Grammy-winning guitarist Scott Nygaard is one of the most inventive and original flatpicking guitarists in the bluegrass/acoustic music scene.
His solos, a seamless amalgam of bluegrass, folk, and jazz influences, shift easily from breathtaking virtuosity to soulful melodic musings and his accompaniment is always intriguing, supportive, and propulsive.
Downbeat magazine called Scott “a phenomenally talented stylist.” He has performed and/or recorded with Tim O’Brien, Joan Baez, Chris Thile, Darol Anger, Jerry Douglas, Peter Rowan, Laurie Lewis, Anonymous 4, and many others, and has released two solo albums, No Hurry and Dreamer’s Waltz, on Rounder Records as well as self-produced albums with his band Crow Molly, Roger Tallroth and Scott Nygaard, and the Websters and Scott Nygaard. Scott was the guitarist on three recordings that have proven to be extremely influential on the contemporary acoustic music scene: Chris Thile’s Leading Off, Tim O’Brien’s Red on Blonde, and Jerry Douglas’s Slide Rule.
Formerly the editor of Acoustic Guitar magazine, Scott has written hundreds of articles on music, musicians, guitars, and guitarists for Acoustic Guitar, Strings, Play Guitar!, and Guitar World Acoustic; authored two instruction books, Bluegrass Guitar Essentials and Fiddle Tunes and Folk Songs for Beginning Guitar; produced an instructional video, Bluegrass Lead Guitar for Stefan Grossman's Guitar Workshop, and taught at most of the United States’ best-known bluegrass and/or guitar workshops. Scott is co-founder and editor of Peghead Nation.
This Flatt and Scruggs song is a great example of a medium tempo bluegrass song played with a country swing feel. You'll learn a strum pattern that helps accent the swing feel, as well as some bass runs to use at the ends of phrases. With Lyrics, Chords, and Rhythm Notation/Tab
Roots and Bluegrass Rhythm Guitar Lessons
A Roots and Bluegrass Rhythm Guitar subscription includes:
More than 30 in-depth rhythm guitar video lessons
Tab/notation with rhythm patterns and bass runs for every lesson
More than 20 complete songs with chords and lyrics
Lessons in bluegrass, old-time, country, country rock, and western swing styles
High-quality video with multiple camera angles so you can see closeups of both hands in action
New lessons added every month
Get started now!Use promo code ScottLand at checkout and get your first month free or $20 off an annual subscription. Subscribe to the Roots and Bluegrass Rhythm Guitar course today for access to all of these guitar lessons and new material every month!
RHYTHM BASICS Get started right with in-depth lessons on holding the flatpick, the basics of boom-chuck rhythm, and downstroke and upstroke technique
Holding the Flatpick While there are many ways to hold the flatpick, it’s important that your hand and arm should be comfortable with as little tension as possible. Scott demonstrates his way of holding the pick and talks about things you should think about in order to play with minimal tension and get the best tone, including where and at what angle your pick hits the strings, how your arm and hand move together, and how to choose a pick.
Bluegrass Rhythm Basics The underlying boom-chuck rhythm of bluegrass and old-time country guitar playing has been at the heart of old-time and bluegrass guitar since the dawn of recorded country music. Learn the basic pattern and some variations, as well as the classic Lester Flatt G-run, and use them to play the bluegrass standard “Long Journey Home.”
Pick Technique: Downstrokes and Upstrokes An in-depth look at the mechanics of pick technique, starting first with the downstroke and the different ways you can play the bass note of a boom-chuck strum. You’ll learn about the importance of the rest stroke in bluegrass guitar technique, the arm movement required to play an upstroke strum after a downstroke bass note, and the disadvantages of playing bass notes with a “bounce stroke.” Then you’ll look at the mechanics of upstrokes, which are important not only for playing melodies, but for rhythm guitarists trying to lock in with the rhythmic feel and for communicating how much “swing” a song has.
