Basic Bluegrass Guitar

author: Ahyoka date: 04/08/2009 category: music styles
rating: 9.8 / votes: 26 
This is my first lesson, so please bear with me haha. Alright, to start off I'll show you how to play one of the most basic Bluegrass strumming patterns out there. It's an important thing to remember that rhythm is a VERY important aspect in bluegrass guitar, the guitar is the backbone and work horse of most bluegrass bands and in a way it's also the most under appreciated instrument. While the Banjos, Fiddles, Mandolins, Dulcimers and Dobro's often solo and command your attention throughout songs (especially in older bluegrass songs) the guitar rarely stands in the spotlight. But if you listen for it you can almost always hear the steady rhythm of the guitar chugging along in the background keeping everyone in time. So with that in mind, let's go ahead and get started.

Rhythm

Below is a very common Bluegrass Rhythm in the Key of G. To sum this rhythm up, it's basically an alternating strum where you alternate between striking the bass notes and strumming the treble strings to give it a boom-chicka sound. You can play this rhythm fast or slow, it sounds good either way, start off practicing it slowly and when you get comfortable with strumming the treble strings in steady time you can try playing this rhythm faster. Here's an example using a G Chord in 4/4th Time Example 1: V: Down Strum ^: Upstrum
      V    V   ^   V    V  ^    V   V  ^   V   V  ^
1e :-------3---3--------3--3--------3--3-------3--3--
2B :-------0---0--------0--0--------0--0-------0--0--
3G :-------0------------0-----------0----------0-----
4D :-------------------------------------------------
5A :---------------2-----------------------2---------
6E :--3-------------------------3--------------------
*Note: When your playing this example don't worry too much about hitting the treble strings exactly like I've typed, it's not critical if your pick strums the top 3 strings when you should strum the top 2 or vice versa, don't worry about it because it doesn't make a big difference in the sound. Instead focus more on hitting the bass notes because that's what really gives this rhythm it's Bluegrass sound. You can also do Example 1 in other keys as well, I'll show you the same example in the key of C
      V    V   ^   V    V  ^    V   V  ^   V   V  ^
1e :-------0---0--------0--0--------0--0-------0--0---
2B :-------1---1--------1--1--------1--1-------1--1---
3G :-------0------------0-----------0----------0------
4D :---------------2-----------------------2----------
5A :--3-------------------------3---------------------
6E :--------------------------------------------------
See? That ain't so hard now is it?. Here it is one last time in D
      V    V   ^   V    V  ^    V   V  ^   V   V  ^
1e :-------2---2--------2--2--------2--2-------2--3---
2B :-------3---3--------3--3--------3--3-------3--3---
3G :-------2------------2-----------2----------2------
4D :---------------0-----------------------0----------
5A :--0-------------------------0---------------------
6E :--------------------------------------------------
Alright, there's the Basic Bluegrass Rhythm. Now, I'll show you how to tie those three examples together into a simple song. This leads into another important aspect of Bluegrass Rhythm Guitar, Walking Between Keys. When you Walk Between Keys all you are doing is steadily playing a rhythm while changing the key it's in. We'll use all the examples above and tie them together using Bass Runs. We'll start in G, but "Run Up" to C
      V    V   ^   V    V  ^    V   V  ^   V   V  ^   V   |BASS RUN|
1e :-------3---3--------3--3--------3--3-------3--3-----------------
2B :-------0---0--------0--0--------0--0-------0--0-----------------
3G :-------0------------0-----------0----------0--------------------
4D :----------------------------------------------------------------
5A :---------------2-----------------------2---------------0--2--3--
6E :--3-------------------------3---------------------3-------------
Now, we'll go from C and "Run Down" back to G
      V   ^   V    V  ^    V   V  ^   V   V  ^       |BASS RUN|
1e :--0---0--------0--0--------0--0-------0--0-----------------
2B :--1---1--------1--1--------1--1-------1--1-----------------
3G :--0------------0-----------0----------0--------------------
4D :----------2-----------------------2------------------------
5A :-----------------------3---------------------3----2--0-----
6E :--------------------------------------------------------3--
Now, We'll go from G and "Run Up" to D.
      V   ^   V    V  ^    V   V  ^   V   V  ^        |BASS RUN|
1e :--3---3--------3--3--------3--3-------3--3-------------------
2B :--0---0--------0--0--------0--0-------0--0-------------------
3G :--0------------0-----------0----------0----------------------
4D :----------------------------------------------------------0--
5A :----------2-----------------------2----------------2-3-4-----
6E :-----------------------3-------------------------------------
Now, We'll finish it up and go from D back to G
      V    V   ^   V    V  ^    |BASS RUN|
1e :-------2---2--------2--2--------------
2B :-------3---3--------3--3--------------
3G :-------2------------2-----------------
4D :---------------0----------------------
5A :--0-----------------------------------
6E :-----------------------------0--2--3--
That's a really fun and simple song to play that only uses 3 Chords, which by themselves aren't anything special but by mixing up how you strum them and throwing in a few notes between chords gives you a fun song to play.

