Tag: How to

Country Blues Basics Part 12: What is monotonic Bass?

Monotonic bass literally means single tone. In practice, it is the technique of playing a single note over a song’s melody. It gives songs a driving, down home feel as opposed to the bouncy feel of an alternating bass. 

Alternating bass is much better to learn first so you can really free up the thumb and begin to understand which bass notes are appropriate to play over a chord.

The end goal of these lessons is to truly free up the thumb and allow you to switch between alternating and monotonic bass to create the foundation YOU want to create while you play country blues music. 

You will hear monotonic bass a lot in Texas blues— check out Mance Lipscomb and Lightnin Hopkins to hear this technique in practice.

To demonstrate the monotonic bass, I will be playing Hey Hey by Big Bill Broonzy. Pay attention to the switching of what note is played depending on what chord I am playing. 

Hey Hey is in the key of E. I play the open low E string over the E sections (I chord), the open A string over the A sections (IV chord), and I play F# over the B section (V chord).

The B chord I use is the A chord shape below, moved up two frets. 

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Here is the demonstration:

Notice how I play single notes in the bass over the melody. I do not switch between the 1st and 3rd strings as I would while using the alternating bass technique.

Learning how to play this type of bass should be relatively straight forward. You will be using the same chord shapes, and in many respects, the thumb movement is simpler. 

In the next lesson we will be applying this technique to Robert Johnson’s blues standard Me and the Devil Blues. 

Country Blues Basics Part 9: How do I add melody to an alternating bass?

Melody is like an ornament on a house.

The ornament needs a foundation to shine and be framed. Rhythm is the foundation that allows melody to be comprehensible. 

The good news is that melody is simple to add over an alternating bass pattern. A basic alternating bass pattern is typically divided into 4 beats. Melody notes can only be played in between beats or at the same time as a beat.

You can play melody on the high strings with one finger, two fingers, or three. I find all three approaches to be useful depending on what sound I’m going for. However, when I started playing country blues, I used three fingers

I have written a simple melody below without an alternating bass. It should be relatively simple to play:

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Now play it with the alternating bass added in:

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Looking at a country blues song tabbed out can be intimidating.

A consistent bass figure and melody notes make a simple song look complicated when written out. Try breaking the song into pieces; figure out what’s happening in the bass, and then just add the melody on top.

In the next lesson you will learn to play the song Delta Momma Blues. It will teach you a great song, but also give you an exercise in adding melody notes to an alternating bass pattern.