Tips & Techniques

Slap strumming basics (percussive rhythm technique)

Lesson #197

Video Overview

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Editor’s notes

In today’s lesson I am excited to talk about the “slap” strumming technique – which is where you’ll add a distinct percussive sound to your strumming motion via muting the strings with your strumming hand. This is something I struggled with in my early years of guitar playing, as I was fundamentally doing it wrong. With this video, I’ll break down the technique: the motions required, how to step into it slowly, and explain some of the gotchas and pitfalls you might run into. If this technique does give you trouble, just remember to be patient! Often, as with many things on the guitar, getting your muscles to do what you want takes a bit of time. Best of luck - let me know if you have questions, and please send along any requests for technique videos like this!

Understanding the muting technique

The first step in learning the slap strum technique, I think, is to position your strumming hand upon the strings just off the saddle of the guitar. Keep it there. Then, use your pick (in that hand) and play all of the strings. If you’re muting correctly, none of the strings should make a ringing sound – instead, they’ll all sound deadened and “muted”. Play around with your hand position if you have trouble here, while referring to my video. Getting this core technique down is the first step you’ll have to master.

Next, bring in a slow-motion strum

From here, the idea is to practice a single strum - but do it super slowly. The goal is just before your pick hits the strings, you want your strumming hand to land in that “muted” position - and then bring the pick into the strings. The goal is to, with practice, be able to do this in one fluid motion. It is tricky! As your arm, wrist, hand, and fingers (the ones holding the pick) are all doing slightly different things. For example, your arm will need to nearly stop in the muted position - but your hand and fingers will need to keep the pick moving in the direction of the strum.

Adding extra percussive oomph with your arm

A final step in the core technique, which may be tough - is to use your full arm to dial up the force at which you’re hitting the guitar strings. This allows you to dial up the volume of the “slap” that is heard. As I show in the video, you want to get comfortable striking your strings in a controlled, yet forceful way. If this gives you trouble, come back to it after you’ve mastered some simple strum patterns.

Now, try a simple strumming pattern

Once you can do this, it’s a good idea to bring in a basic strum. One idea is to do all down strums, one on each count (1 2 3 4). The goal is to do the slap strum on the “2” and “4” counts. As shown here:

d = down strum     X = "slap" (down) strum

1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +
d   X   d   X

Spicing up the strumming pattern

Personally, I find the following pattern almost more natural to do (which makes it easier, somehow). You’ll want to move your strumming hand in continuous up & down strums on the 8th notes (down up down up down up down up). On the “2” and “4” counts, you’ll want do do a slap strum - note that these are both down strums.

d = down strum     X = "slap" (down) strum    u = up strum

1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +
d u X u d u X u

From there, you can apply this to all sorts of strum patterns - but note you’re typically going to use this strum on down-strums, usually on the “2” and “4” count.

Good luck!

I hope this was helpful for you. As always, it’s best to see my video lesson for reference. Please let me know what questions you have, and until next time - best of luck!

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