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.
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 two-beat bass runs. 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 runs. With Lyrics, Chords, and Rhythm Notation/Tab
Peghead Nation is creating a library of accompaniment videos (and downloadable MP3s) for songs and tunes that are taught on the site, classics that you'll find at many jams and picking parties. As a subscriber, you have access to this library and can use the tracks to practice playing tunes and songs at a slow or medium tempo with guitar accompaniment. New songs will be added regularly.
Roots and Bluegrass Rhythm Guitar Lessons
Subscribe to Roots and Bluegrass Rhythm Guitar today and get access to all of these lessons! All Roots and Bluegrass Rhythm Guitar lessons include lyrics, chords, and tab.
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.
Bluegrass Rhythm Basics, Part 1: Boom-Chuck and G-Runs The underlying rhythm of bluegrass and old-time country guitar playing is often called boom-chuck, which you'll learn in this lesson, along with the classic G-run. With Notation and Tablature
Bluegrass Rhythm Basics, Part 2: “Long Journey Home” Put all the bluegrass rhythm techniques you’ve learned together in backing up a song: the Monroe Brothers’ classic “Long Journey Home.” With Lyrics, Chords, and Rhythm Notation/Tab
Pick Technique: Downstrokes and Bass Notes Scott looks at the mechanics of pick technique in depth, starting first with the downstroke and the different ways you can play the bass note of a boom-chuck strum. He talks 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.”
Pick Technique: Upstrokes and Swing Upstrokes are important not only for flatpickers playing fiddle tunes and bluegrass solos, but for rhythm guitarists trying to lock in with the rhythmic feel of the people they’re playing with as well as for communicating how much “swing” a song has.
ROOTS AND BLUEGRASS SONGS
Some Old Day
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 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. Scott plays the song in D and looks at some different ways to finger the A and A7 chords. Finally, he sings the whole song through so you can play along with him. With Lyrics, Chords, and Rhythm Notation/Tab
The Storms Are on the Ocean
The Storms Are on the Ocean The classic Carter Family song “The Storms Are on the Ocean” is a great song to work 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 talks about a couple of different approaches to playing in 3/4 time, from an aggressive rhythmic approach that might work well for dancers to the more gentle approach that works well for a mournful song like “The Storms Are on the Ocean.” Scott plays the song through with a couple of verses and choruses, but the lyric sheet includes the five verses that the Carter Family sang. With Lyrics, Chords, and Rhythm Notation/Tab
Jambalaya, Part 1 In this lesson you’ll learn a straight-eighths country or country-rock feel to play on the Hank Williams classic “Jambalaya.” “Straight-eighths” means that the eighth notes are played evenly, not swung, as in some of the previous lessons. This feel is used in a lot of country, rock, and country rock. “Jambalaya” was recorded by Hank Williams in the key of C, and it’s been recorded and performed by countless musicians. Emmylou Harris recorded a great country-rock version in the key of A. Scott plays using key of A shapes, capoed at the third fret, which puts it in the key of C. In this first video, you’ll learn a simple straight-eighths strum pattern, along with some simple variations, and a couple of ways to finger the A and E chords. Then Scott sings a verse and chorus so you can see how those patterns work with the song. With Lyrics, Chords, and Rhythm Notation/Tab
Jambalaya, Part 2 In this second video, you’ll learn a rock-oriented bass pattern, and a couple variations. This may be too complicated to play while you’re singing but it can be a cool rhythm to play during an instrumental or behind someone else’s singing. Scott gives you some tips on playing this pattern and then sings the whole song through so you can play and sing along with him. With Lyrics, Chords, and Rhythm Notation/Tab
If No News Is Good News
If No News Is Good News, Part 1 Learn some simple Western swing–style closed chords using this Bob Wills classic. The verses of “If No News Is Good News” are basically just D, G, and A chords, but Scott shows you some closed chords you can use to get a swing rhythm sound, starting with a D7 for the initial D chord and then a G chord using your thumb on the low G bass note instead of a barre chord. He also shows you a swing-style voicing for A7 and a D6 chord you can use instead of D. You’ll also get advice on how to lift your fingers off the chord right after you play it to get a percussive swing rhythm sound. With Chord and Lyric Sheet
