Country Blues Basics Part 7: How do I play alternating bass on guitar?

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Rhythm is consistently making a sound at the right time. The only way to achieve this is through practice— luckily, you can practice alternating bass while watching TV or talking to your friends.

The more you get the basic thumb movement drilled in, the easier this style of music will be to play.

In an alternating bass, the bass notes you want to hit will be different, depending on what chord you are playing at a given time. A good rule of thumb is if you’re holding down a note, it’s good to play, although it may not be the right time to play it.

The bottom line is to follow your ears. 

Remember to keep your hand holding down the chord as you play an alternating bass. Anchoring your fretting hand will let you focus on your right hand technique and keep the bass going.

Hold down an E chord to get started :

E Chord
E chord

Alternating bass is characterized by hitting a lower note and then a higher bass note to give a moving rhythmic feel.

For the E chord, hit the open 6th string to get the low E, and then the 4th string, 2nd fret to get a higher E bass note.

Below is the bass tabbed out for an E chord. Notice you are hitting an open string on the 1st and 3rd beat of a measure. The open 6th string is an E note, and is also the lowest note on the guitar. You typically want the lowest pitch of the chord’s root note to be played on the 1st and 3rd beat.

Screen Shot 2018-07-04 at 12.12.35 PM

Once you get the basic motion of moving between two strings, try playing the bass pattern for a 12 bar blues in E (you will need E, A, B7 chords,).

Keep in mind that the 1st and 3rd note in an alternating bass over an a chord, is an open 5th string. Just like with an E chord, this is because the open 5th string is the lowest A note you can play on a guitar.

Pay attention to what bass notes you need to hit:

Screen Shot 2018-07-04 at 12.22.33 PM

Here is a video of the progression 3 times through, with some melody notes added in the last time to show you how you can apply this lesson:

If you feel you can play this alternating bass pattern consistently, try it with other chord progressions in the 5 common blues keys. Here are the typical notes you would hit for every chord in an alternating bass pattern:

Screen Shot 2018-07-04 at 1.43.36 PM

If you’ve got these patterns down, toss a melody note or two in while keeping the rhythm going. 

A listener may not notice if you play the wrong note, but will definitely notice bad rhythm.

Next, let’s try applying what you’ve learned to a song called Catfish Blues. Learning this song well will definitely level up your country blues rhythm, and you’ll learn an awesome song in the process!

1 comments on “Country Blues Basics Part 7: How do I play alternating bass on guitar?”

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