Strumming Eighth Notes

Eighth notes are generally the next logical subdivision of the quarter note or standard beat.  Eighth notes are twice as fast as quarter notes.  You can fit or play two eighth notes for every quarter note.  That means that in a standard 4/4 measure you can play a total of eight notes (hence the eighth note name).  Since we are playing notes twice as fast we can adjust our strumming appropriately.

Counting Eighth Notes

In 4/4 time we can count the beat as 1 - 2 - 3 - 4.  To count eighth notes in the same time signature you can say 1 - and - 2 - and - 3 - and - 4 - and.  Any part of the rhythm that is not on the beat (the "and") is called the offbeat.  This sets us up to adjust the strumming rules we learned in the "Strumming On The Beat" lesson.

Strumming Rules (Updated)

The existing rules still apply.  For eighth notes we now add a fourth rule.

  1. Determine the time signature of the song.  4/4, 3/4, 6/8, etc.
  2. Determine the tempo.  Are the song beats moving along slowly or rapidly.
  3. Anytime a chord is played on the beat it should be done with a downstroke.
  4. Anytime a chord is played on the offbeat it should be done with an upstroke.

Basic 4/4 Eighth Note Strum

This example shows an E minor chord played as an eighth note strum.  The beats are downstrokes and the offbeats are upstrokes.  The strumming alternates between down and up.  As you play this count 1 - and - 2 - and - 3 - and - 4 - and

Basic Eighth Note Strum

Alternative Strumming Notation

You may encounter music notated with down and up arrows like the previous example showed.  You may also encounter the following symbols below.  These are often used with standard music notation or tab notation to specify a down or up strum or pick.

Down Up Notation

Basic 4/4 Eighth Note Strum Alternative Notation

This example is the same as the previous example except the chord is now a D open string chord and the music is notated with the alternative strumming symbols.  When you play this you should still count to yourself 1 - and - 2 - and - 3 - and - 4 - and.

Basic Eighth Note Strum Alternative Notation

Mix and Match Strumming

Up until this point the strumming examples have shown the chord being strummed for all eight subdivision notes.  What if we want to play only some of the eighth note subdivisions?  We can mix and match the actual strums.  We'll still apply the rules above though.  Any strum on a beat is down and any strum on an offbeat is up.  This example shows a strumming pattern with eighth notes on beats 2 and 4 while beats 1 and 3 are played as standard quarter notes.

Selective Eighth Note Strumming

This example uses the alternate notation and places the eighth note strums on beats 2 and 3 while 1 and 4 are strummed down only as quarter notes.

Selective Eighth Note Strumming

By mixing and matching when you strum, you can see that you open up a lot of possibilities with just the simple eighth note subdivisions.  Try playing around with different combinations while always applying the strumming rules.  Try playing a ska or reggae type beat by only playing the offbeats with an upstroke.  Or try and play every 3rd eighth note in the measure.  Write down your patterns on a blank tab with arrows appropriately to help this sink in even further.