If No News Is Good News, Part 2 The form of “If No News Is Good News” is AABA, like many jazz standards. You learned the chords to the A part in the first video, but the bridge or B part has some new chords, including a G6 and a short circle-of-fifths progression: B7–E7–A7–D7. You’ll learn to play a new G6 voicing, but you can use the seven-chord voicings you played in the A part for the B7 and E7. Scott also gives you advice on how to negotiate those quick chord changes at the end of the bridge and ends by singing the entire song through. With Chord and Lyric Sheet
I’ll Stay Around
I’ll Stay Around, Part 1 The Flatt and Scruggs song “I’ll Stay Around” is a bluegrass classic, with great recordings by Ricky Skaggs, Tony Rice, Tim Stafford, and many others. Scott uses “I’ll Stay Around” to show you a few contemporary bluegrass rhythm techniques, including a few 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 move to different keys more easily. Then Scott walks you through the accented strum and a couple of bass runs that include some eighth notes but that are played primarily with downstroke rest strokes to give them power. With Lyrics, Chords, and Rhythm Notation/Tab
I’ll Stay Around, Part 2 Banjo player Bill Evans joins Scott in this video so you can see how some of the bass runs and the accented strum you learned in Part 1 sound behind a soloist. Scott also talks about the importance in a bluegrass band of locking in with the banjo, since the banjo player is often playing a steady stream of eighth notes. To get the groove right, the guitar player’s eighth notes need to have the same amount of swing (or no swing) as the banjo player. Then Scott and Bill play through “I’ll Stay Around.” With Lyrics, Chords, and Rhythm Notation/Tab
Rove Riley Rove
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. You can practice it with a metronome, which is certainly a good idea, but the best way to practice rhythm guitar is with other people. If you can find a fiddle player or other instrumentalist who wants practice playing their tunes, offer to go back them up for an evening. Jam sessions are good practice, too, but it can be easy to get lost in the din of a jam without really knowing whether you’re playing in time or not. Another good way to practice your basic boom-chuck groove is to learn some simple songs that have a lot of verses and just a few chord changes, so you can practice your rhythm without having to worry about anything other than what your picking hand is doing. “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. Scott gives you advice on “keeping it simple” and then plays and sings “Rove Riley Rove” so you can play along. With Lyrics, Chords, and Rhythm Notation/Tab
Angel from Montgomery
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. Scott starts by showing you the “Neil Young strum” and then plays the verse through using that strum. The anticipated strum happens at the ends of the second and fourth lines of the verse, on the D–G chord change. Scott shows you how to play this and how to make sure you don’t rush the second measure of the pattern. He also shows you short bass run you can use with the basic strum pattern. With Lyrics, Chords, and Rhythm Notation/Tab
Color Chords and “Dark Hollow” The bluegrass standard “Dark Hollow” was recorded by Mac Wiseman and Ralph Stanley in the 1960s and Peter Rowan and the Grateful Dead both recorded it in the early ’70s, making it a favorite among a wide swath of roots musicians. In this lesson, Scott shows you 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. With Lyrics, Chords, and Rhythm Notation/Tab
Trouble in Mind
“Trouble in Mind” Swing Style, Part 1 The blues standard “Trouble in Mind” has been played in all sorts of styles: old-time, blues, jazz, and Western swing. The Western swing version makes a good song to demonstrate some basic swing chords, which you’ll learn in this lesson. Scott plays it through so you can get the basic chordal structure and then shows you how to finger each of the chords you’ll use to play “Trouble in Mind” swing style: G6, D7, G6/B, C6, C#dim, E7, Am7, C9, and Daug. With Chord and Lyric Sheet
“Trouble in Mind” Swing Style, Part 2 In the second part of this basic swing lesson, Scott gives you 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. You’ll also learn a couple variations on the basic swing rhythm pattern, including a strum with all downstrokes that allows the notes of the chord to ring out. Scott also shows you how to play short one-note and two-note bass runs into each chord, and finishes by singing a few verses of “Trouble in Mind” so you can play (and sing) along. With Chord and Lyric Sheet
Someday, Part 1 Steve Earle’s classic 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 to make your arrangement more interesting. In this lesson, you’ll learn the riff to “Someday,” which has a medium tempo rock groove that can be played with all downstrokes or with a combination of downstrokes and down-up strums. With Lyrics, Chords, and Rhythm Notation/Tab
Someday, Part 2 The second half of the riff that begins “Someday” is played after each line of the verse, and some of the lyric lines begin soon after you play the riff, so it’s important to figure out where each line of the verse starts. Scott shows you where to start each verse line and then sings and plays the whole song through so you can play and sing along. With Lyrics, Chords, and Rhythm Notation/Tab