ROOTS AND BLUEGRASS SONGS
Some Old Day This great Flatt and Scruggs song was recorded by JD Crowe and the New South on their classic self-titled album, with Tony Rice singing lead. It's a great example of a medium tempo bluegrass song played with a light swing feel. You'll learn a strum pattern that helps accent the swing feel, as well as some bass runs to use at the ends of phrases.
The Storms Are on the Ocean This classic Carter Family song is great for working on your waltz (or 3/4 time) rhythm. You’ll learn a couple variations on a boom-chuck-chuck 3/4 strum pattern, as well as some bass runs in the key of C. Scott also talks about a couple of different approaches to playing in 3/4 time, from an aggressive rhythmic approach that might work well for a dance to the more gentle approach that works well for a mournful song like “The Storms Are on the Ocean.”
Jambalaya Learn a straight-eighths country/country-rock feel to play the Hank Williams classic “Jambalaya.” “Straight-eighths” means that the eighth notes are played evenly, not swung, as in some previous lessons. “Jambalaya” was recorded by Hank Williams in the key of C, and Emmylou Harris recorded a great country-rock version in the key of A. You’ll learn it using key-of-A chord shapes, capoed at the third fret, which puts it in the key of C. In addition to a simple straight-eighths strum pattern, you’ll learn a rock-oriented bass pattern that can be fun to play during an instrumental or behind another singer.
If No News Is Good News Learn some simple Western swing–style closed chords to play this Bob Wills classic. The chords on the verses of “If No News Is Good News” are basically just D, G, and A, but you can use closed chords to get a swingin’ rhythm sound. You’ll also get advice on how to lift your fingers off the chord right after you play it to get a percussive “sock” rhythm sound. The bridge of “If No News Is Good News” ends with a short circle-of-fifths progression—B7–E7–A7–D7, which you’ll play using closed chords, with advice on how to negotiate those quick chord changes.
I’ll Stay Around The Flatt and Scruggs song “I’ll Stay Around” is a bluegrass classic, with great recordings by Ricky Skaggs, Tony Rice, and many others. Scott uses “I’ll Stay Around” to show you a few contemporary bluegrass rhythm techniques, including some new bass runs and an accented strum that’s a good way to mark the beginning of a verse or instrumental solo. You’ll also learn to refer to chords by Roman numerals (I, IV, V) instead of letter names, so you can transpose songs to different keys more easily.
Rove Riley Rove Getting a good, consistent and punchy boom-chuck is a matter of repetition, hours and hours of it. But practicing such a seemingly simple thing can be difficult by itself. The best way to practice rhythm guitar is with other people—behind a fiddle player, for example—but another good way to practice your basic boom-chuck groove is to learn simple songs that have a lot of verses and just a few chord changes. “Rove Riley Rove” is one of those: a great old-time song that’s fun to sing and play with just a couple of chord changes, in this case A and D.
Angel from Montgomery The John Prine classic “Angel from Montgomery” is a good song to learn to work on two things: a medium-tempo rock strum pattern that Scott calls the “Neil Young strum” and an anticipated strum used when a chord change is played before the downbeat of the measure.
Dark Hollow The bluegrass standard “Dark Hollow” is a favorite among a wide swath of roots musicians. In this lesson, you’ll learn some “stealth” chords you can add to the main G, C, and D voicings: G7, G9, Cadd9, Dsus2, etc. Played as the main voicings, these chords would give the song a completely different (contemporary or jazzy) sound, but played as “color” chords (quick variations of the main chords) they create variety without significantly changing the bluegrass feel and sound of the song.
“Trouble in Mind” Swing Style Learn to play basic swing chords using a Western swing version of the jazz/blues standard “Trouble in Mind” It’s an eight-bar blues form, but the chords you’ll use to play “Trouble in Mind” swing style are G6, D7, G6/B, C6, C#dim, E7, Am7, C9, and Daug, with closed voicings you can use to play numerous swing songs. You’ll also get tips on moving between chords smoothly by figuring out which fingers stay in the same place and which fingers change positions as you move from chord to chord.
