How to Read & Write Strum Notation

Picks and sheet music

It is valuable to be able to read and write strum notation.

Playing rhythm guitar means playing a pattern of strokes known as a strum pattern. This pattern repeats itself throughout the song and often remains unchanged. However, it is not uncommon for different sections of a song to have different strum patterns.

Rhythm guitarist can determine the strum pattern of a song through a series of simple steps. Many guitarists “find” their strum patterns by using their internal sense of rhythm and have no idea what exactly they are playing. Others struggle with rhythm and need a guide to help them play correctly. In either case, it is valuable to be able to write strum patterns in a form that indicates exact rhythm. To read rhythm notation, you need to be able to read rhythm values for standard notation.

I notate strum patterns as shown below. I like to use the staff lines and actual notes for my strum notation. The time signature is indicated at the beginning of the measure and strokes are identified beneath each note. However, there is no clef or key signature to indicate pitches. This notation simply illustrates rhythm.

The strum pattern will often repeat itself within the measure. I indicate the repeating pattern with a dashed box around the pattern.

Some strum patterns will also utilize rests and percussive slaps. The percussive slap is indicated with an X instead of a down stroke or up stroke symbol.

Some guitarists will notate strum patterns in a similar fashion but will use a slash instead of a rounded head for the note. I prefer to use the actual note shape to stay consistent with standard notation.

Rhythm slashes

Rhythm slashes compared to notes

Whether you choose to use slashes or standard notes, take the time to work on notating rhythm. This skill will make you a better all-around musician and more precise guitarist.

Strum happy!