I Know What It Means to Be Lonesome
I Know What It Means to Be Lonesome, Part 1: Bass Runs The bluegrass song “I Know What It Means to Be Lonesome” has a circle-of-fifths progression similar to “Salty Dog Blues” and others, which makes it a good song for using longer bass runs that keep the progression moving forward around the circle. Scott explains the chord progression (C–A–G–D–C), and shows you some one-measure bass runs that lead into each new chord. He also shows you a couple longer runs and patterns that last for two measures. With Lyrics, Chords, and Rhythm Notation/Tab
I Know What It Means to Be Lonesome, Part 2 Most of the runs you learned in Part 1 would be too busy to play while you’re singing, but they’ll work well behind another singer or an instrumental solo, so Scott brings in dobro player Mike Witcher so he can play the bass runs behind Mike’s solos. He begins by walking you through the phrasing and melody of the verses, which are a little bit different from each other, and finishes by playing and singing “I Know What It Means to Be Lonesome” with Mike. With Lyrics, Chords, and Rhythm Notation/Tab
Green Pastures The great bluegrass singer and banjoist Ralph Stanley passed away recently. His self-described “mountain music” was a major influence on the development of bluegrass. In this lesson, you’ll learn the gospel song “Green Pastures,” also called “Going Up Home to Live in Green Pastures,” which was introduced to the bluegrass world by Ralph’s recording. It’s a fast waltz with some unusual phrasing. Scott starts by showing you a couple of variations on the waltz strum pattern that allow you to drive the rhythm along. He also points out the phrasing of the melody, in which each of the first three phrases consist of three bars of 3/4. You’ll also learn a couple of bass runs to play at the end of the verse/chorus on G chord and halfway through the verse/chorus on the D chord. With Lyrics, Chords, and Rhythm Notation/Tab
Baby, Now That I’ve Found You
Baby, Now That I’ve Found You, Part 1 Alison Krauss had a hit with the ‘60s pop song “Baby, Now That I’ve Found You,” which is also the title of her Grammy-winning 1995 collection. It uses some sus2 and add9 chords that come in handy when playing more contemporary bluegrass and country songs, and has a great arpeggiated intro with a descending bass line. Scott starts by showing you how to play the intro, which uses some chords you’ll use a lot in the song, including Dus2, Cadd9, G6/B and Gm6/Bb. He also explains what those chord names mean, and then shows you how to turn the intro’s arpeggiated single-note pattern into the strum you’ll use to play the rest of the song. You’ll also learn the rest of the chords to the chorus (E7, Gsus2, and Asus2) in this video. With Lyrics, Chords, and Rhythm Notation/Tab
Baby, Now That I’ve Found You, Part 2 You’ll learn the chords to the bridge of “Baby, Now That I’ve Found You” in this video. The bridge starts with some chords you’ve already learned, Dsus, G, and Asus, but introduces an Em7 chord, and then halfway through modulates to the key of B for a few bars. Scott shows you how to finger each of the chords and finishes by playing the song through. With Lyrics, Chords, and Rhythm Notation/Tab
Flora, the Lily of the West
Flora, the Lily of the West The traditional Irish song “Lily of the West” was recorded by numerous American folk greats in the 1960s, including Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and Peter, Paul, and Mary. Tim O’Brien recorded a bluegrass version and that’s the version you’ll learn in this lesson. It’s in a minor key, and Scott plays it out of A minor capoed up two frets, putting in the key of B minor (Tim plays it in C minor). You’ll learn a cool intro riff that corresponds to the first line of the song and that you can play as an intro as well as an interlude between verses. The intro is a little tricky with some down-up picking, hammer-ons, and slides. Scott walks you through the intro slowly and plays it a few times so you can play along. The timing of “Flora, the Lily of the West” is a little unusual, with a measure of 2/4 in each line. Scott shows you how to count this, and how it works with the chords, and then sings through a few verses so you can play (and sing) along. With Lyrics, Chords, and Rhythm Notation/Tab
Fiddle Tune Backup
Fiddle Tune Backup, Part 1: Bluegrass Style In this lesson, 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” so Scott can demonstrate each style, starting with bluegrass. “Sally Gooden” is in the key of A and is mostly played with just one chord, with the addition of a quick V chord, or bass run that substitutes for the V chord, at the end of each four-bar phrase. In bluegrass style, you’ll use a capo at the second fret along with the standard bluegrass G chord shape and strum pattern. You’ll also learn a couple of different bass runs you can use for the V chord turnaround. With Notation/Tab