Someday Steve Earle’s hit song “Someday,” from his 1986 debut, Guitar Town, has a cool riff that serves as an intro, ending, and instrumental interlude, and is also played at the ends of the lines of verses. As rhythm guitarists it’s often helpful to be able to play riffs or simple melodies like this. In this lesson, you’ll learn the riff to “Someday” and a medium tempo rock groove that can be played with all downstrokes or with a combination of downstrokes and down-up strums.
I Know What It Means to Be Lonesome The bluegrass song “I Know What It Means to Be Lonesome” has a circle-of-fifths progression similar to “Salty Dog Blues” and others. The chord progression is C–A–G–D–C and you’ll learn some one-measure bass runs that lead into each new chord, as well as a couple longer runs and patterns that last for two measures.
Green Pastures The great bluegrass singer and banjoist Ralph Stanley’s “mountain music” was a major influence on the development of bluegrass. You’ll learn the gospel song “Green Pastures,” which was introduced to the bluegrass world by Ralph’s recording. It’s a fast waltz with some unusual phrasing, and you’ll learn a couple of variations on the waltz strum pattern that allow you to drive the rhythm along.
Baby, Now That I’ve Found You Alison Krauss’ hit recording of the ‘60s pop song “Baby, Now That I’ve Found You” uses some sus2 and add9 chords that come in handy when playing more contemporary bluegrass and country songs. You’ll learn the arpeggiated intro of the song, which includes a descending bass line, as well as all of the chords you’ll need to play “Baby, Now That I’ve Found You,” including Dus2, Cadd9, G6/B and Gm6/Bb. You’ll also learn what those chord names mean and how to turn the intro’s arpeggiated single-note pattern into the strum you’ll use to play the rest of the song.
Flora, the Lily of the West The traditional Irish song “Lily of the West” was recorded by numerous American folk greats in the 1960s, and Tim O’Brien recorded a bluegrass version that you’ll learn in this lesson. It’s in A minor capoed up two frets, putting it in the key of B minor, and you’ll learn a cool intro riff that corresponds to the first line of the song, which you can play as an intro as well as an interlude between verses.
“Tomorrow Is a Long Time” with Hybrid Picking In this lesson, you’ll learn a style of “hybrid picking” in which you use your pick and one or two fingers to imitate fingerpicking, in particular the fingerpicking patterns Bob Dylan used to play his song “Tomorrow Is a Long Time.” In hybrid picking, your flatpick plays the bass notes that a fingerpicker would play with the thumb, while you play treble notes with one or two fingers of your picking hand.
FIDDLE TUNE BACKUP AND BASS RUNS
Fiddle Tune Backup In these three lessons, you´ll learn three styles of fiddle-tune backup: bluegrass, old-time, and Texas (also called “contest” or Western swing) style. Scott is joined by Peghead Nation fiddle instructor Chad Manning, who plays the fiddle tune standard “Sally Gooden” in A so Scott can demonstrate each style. In bluegrass style, you’ll use a capo at the second fret along with the standard bluegrass G chord shape and strum pattern. In old-time style you’ll play “Sally Gooden” without a capo, which allows you to use the low E in your alternating bass pattern. Texas-style backup evolved from 1940s and ’50s Western swing guitarists who used swing-style “sock” chords to back up fiddle tunes. The style features a moving bass line with passing chords, often using two chords per measure, even when the basic chord progression remains on one chord, as in “Sally Gooden.”
Bass Runs In this series of lessons, you’ll get a thorough grounding in playing bass runs that connect chords. The two main things to think about when creating bass runs are where you’re going and how long you have to get there. With that in mind, you’ll learn the G major scale on the bass strings and a series of two-beat bass runs (runs lasting two beats of a 4/4 measure) that connect the I, IV, and V chords in the key of G.
