Ever wish you could blur your strum hand like Gordon Lightfoot did in Canadian Railroad Trilogy? But your strumming is slower than a 3-Toed Sloth after chugging down a couple Margaritas.
Check this out.
According to the University of Rochester Medical Center Rochester, NY, we’re all born with a given ability to react involuntarily or voluntarily to a physical event: anywhere from 10- to 30-milliseconds.
That’s like slicing a second into 30,000 itty-bitty pieces. And one of those little slices is all it takes to get your reflexes firing faster than the Flash, but without the spandex.
In plain speak, it’s the difference between lying on the mat in a martial art tournament… or woopping the bejesus out of an opponent named Mat.
Now, there’s good news. You can improve your strumming reflexes in a bunch of ways.
1. Use the right pick.
When it comes to strumming, using the right pick is like finding the holy grail. Okay, well maybe not, but it can make a ginormous difference.
Now, for some folks, strumming with a jazz lead pick, for example, can be a strumming disaster. Those things can feel thicker than a Snickers bar. They’re primarily designed to riff out smoking jazz leads.
medium-Thin picks are often easier to strum with. If you’re not skilled yet in the art of gripping a thicker pick, sooner or later it’ll wind up on the floor. Trust me, dropping your pick mid-song is worse than forgetting your own name.
But don’t just settle for any old pick. Experiment with different sizes and shapes until you find the one that feels like an extension of your fingers.
Maybe a feather light teardrop pick puts you in your happy place, or a chunky jagged triangle piece of plexiglass will do it. The choice is yours, but it will affect your playing.
And when you’ve found the pick of your dreams, make sure you’re holding it right. The angle of the pick to the strings is key. If it’s too flat, your strums can sound like a playing card rattling the spokes of a bicycle.
2. Relax your grip.
Once you get the right pick, pay attention to how much grip you’re using. You don’t need to grip it like an ape on the last banana
Make a conscious effort to relax your thumb and pointer finger muscles. You want just enough grip to keep the pick under control and give those strings a good pluck. And here’s a little secret, your grip will change depending on the energy needed for the song. It’s like a dance between you and the music.
When you tighten your grip, you’re not just affecting your pick, but your whole arm. Before you know it, that tension can spread to your bicep and up to your shoulder. So, take it easy, find that sweet spot of just enough grip, and strum on.
3. Make sure your bicep and forearm muscles are relaxed.
One of the biggest mistakes players make is tensing up their muscles like a Mr. Universe contest. It’s like they think it’ll give them more control over their arm swing, but it’s a bad habit.
Tense muscles while strumming is like trying to snap your buddy in the locker room with a towel that’s been starched as stiff as a raw spaghetti noodle. It’s just not gonna work. Your reflexes suffer, and your strumming comes out awkward.
Your muscles aren’t gonna be fast, and they’ll get tired real quick trying to hold that tension for long periods of time. Let them relax.
4. Position your guitar where it needs to be.
Hey tunie, you can’t strum like a pro if your acoustic guitar is down to your ankles like a Gothic rocker in a screamer band. Unless of course, you’re a knuckle dragger with arms like an Orangutan.
If your guitar is slung too low, you’ll run out of reach and accuracy and speed will suffer. But let’s not hike the sound hole up to your nipples like your grandpappy’s drawers either, uh.
Here’s a good rule of thumb: if your strum forearm is less than 90-degrees (closer to your face) when hitting the strings, then it’s too high. You’ll be at the top of the strum motion and your muscles will naturally tighten by lifting your arm higher.
And if it’s below a 45-degree angle (downward from the strings), it’s getting too low, and you’re running out of reach to jam on that puppy.
So, find a comfortable position in the middle ground. Play around until you find your sweet spot.
But that’s not all. Incorrect height can put tension in your shoulders, which affects your strumming too. So keep those shoulders down and relaxed. And if you need to adjust your strap, just do it. Don’t compensate by lifting your shoulders to your ears to bring the guitar up.
We all know the key to getting better is practice, practice, practice. Remembering what to play and how to play it is just the beginning.
But did you know that practicing can actually increase our electrical and nerve responses? That’s right, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center, by practicing daily, we can give our nerve reflexes the workout they need to stay in tip-top shape.
Now, age may naturally decrease our speed, but we can counter it by practicing every single day. If I go months without playing regularly, the sluggishness and inaccuracy is as obvious as an angel knocking one back at the bar.
So let’s get practicing regularly, and train those nerve reflexes to get quicker next time we pick up the guitar. Which, by the way, should be right now, shouldn’t it?