Fiddle Tune Backup, Part 2: Old-Time Style In this example of old-time style fiddle-tune backup, Scott plays “Sally Gooden” without a capo, using open A chord shapes. Playing without a capo allows you to use the low E in your alternating bass pattern, and is good to use when you don’t have a bass player, so you can really emphasize the lowest bass notes and get a solid alternating bass pattern going. Scott shows you a couple different ways to finger an open A chord, which are good to know when you’re holding one chord for a long time. You’ll also learn a couple of old-time-style bass runs that use the low E string. With Notation/Tab
Fiddle Tune Backup, Part 3: Texas Style Texas-style backup evolved from 1940s and ’50s Western swing guitarists who used swing-style “sock” chords to back up fiddle tunes (as well as swing tunes and songs). It has become the primary style of fiddle backup at fiddle contests in Texas and the Western US, and 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.” The chord shapes you’ll use are the same you learned in the lesson on playing “Trouble in Mind,” so if you haven’t learned them, it would be good to get them under your fingers before tackling this lesson, as the chords will change much faster when playing at fiddle-tune tempos. With Notation/Tab
Tomorrow Is a Long Time
“Tomorrow Is a Long Time” with Hybrid Picking, Part 1 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 essence, in hybrid picking, your flatpick will play 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. Scott walks you through the technique, showing you a couple of simple patterns on C and C7 chords, and also shows you a hybrid technique in which you use your pick to play one of the treble-string notes. With Lyrics, Chords, and Rhythm Notation/Tab
“Tomorrow Is a Long Time” with Hybrid Picking, Part 2 Now that you’ve learned some hybrid-picking patterns to use on Bob Dylan’s “Tomorrow Is a Long Time,” Scott shows you the chord voicings you’ll use, including a couple of different ways to play an F chord, and then plays and sings the whole song all the way through, so you can play and sing along. With Lyrics, Chords, and Rhythm Notation/Tab
Bass Runs, Part 1: Scale and Chord Theory In this lesson, you’ll get a thorough lesson 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. In this lesson you’ll learn bass runs that connect the I, IV, and V chords (G, C, and D) in the key of G, so Scott gets you started playing the G major scale in open position. You’ll learn two fingerings: one you’ll play if you’re on a C chord (with your first finger on the first fret) and one you’ll play if you’re playing a “bluegrass” G chord, with your first finger on the second fret. You’ll also learn what notes are in the G, C, and D chords and how the notes in the G major scale correspond to the notes in the chords. With Notation/Tab
Bass Runs, Part 2: Two-Beat Bass Runs, G and C Chords In this lesson you’ll learn a bunch of two-beat bass runs that connect G and C chords, moving from G to C and C to G. Scott shows you the runs and gives you advice about shifting positions. He also talks about the underlying philosophy of creating bass runs so that, even though you’ll learn a lot of specific bass runs that connect G and C in this lesson, you’ll be able to come up with your own runs as well. With Notation/Tab
Bass Runs, Part 3: Two-Beat Bass Runs, G and D Chords In this lesson you’ll learn some two-beat bass runs that connect G and D chords (the I and V chords in the key of G). Scott shows you a number of bass runs that move from G to D as well as bass runs that move back to G from D. With Notation/Tab
Comes a Time
Comes a Time Neil Young’s song “Comes a Time” has an interesting chord progression and is a good song to practice one-quarter-note bass runs and a new strum pattern: bass strum _up down-up. Scott walks you through the strum pattern and then shows how that strum pattern gets you ready to play a one-note bass run into chords. Scott also gives you advice on playing Bm barre chords and the unusual Dm7 chord at the end of the chorus. He finishes by playing and singing the entire song. With Lyrics, Chords, and Rhythm Notation/Tab
Milwaukee Blues, Part 1 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. In this lesson, Scott shows you 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 Scott shows you bass runs that go from C to G and then G to C, 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. He starts by making sure you know the C major scale, and then shows you a number of C–G and G–C bass runs. With Lyrics, Chords, and Rhythm Notation/Tab
Milwaukee Blues, Part 2 In this video, Scott shows you how to use eighth notes on both beats of the two-beat bass runs to get four-note bass runs from C to G and G to C. He also shows you how to use these runs when you’re just staying on one chord. For example, all of the G–C bass runs can be used on the C chord at the end of a verse or when you have a pause in the melody to punctuate. There are two long pauses in the melody of “Milwaukee Blues,” one on an F chord and one on a C chord, and Scott shows you a couple of cool bass runs you can play in those places. He finishes by singing and playing a few verses of “Milwaukee Blues.” With Lyrics, Chords, and Rhythm Notation/Tab
Roots and Bluegrass Source Material
Check out these songs featured in the Roots and Bluegrass Rhythm Guitar course.