MORE ROOTS AND BLUEGRASS SONGS
Comes a Time Neil Young’s song “Comes a Time” has an interesting chord progression and is good for practicing one-quarter-note bass runs and a new strum pattern: bass strum _up down-up. You’ll also get advice on playing Bm barre chords and the unusual Dm7 chord Neil plays at the end of the chorus.
Milwaukee Blues The old-time song “Milwaukee Blues,” recorded by North Carolina singer/banjo player Charlie Poole in 1930, is a great song for working on more of the two-beat bass runs covered in the bass runs lessons. You’ll learn how to create more elaborate bass runs by substituting two eighth notes for one of the two quarter notes in the two-beat bass runs. “Milwaukee Blues” is in the key of C, so you’ll learn bass runs that connect C, G, and F chords, first by playing two eighth notes instead of the first quarter note, and then by playing two eighth notes instead of the second quarter note. You’ll also learn how to use these runs when you’re just staying on one chord.
Old Home Place The bluegrass standard “Old Home Place” was written by Dean Webb and Mitch Jayne and the Dillards and was famously recorded by J.D. Crowe and the New South, when that seminal 1970s bluegrass band included Tony Rice, Ricky Skaggs, and Jerry Douglas. It has a few chords not often heard in bluegrass, including a B7 in the key of G. You’ll also learn a few four-beat bass runs that connect the G and D chords, as well as the A (II) chord in the bridge.
Mr. Engineer Jimmy Martin’s train song “Mr. Engineer” has been recorded by Tony Rice and others, and is a good song for demonstrating bluegrass bass runs in 3/4 time. You’ll learn some modified G runs that fit well in 3/4 as well as some nice bass runs between G, C, and D chords. Since “Mr. Engineer” is not only a waltz but also has a swing/shuffle feel, some of the runs you learn will include triplets, and you’ll learn how to use slurs (slides, hammer-ons, and pull-offs) to play triplets with just two pick strokes.
Pretty Polly The traditional ballad “Pretty Polly” has been recorded by numerous musicians, including Ralph Stanley, the Byrds, Tim O’Brien, and many others. “Pretty Polly” is usually played with just one main chord and it’s often sung using a straight minor pentatonic scale, but many singers use both the minor and major third for more of a bluesy sound. In this lesson, you’ll learn to play “Pretty Polly” in dropped-D tuning with a few different bass runs and fills. You’ll also learn a cool “capo trick” you can use if you want to get the sound of dropped-D tuning in the key of E by using a partial capo that covers just the top five strings.
Gentle on My Mind John Hartford’s song “Gentle on My Mind” was a hit for Glen Campbell in the 1960s, but it remains popular among roots musicians. It’s a fun song to play and deceptively simple, with just two main chords, but it has a cool descending melodic line that runs through those chords. In this lesson, you’ll learn some voicings of the two chords (D and Em in the key of D) that allow you to play that descending line and a boom-chuck, _a-chuck-a strum pattern that you can play with an emphasis on the treble strings.
PLAYING WITH A BAND It’s essential when playing rhythm in a band to listen to your fellow musicians and be able react to what they’re playing in order to create a solid groove, especially in a bluegrass band where the various rhythmic duties of the instruments change during the course of a song, with some instruments playing solos, some players focusing more on singing, etc. Scott gives you advice about how you can change your playing to make a band work better depending on what the other instruments are doing. He also talks about how to approach playing with a band if you’re the lead singer, in which case you will need to focus more on your singing than what the other instruments are doing.
EVEN MORE ROOTS AND BLUEGRASS SONGS
Church Street Blues Norman Blake plays his song “Church Street Blues” out of C position but with a capo high up the neck at the seventh fret. He takes advantage of the high ringing sound you can get in this position by playing lots of full strums and ringing chords, including a couple of unusual voicings that allow those high strings to ring out. You’ll learn a short intro that imitates the way Norman plays his more-elaborate solo, as well as the chord voicings and strums he plays throughout the song.
Roots and Bluegrass Source Material
Check out these songs featured in the Roots and Bluegrass Rhythm Guitar course.