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Rhythm 01: How to count 4/4 time and basic strumming

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4/4 Time

For today’s lesson, I’ll just stick to 4/4 time – it’s the most common time signature in modern music. The first four means that there are four beats to one measure, and the second four means that a quater note takes up one of those beats. If that’s a bit confusing, all you really need to know is that you count out 4/4 time, just count to four.

One, Two, Three, Four

That’s one measure.

The BPM (beats per minute) of a song tells you how fast you count. If a song is 100 BPM, the speed is such that there would be 100 beats in one minute. And if you’re in 4/4 time, each of those beats would be a quarter note.


To count 4/4 time, just count to four. Each of those counts (1, 2, 3, 4) is a quarter note. Another way to count is with your feet. Just tap your foot so that your toe hits the ground with each count.

The next subdivision is 8th notes – there are 8 of them in each measure. We use the word ‘and’ to count them. So, it would count like this: One and Two and Three and Four and. When you tap your foot, the ‘ands’ are when your toe comes up.

Next are 16th notes – there are 16 of these. We count them like this: One e and a Two e and a Three e and a Four e and a. (That’s Eeee and Uh sounds).


If you’re just beginning, the first exercise you should practice is to do a down-strum on each beat (or quarter note). So, the strumming pattern would look like this:

1   2   3   4   ,...
d   d   d   d   ,...

Try changing chords every measure, or after every four down-strums. If you have to pause to change chords, that’s ok – just keep practicing and eventually your chord changes will happen in time.

The next pattern you might try looks like this:

1   2   3   4   ,...
d  udud  udud du,...

Half note pattern: when a chord only lasts half of a measure, and easy way to strum it goes like this:

1   2   3   4   ,...
d d d dud d d du,...

Some tips

Try to do most of the strumming in your wrist and keep your elbow fairly motionless. This will help you strum faster and more accurately.

Try to keep your hand moving fluidly. I typically keep the motion of my hand steady with up-downs in 16th note motion, and then just strum where you want the pattern to be. This is a bit more advanced, but once you tackle it, your strumming will become much more fluid.

18 Responses to Rhythm 01: How to count 4/4 time and basic strumming

  1. Eugene Peregudov Jun 13, 2013 at 12:10 am #

    Thanks a lot Brian ;)))) Your doing an awesome work!! Your videos are great and helpful.

    • Brian Wahl Jun 25, 2013 at 10:59 am #

      Thanks Eugene – I appreciate it!

    • Raju Kunwar Aug 28, 2017 at 5:28 am #

      You are awesome guitar instructor.

  2. David Binford Jun 16, 2013 at 4:46 pm #

    thanks, this helps a little, now I just need to get my left hand, right hand and vocals in sync and yet still keep it all together, not getting lost in one over the other.

    • Brian Wahl Jun 25, 2013 at 10:58 am #

      Just keep practicing – they’ll get sync’d up before you know it

  3. Squanto Jun 27, 2013 at 7:57 am #

    Very helpful Brian but maybe a bit of a leap from the first pattern to the second. Also, in the txt I might suggest at least 2 measures of the pattern shown to see it easier. Thanks.

  4. Shawn Allee Jul 1, 2013 at 10:51 am #

    Thank you! I have issues being able to count and strum. I can do the strumming and some songs but when it comes to counting it is tough. This helps me!

  5. Becca Jan 26, 2014 at 8:54 pm #

    Thanks so much! This was extremely helpful to me. I’m a self-taught guitarist and have come to the point of realizing that in order to improve I need to improve my strumming patterns. As really more of a pianist than a guitarist, this was a super helpful video to help me take the next step to improve my playing. It really helped me to better understand what strumming would look like if it were translated to actual sheet music. I’ll be referring others to this site. Thanks!

  6. Juan De Leon Jan 18, 2015 at 3:20 am #

    Brian, I am a beginning guitar student and your tutorials are awesome, I am learning a lot from them. I have a question on strumming. When you strum up, are you holding your pick the same way when you strum down? Are you also strumming all the strings when you strum up?

  7. Dennis Jan 29, 2015 at 8:26 pm #

    What are your thoughts on metronomes and do you have suggestions on using them if you approve of them?

    • Brian Wahl Feb 27, 2015 at 11:18 am #

      Hi Dennis – YES :). Use a metronome as much as possible. I like the ‘Tempo’ app on iOS. We play to click tracks ever week in church, which is exactly the same thing as a metronome.

  8. Ejay Jun 23, 2015 at 8:17 am #

    Hello Brian,thanks to your helpful video i can strum now not like before

  9. Subrata May 20, 2016 at 3:52 am #

    I would say you are doing a great job, my hearty appreciation to you. But I guess I need more than this- experiment.

    • Brian Jun 1, 2016 at 3:24 pm #

      Thanks – there are more lessons on rhythm in the beginner guitar course.

  10. rahul Jun 8, 2016 at 3:31 pm #

    thanks god bless you wonderful site you are raising more davids in every church

  11. Bob Mar 22, 2017 at 7:58 pm #

    Thank you for what you do. I am 80 years old and finally have time to try to to learn to play the guitar. Thank the lord for people who share their talents

    • Brian Oct 20, 2017 at 9:41 pm #

      Awesome – thanks Bob!

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