First things first... make sure your guitar is in tune, and you have a guitar pick. Using your fretting hand, form a G major chord on the neck. Making sure you are holding your pick properly, practice playing the following example, which is a basic one bar strumming pattern.
Alternate between strumming down, and strumming up. When you get done playing the example once, loop it, without any sort of pause. Count out loud: 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and 1 and 2 and (etc.) Notice that on the "and" (often referred to as the "offbeat") you are always using an upwards strum. This is something to keep in mind as we progress. If you are having problems keeping a steady rhythm, try listening to, and playing along with, an mp3 of the strumming pattern.
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you play the above pattern:
- If you are playing an acoustic guitar, make sure to strum directly over the sound hole
- On electric guitar, strum over the body (different locations will give you different sounds), not over the neck
- Make sure all strings are ringing clearly
- Make sure the volume of your downstrums and upstrums are equal
- Be careful not to strum too hard, as this often causes strings to rattle, and produces an undesirable sound
- Be careful not to strum too softly, as this will produce a "wimpy" sound. Your pick should be striking the strings with a relatively firm, even stroke
- Think of your elbow as being the top of a pendulum; your arm should swing up and down from it in a steady motion, never pausing at any time.
- Having said that, the bulk of the picking motion should come from a rotation of the wrist, rather than from the forearm. Be sure not to keep your wrist stiff when playing.