Strumming with Attitude

Now you can play pretty much any chord you’ll come across in garage rock, so it’s time to get the distinctive attitude. The chords you use contribute to this, but the best thing you can do to get the punch in your playing is to strum them like you mean it. This is pretty easy to do, but you have to learn a couple of techniques like accenting and dead strums to get the sound you’re looking for.

Beats and Bars

To strum like a garage rock hero, all you need is a pretty basic understanding of beats and bars, the elements of timing in music. Beats are the pulse of music, the bit that you tap your foot along to when you’re listening. Bars are simply groups of (usually) four beats. So this means you can get four strums into a single bar easily, but if you play more quickly you can get eight or even sixteen into the same space. So if you count out “one and two and three and four and” you get a sense of where the eight strums fit into the bar. You can display a simple, down-up, down-up strumming pattern like this:

 1   &   2    &    3    &   4   &

\/    /\   \/   /\    \/    /\   \/   /\

This helps you get a sense of the timing – try strumming a chord of your choice and counting out “one and two and three and four and” to keep yourself in time. Now this can work (after all, garage rock is all about balls-out simplicity), but if you’re going to produce something really punchy you’ll need to do some accenting.


Accents are a pretty easy technique to learn, you basically strum harder than you normally would, to give certain beats an extra oomph. In comparison, the other strokes will seem quiet and understated, adding some cool dynamics and really making the driving beat stand out. You can do it on the numbers, or the “beats,” to create a good effect. The accented beats are shown with a “>.”

>           >          >          >

1    &    2   &    3    &    4   &

\/    /\   \/   /\    \/   /\    \/   /\

Dead Strums

This is another easy technique to learn that brings some attitude into your strumming style. Instead of strumming the chord, you mute the strings with the fingers of your fretting hand by lightly touching them. Then when you strum, you get a percussive “thkk” sound. These are shown with an “x” in strumming graphs (and guitar tabs).

>         >         >         >

1   &   2   &   3   &   4   &

\/   x   \/   x   \/    x    \/   /\

Making Cool Strumming Patterns

The best method of creating strumming patterns, aside from adding in dead strums and accenting, is to skip strums altogether. The trick to playing these types of strumming patterns is to still make the ordinary motion with your arm, just purposefully miss the strings on the missed strum. Garage rock lends itself well to firm down-strokes, so try these patterns out:

>         >         >         >

1   &   2   &   3   &   4   &

\/        \/        \/   /\   \/

>         >         >         >

1   &   2   &   3   &   4   &

\/         \/       \/   /\    \/   /\

You can make loads of awesome patterns this way, and they don’t even have to be just one bar. Look at this two bar pattern inspired by the 13th Floor Elevators song “You’re Gonna Miss Me.”

>         >         >         >        >         >         >          >

1   &   2   &   3   &   4   &   1    &   2   &   3   &   4   &

\/        \/   x    \/   /\   \/   x   \/   /\    \/   x    \/        \/    x

Try this with chord changes every half a bar, on the ones and threes for an effect like that used in the song. The rapid chord changes further adds to the energetic feeling.