Basic Bluegrass Guitar

A Basic guide to Bluegrass Guitar.

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Ultimate Guitar
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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.

19 comments sorted by best / new / date

    spacebarman97
    what do the letters mean? i normally only read classical notes and not tablature. like the p and h. thanks
    larry.pruitt.50
    I am a beginner. Please tell me the beats on the 4/4 time. The bass note is the 1st beat. The first downstroke is the second and the upstroke is the third. Where is the fourth beat? When I play it, it sounds like 3/3 time to me?
    hiwaychild1
    one or two of those runs sound out of key. Im a guitarist turned banjo player so Its been a while but im about positive.
    quickdraw27
    I'm just starting. How do I read the strum pattern on the first four beats? It looks like picking the 3 (G bass note), then a V down strum (of all strings?) on the 2nd beat, then a V to strum down the 3 treble strings on third beat, then an upstroke of the 2 treble strings for 4th. Or are the V and ^ slightly off alignment and there are only 3 beats where I see four in the above? Thanks.
    musicmaker95
    THIS IS AMAZING!!!!! thank you so much! exactly what i have been looking for for the past 45 minutes! your amazing
    sroneill1797
    Very clear and concise. The run between chord switching is always something I needed to mess with to get right and this cleared it up for me. Thanks for taking the time.
    kennmi
    Great lesson, and i really like the part about the different types of bluegrass runs. my only comment is the walking bass-line is in between CHORDS, not KEYS, but other than that, really good!
    Dregen
    Wow. I've never listened to alot of bluegrass but I've always wanted to learn how to play rhythms like this. I never thought it would be this easy.
    Ahyoka
    WTF? damn this PC. Since I can't post my correction, just take out the "0h2h2" on the A String and make it a "0h2". Also, ignore bluegrass run in my previous comment. I'll make sure it goes into my next lesson. Sorry guys.
    Ahyoka
    Heh..whoopsie. My bad Joshua, that is a rather confusing typo. Here is the correction for the Flatt Run in G 1e :----- 2B :----- 3G :-----0----- 4D :-----0h2----- 5A :-----0h2----- 6E :--3----- Also, here is another bluegrassy riff I came up with I wanted to share with y'all. 1e :----- 2B :---0-1-1s3-3s1p0----- 3G :-----2p0-2s4-4s2p0----- 4D :-----2p0- 5A :----- 6E :----- One day when I have the time I hope to post a 2nd Bluegrass lesson and go into some songs.
    Acoustic721657
    The letters mean legato. For example: 0h2 means that you play the open string, then hammer your finger onto the 2nd fret. 2p0 means you play the string at the second fret, then pull your finger off so that you hear the second note. They are called hammer-ons and pull-offs. Hope this helped!