One of my favorite verbal cues for strumming the guitar is based on a simple task that we perform every day: we wash our hands.
And what do we do automatically after washing our hands?
We flick the excess water off.
That, my friends, is perfect strumming technique.
“Flicking water” is a highly effective cue that will help you stay loose and relaxed while getting your strum on.
How great – and easy – is that?
Techniques need to be demonstrated, not just talked about, so here’s a short-ish (6 min) video that covers everything you’ll need to “flick water” and loosen up that strum:
If you’d like the text as well, read on, playa! (Please do, since I spent a lot of time writing it…:)
In my own lesson studio, I have witnessed dramatic improvements using this technique. Students have seen their strumming go from rigid and locked-up to smooth and free in a matter of seconds just by “flicking water”.
It all starts with the proper setup:
HOLD THE PICK PROPERLY
Hold the pick between your thumb and index finger. This is standard guitar procedure, even though some folks insist on adding their middle finger.
We cannot flick much water when both our index and middle fingers are touching our thumb. Releasing the middle finger from contact with the thumb makes all the difference here.
OPEN YOUR HAND
The second element is a by-product of the first: you must open up your hand and allow your fingers – middle, ring and pinky – to hang freely.
If you hold the pick as described above, this should be a piece of cake. Additionally, the weight of your middle finger will enhance the “flicking water” motion.
[TWO SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT NOTE: I realize that there is some discrepancy among guitarists as to open hand versus closed hand playing. Here’s my take: Open Hand versus Closed Hand Debate]
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If you can flick water from your hands, you’ll have no trouble performing this movement:
1 – Slightly pivot your palm toward you. You should be able to see your palm, at least a little.
2 – Keeping your wrist loose, flick your hand away as if shaking water off.
3 – End up with your palm toward the floor. You should be able to see the back of your hand.
Now put a pick between your thumb and index finger and repeat!
After a few repetitions, you should notice your momentum start to take over. If you’re doing it correctly, the rebound effect will make the motion feel bouncy and effortless.
These improved mechanics will provide a smooth whipping action that starts at the elbow, flows through the wrist, and ends at the fingers. This is infinitely more comfortable than a strum that is mainly elbow and stiff(er) wrist.
It also helps you to glide the pick over the strings. This creates an elegant sound, and eliminates the harshness you get when your pick digs into the strings.
Finally, all this whipping and gliding results in a quick, effortless strum. Think of it as taking the brakes off versus stepping on the gas. For intermediate and advanced players that are doing some funky, Nile Rodgers-style strumming, the “flicking water” motion is essential.
[Tweet “You get a quick, effortless strum by taking off the brakes, not stepping on the gas”]
The Bottom Line
For a smoother strumming motion and a more polished, professional sound, do what comes naturally: start “flicking water”!
QUESTION: Have you noticed an improvement in your strumming technique by “flicking water”? Do you have any verbal cues of your own to share? Leave me a comment below!