grain of sand best avoid beach.
-Strumelia proverb c.1990
Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
8 years ago
1,458 posts

You're too kind,John.The fact is that you dojust as much in ahigher-quality 6-minute video asI do inmy amateur 45 minutes.Plusyou play the drums.

John Keane said:

Dusty, there's a bunch of great info in those videos of yours and well worth checkin' out!




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Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

As a musician, you have to keep one foot back in the past and one foot forward into the future.
-- Dizzy Gillespie
John Keane
John Keane
@john-keane
8 years ago
182 posts

Dusty, there's a bunch of great info in those videos of yours and well worth checkin' out!

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty-turtle
8 years ago
1,458 posts

Helen,

Whether or not in practice you actuallystrum in-out or out-in when playing a tune should depend on the tune and how you want to play it. However, it is very important that you have a steady strum and stay on beat. It might be a good idea to practice with a metronome for that reason. Once you have mastered steady playing, you can vary it according to the needs of the song. But first you have to master the ability to play steadily.

There are innumerable advantages to developing a steady in-out or out-in strum. I outline how to develop that kind of a strum in a series of three instructional videos (amateur ones, of course) which I made available here:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

The strum I teach in that series of videos is basically an eighth note pattern in which you strum out on the down beats and in on the up beats. So when you count 1&2&3&4& you strum out on the numbers and in on the &s. You can reverse that and strum in-out instead, but what matters is keeping it consistent. Once you have a machine-like regularity, you can begin to accent or stress certain strums and "swing" the rhythm, too. That is where the first video ends. Once you have that accented out-in strum down and are swinging it, you have a rhythm that you can use for any tune. And what is great about it is that you don't have to count beats; the strum does it for you. If you accent the first beat, for example, you will always know where you are in a song. And you know to strum quarter notes, half-notes, and the first half of eighth note pairs on the out strum and the second half of eighth note pairs on the in strum.

The second video then gets more creative with rhythms, explaining how you can skip strums, mute strums, and accent strums to get really complex rhythms. In the third video I move from strumming across all the strings to adding single notes, for there is no rule that says you have to strum all the strings on any beat. You can play one, two, three, or no strings as you wish. So that technique for strumming also allows you to begin flatpicking.

Anyway, feel free to take a look at those videos and ask me any questions you want. I will never tell anyone that they have to play a certain way. But I can tell you that I find it helpful to develop a very steady back-and-forth right hand.

At the local dulcimer group I started last fall, there are basically two of us who are the leaders since we are the most experienced. Ron Beardslee does not strum in the method I do. He is very precise and only plays exactly the notes in the music or tablature. He is able to get very clean and sparse arrangements that sound great. But he counts in his head all the time, and he has difficulty just playing along with people and following other musicians rather than playing from music. I have other skills and other problems. When I play my right hand is constantly moving out and in. I don't always pluck a string, but more often than not I do. I often stick in chords or bass notes or an arpeggio or occasionally a little lick when it does not appear on the tablature. Ron calls this me being fancy, but to me it is just playing. My hand is moving all the time. And because the rhythm of my hand does the counting for me, my brain is free to watch other musicians or think of something to add or whatever. I don't have to count to get that 3& beat since I know I'll catch it on the in strum after the accented 3 beat of the measure.

Again, there are a lot of ways to play the dulcimer. You do not have to develop a steady out-in or in-out strum. But you should aim at developing a steady strum, and to do that you either have to count constantly in your head or you have to develop that strum you are describing.

One final point: Ken mentions ballads and the desire to keep the rhythm of the melody. That is indeed one very good way of playing. But there are others. Jean Ritchie, for example, does a lot of counter-melody work. Other modern players who also sing, like Sarah Morgan, develop a rhythmic strumming that accompanies but does not copy the singing. But I'd like to make a different point.What do you do if you are playing a slow ballad in which a single note carries on for a whole measure or two whole measures? Do you strum once and then count in your head (1&2&3&4& 1&2&3&4&) before playing another note? OK, you might do that on occasion, but if your song has a lot of long, drawn-out whole notes, you need to come up with something else. A regular, swing-version of an in-out strum all by itself can help you fill in those spaces in a way that does not detract from the melody. That is something I demonstrate at the end of the third of those instructional videos.

I won't be insulted, Helen, if you don't find my videos helpful. Don't feel obliged to watch them. But I do think they are a good introduction to the benefits of developing a steady out-in right hand. So if you are asking why you might want to learn to play like this, the videos try to answer that question. And of course, contact me with questions or comments or points of disagreement or whatever.




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Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

As a musician, you have to keep one foot back in the past and one foot forward into the future.
-- Dizzy Gillespie
John Keane
John Keane
@john-keane
8 years ago
182 posts

Helen, if you are not happy with what you are doing, continuing to do it is just reinforcing your unhappiness. If you want to try for a little more "even" approach to your strum, try this and see if it makes sense to you. It's a ton of thought in a short time, but the rewind button may help lol:

Helen Seiler
Helen Seiler
@helen-seiler
8 years ago
119 posts
Thanks Ken and Carrie. Much appreciated.
Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
8 years ago
1,836 posts

Helen; how you strum - steady "metro-gnome" style or "go with the flow" style - really is part of what makes your Way, your Style. Also, I think, it depends on the kind of music you're playing.

Personally I think fiddle tunes are the perfect example of playing steady metro-gnome style. Those tunes were/are most often dance tunes, and if there's one thing that dancers don't like is some musician changing the tempo, the rhythm of their dance. They want a steady 1-2-3-4 or 1---2-3-4 or whatever the time signature is.

Ballads and similar songs, however, again IMHO, are best served by playing to the rhythm of the words, as that helps emphasize the parts that you as the performer want to have stand out.

I play mostly ballads and other songs with words, and occasionally torture audiences with singing, hence I primarily play to the rhythm of the words. But if I'm playing Maire's Wedding or Tennessee Waltz I'm playing a steady dance rhythm.

If you like playing "Oz Style" by all means do so. But if you want to shift to steady state playing that's OK too. Like so many things with dulcimer, it depends more on what you like than what anyone else thinks.

Helen Seiler
Helen Seiler
@helen-seiler
8 years ago
119 posts
I hope I can explain this clearly. I have always known that my strumming technique isn't quite right. I put it down to being to far away to get lessons early on. I recently joined Dulcimer Crossing for some lessons. Although I have been playing a year I decided to start with the beginner lessons in hope of correcting any fundamental problems I might have. Now I know there is no wrong way to play a dulcimer. But not too far into the lessons I finally saw what I call the 'traditional' way to strum demonstrated. The way I see so often on posted videos here. A steady in and out strum with the strings skipped when there needs to be a longer note or pause in the tune. I dont strum that steady way. I just strum in and out or with bum diddy bums to fit the tune, not steadily back and forward as seems to be done by many players, especially those using a quill. I emailed my online teacher to ask if I would be better to relearn my strumming and he said there would be advantages in mastering the steady technique later on when playing more advanced tunes. But he left the choice to me. I am finding changing my strumming really really hard. Should I persist or just go back to my own Oz way of strumming. I would be interested in any thoughts on this.
updated by @helen-seiler: 10/27/19 12:02:25PM