At this stage, and in preparation to work with other musicians and backing tracks, you will also need to know about “count-ins” and time signatures i.e. how many beats to the bar your will be playing, as they are intrinsically linked. As we are at the beginner stage, let’s look at the basics.
The best way to understand it would be to use your hand and hit your leg at a steady pulse (any speed is fine). As you’re hitting your leg, start counting each hit: one, two, three, four. Once you get to four, go back to one and keep repeating. Each time you hit your leg four times, you’ve just completed a bar. This time signature is referred to as 4/4. It’s four beats in a bar, each one of those beats is a quarter note. Four quarters make up a whole bar.
To help your strumming put emphasis on the first hit of each bar. Do this by hitting your leg a bit harder so the sound is more pronounced. This is a good way of signifying a new bar has started and will help when determining if a beat is in a different time signature when you’re listening to a piece of music. If you’re comfortable with that, now put emphasis on the third hit as well so that every second beat you have emphasised your hit: ONE, two, THREE, four, etc.
The next time signature you should learn is 3/4. There are only three beats to a bar in this time signature. Now use the same leg tapping principle as with 4/4, but instead of counting to four, count to three: one, two, three. When you get to three, start back at one. Again, try putting emphasis on the first count of each bar. It will probably feel abnormal and a bit difficult to get your head around at first, but it shouldn’t take long to learn.