Tag Archives: guitar teaching

How to Strum Songs Without Hesitations

Strumming songs with big pauses between chord changes is a really common problem for beginners, and it sounds really amateurish! There’s nothing worse than someone singing or playing through a song, then pausing for 5 seconds to try to make that dreaded tricky chord change! The root of the problem is usually that the muscles have not been trained to make the correct movements for the chord change easily and effortlessly.

There are a number of techniques you can use to overcome this problem:

Play through the whole song no tempo

Make sure you can do the changes slowly in order, and get a feel for which chords changes are causing problems.

Drill the problem chord changes

Start slowly (no tempo), focusing on quality rather than speed. Do not underestimate the power of this, done right! Often for me, as a more experienced player, this stage alone is all that’s needed. Then try increasing speed. Gradually! Once you can do the change slowly with accuracy, use “one minute changes” to see how many chord changes you can make in a minute. Record your score.

Drilling chord changes is really important as it builds muscle memory, so you don’t have to think about your chord changes any more (there’s a sense of your fingers just doing the chord changes themselves).

Strum Once Per Bar

Now we are starting to think about staying in time. Try playing along to the recording, just one strum per bar or chord. If you’re struggling, slow it down! Try playing along to a metronome or slowed down version of the song (e.g. using amazing slow downer). If you can’t do one strum per bar you will struggle with a full complex strum pattern! Make sure you do it at a speed you are comfortable with.

Strum twice per bar

Try increasing the number of strums to twice per bar. Again, if you’re struggling slow things down. If it’s really comfortable, sometimes you can skip this stage.

Strum once per beat

This is the crux point. You need to be able to strum every beat (4 times for most pop songs) and make the chord changes without pausing. If you can’t do this then there’s no way you can do the whole strum pattern. It’s essential that you don’t pause your strum for the chord changes! Better to slow down the song than to embed in the hesitations. If you practise hesitations, no matter how slow, you’ll get really good at… hesitating between chords!

Practice the strum independently

The strum needs to be effortless before trying to combine it with chord changes, particularly if you are new to playing, and still need to concentrate on your chord changes. You only have limited attention – choose one hand at a time until things are automatic!

Try chords with the strum pattern

This is the tricky bit – putting the chords together with the strum. Don’t pause! Slow down, and make sure you can keep your tempo/strumming really even.

If you need to, just take two chords and go back and forth to get used to changing with the strum pattern.

Go back and fix problem areas

This is crucial. Practice has to be dynamic! You need to mix up different approaches. Try playing through the song, see what holds up, what needs fixing. Work on the problem chord changes; take just two chords – try no tempo chord changes back and forth, “one minute changes”, try 4 strums on each without pausing, try with the full strum pattern (alternating between the two chords). Then try it in context (just that section of the song). Then try the whole song again and see if it holds up. If anything needs fixing, go back into more focused practise on that particular musical phrase to fix it.

Just Play
Forget all this and have fun! Come back to the detailed practice another time. Just focus on keeping the rhythm flowing – accept that there’ll be a few chord mistakes along the way!

Other tips:

Slow down!
Better to go slow with quality to start with. Speed will come with time.

Focus on ease, relaxation and effortlessness
The more tense you are the harder to make your fingers work. Notice where you’re holding tension and just let it ease.

Practice makes permanent
So don’t embed the hesitations or mistakes!

Don’t be a perfectionist
Aim for quality, but accept that there’ll be a few buzzy chords along the way – keep working on them, but don’t let the odd imperfection impinge on your steady rhythmic flow!

Keep strumming!
No matter what is going on with the chord changes, keep that rhythm going!

Break it down
Don’t just play through the whole song each time. Take small sections or musical phrases to work on. You can play through the whole thing again later.

Just play
Play through the whole song sometimes! You have to keep things dynamic and fun! Mix it up!

Go easy on yourself
Have fun! These things take time! Don’t expect the moon on stick – some things take time 🙂

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Music Teacher’s Helper Review

If you want an easy way to manage your music teaching studio, Music Teacher’s Helper is a brilliant tool! The main ways in which I use it are for keeping track of income and expenses, keeping records of what students have done in lessons, sending out lesson reminders, and getting statistical reports on studio finances. It makes my life a lot easier when it comes to tax time, and in my opinion is a valuable time saver for any music teacher.


One of my favourite features of Music Teacher’s Helper (MTH) is that you can send out automatic reminders to students about upcoming lessons. It means there’s no excuse for a student to miss a lesson without letting you know. I currently send out reminders 48 hours before the lesson – it puts guitar or ukulele back in the forefront of the student or parent’s mind. There are also tools to send out invoices and receive payments, and an online lesson calendar where students can view their lesson schedule (and even sign up to lessons/workshops automatically).

Appear Professional

As well as making your life easier, MTH gives music teachers a professional air. It sets you apart from the casual part time teachers scribbling notes on odd sheets of paper (or worse, not keeping any notes at all!). It looks slick and shows students that you are well organised. For those of you without websites, you can also use MTH to create a website – a must for anybody getting serious about teaching.

Taxes, Taxes, Taxes

This is my favourite feature of MTH – your tax records become a lot easier to manage. You can print off a report for the tax year of income and expenses. As long as you spend a little time regularly to keep things updated, it can save you a massive headache at the end of the tax year.

Customer Service/Support

I have contacted the Music Teacher’s Helper team on a number of occasions and have always received prompt and helpful responses. There is a feedback system in place for teachers to suggest ideas to improve MTH, and I always get the impression that the team are continually looking to enhance and expand the system.

Promo Offer (15% off 1st Month)

As I am an avid user of Music Teacher’s Helper, I decided to become an affiliate. (I would never promote a product I don’t fully believe in, so no need to worry about that). The good news for you is that if you sign up via me you can get 15% off your first paid month. This is on top of a free 30 day trial. There are a lot of features that I haven’t fully taken advantage of yet, but even if you were only to use (for example) the financial and calendar features, I think it’s great value for any music teacher.

Click here to receive a 15% discount off your first month of Music Teacher’s Helper

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Filed under Resources, Teaching

Fantastic Resource for Guitarists

DS Music have put up a very useful free resource page for guitar and reading music.

There are well laid out sheets on reading standard notation and tab, as well as a host of useful guitar fretboard chords and scales (useful for both students and teachers of guitar).

For beginners, you can find, amongst other tools:

  • Basic guitar chord diagrams
  • Fretboard note layout
  • Chord flash cards

For those going beyond basics:

  • A sheet to explain the CAGED system
  • A scale dictionary
  • A useful explanation and diagram of the Circle of Fifths

Master Each Concept

It is worth taking your time with these resources, making sure you have mastered one scale or concept, and explored and integrated it into your playing, before moving onto the next. It is much better to have one scale that you can actually make music with, than to know loads that you can’t use! Working with a good teacher can help you manage this process. Finding ways to test yourself without looking at the sheets is also a good idea, as you don’t want to become reliant on them.

Uke & Other Instruments

If you play ukulele or another instrument, the standard notation and tab sheets still have a lot of useful info that can apply to any instrument. This is one of the advantages of standard notation over other methods of notation.

Keep Exploring

Also handy are the pages of blank chord, practise and notation sheets for you to fill in yourself. These are great for checking you have retained things, or for keeping a record of other chords and scales that you discover along your guitar journey.

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Filed under Learning, Resources, Teaching