More Keys

I'll post the runs to go between keys so you can play around with them
         G to C                            C to G
1e :---3-3---3-3----------0-0-      1e :---0-0---0-0--------3-3-        
2B :---0-0---0-0----------1-1-      2B :---1-1---1-1--------0-0- 
3G :---0-0---0-0----------0-0-      3G :---0-0---0-0--------0-0-
4D :--------------------------      4D :-------2----------------
5A :-------2-------0-2-3------      5A :-3------------2-0-------
6E :-3------------------------      6E :------------------3-----

         C to F                            F to C
1e :----0-0---------1-1----1-      1e :----1-1---------0-0-----0---        
2B :----1-1---------1-1----1-      2B :----1-1---------1-1-----1--- 
3G :----0-0---------2-2----2-      3G :----2-2---------0-0-----0---
4D :----2-2--0-2-3-----------      4D :-3------2-0-----2-2-----2---
5A :-3------------------3----      5A :-------------3--------------
6E :-------------------------      6E :---------------------3------

         G to D                            D to G
1e :----------2-2-----2-2---      1e :---2-2---2-2---------3---        
2B :----------3-3-----3-3---      2B :---3-3---3-3---------0--- 
3G :----------2-2-----2-2---      3G :---2-2---2-2---------0---
4D :-------0----------------      4D :-------0-----------------
5A :-2-3-4----------0-------      5A :-0-----------------------
6E :------------------------      6E :--------------0-2-3------

         D7 to G                           G to E7
1e :--------------3-----3--       1e :-------------0-0----0-
2B :--------------0-----0--       2B :-------------0-0----0-
3G :--------------0-----0--       3G :-------------1-1----1-
4D :-0---------------0-----       4D :-------------0-0----0-
5A :---3-2-0---------------       5A :------------------2---
6E :---------3-------------       6E :-3-3-2-1-0------------

         E7 to A7                           A7 to D7
1e :--------------0--0---0-       1e :---0--0---------2--2---2-
2B :--------------2--2---2-       2B :---2--2---------1--1---1-
3G :--------------0--0---0-       3G :---0--0---------2--2---2-
4D :--------------2--2---2-       4D :---2--2--4-2-0-----------
5A :----------0------------       5A :-0-------------------0---
6E :-0-2-3-4---------0-----       6E :-------------------------

Fills And Endings

Here are some fun little fills and endings that are common in Bluegrass Guitar that you can try and throw into other songs. I'll start off with the "G Run" also known as the "Flatt Run" is probably the most recognizable run in all of Bluegrass Guitar and some version of this riff is in nearly every Bluegrass song out there, I'll show it in G as well as C, D, A and E.
"The Flatt Run" in G
1e :------------------------------
2B :------------------------------
3G :----------------0-------------
4D :-----------0h2----------------
5A :-----0h2h2--------------------
6E :--3---------------------------

The "Flat Run" in C
1e :------------------------------
2B :-----------------1------------
3G :-----------0-2-0--------------
4D :-----0-1-2--------------------
5A :--3---------------------------
6E :------------------------------

The "Flatt Run" in D
1e :------------------------------
2B :-----------------3------------
3G :-----------2-4-2--------------
4D :--0--2-3-4--------------------
5A :------------------------------
6E :------------------------------

The "Flatt Run" in A
1e :------------------------------
2B :------------------------------
3G :-----------------2------------
4D :-----------2-4-2--------------
5A :--0--2-3-4--------------------
6E :------------------------------

The "Flatt Run" in E
1e :------------------------------
2B :------------------------------
3G :------------------------------
4D :-----------2-4-2--2-----------
5A :------------------------------
6E :--0--2-3-4--------------------
Here is other run that is used in Bluegrass, this next run is another well known riff called "Shave and a Haircut---Two Bits" in G & C.
Key of G
1e :----------------------
2B :----------------------
3G :--0---------------0---
4D :----0-0-2--0---4------
5A :----------------------
6E :----------------------

Key of C
1e :----------------------
2B :-1---------0---0--1---
3G :---0--0--2------------
4D :----------------------
5A :----------------------
6E :----------------------

Other Runs

Here are some various other runs used in Bluegrass, they have a nice bluegrassy/folk feel to them.
Key of C
1e :---------------------0-0---
2B :----1----------------1-1---
3G :-------2p0-----------0-0---
4D :------------1h2------------
5A :-3---------------3---------
6E :---------------------------

Key of C
1e :----------------------------0-
2B :-1-0-1-----1-0--------------1-
3G :-------0h2------2p0---------0-
4D :------------------------------
5A :--------------------3-2-0-----
6E :--------------------------3---

Key of C
1e :---0---0--------------------0-
2B :-4---4---3-1---------1h3-1--1-
3G :-------------2---0h2--------0-
4D :------------------------------
5A :------------------------------
6E :------------------------------

Key of G
1e :-------------------3----
2B :-----3-------------0----
3G :-2s4---4s2-0---0---0----
4D :-------------2----------
5A :------------------------
6E :------------------------

1e :------------------------0-
2B :-1--1-------------------1-
3G :------3--2--0h2---------0-
4D :----------------1h2-------
5A :--------------------3-----
6E :--------------------------
Those are a few runs to play around with anyhow. -------------------------------------------- Well, this concludes my lesson. Hopefully you'll have learned something new and this will give you a (very basic haha) taste of Bluegrass Guitar.
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