This is the place to ask questions, request songs, and interact with your fellow rhythm guitarists.
September 28, 2015
Welcome to Peghead Nation's Roots and Bluegrass Rhythm Guitar course. Whether or not you aspire to play fast and flashy bluegrass solos or sing your favorite songs, becoming a good rhythm guitar player is essential. You can use this page to let me know how the course is going, if there are songs or styles you want to learn, and post any questions you have about specific lessons, general guitar technique, or the course in general. Hope to hear from you as you make your journey to rhythm mastery.
Comments and Discussion
We're mostly going to be concentrating on open-position chords and runs in this course, since that's where most bluegrass and roots rhythm guitar is played. I will get into some movable chords in an upcoming lesson, and I will talk about open-position scales in future lessons, since it is helpful to know those as you're working on bass runs. If you're interested in more chord theory, you might check out Mark Goldenberg's Guitar Theory course.
Co-Founder and Editor
I'm mostly playing straightforward boom-chuck rhythm on the Play-Along Tracks. I could put up chord charts for some (or all) of them. Are there any you're particularly wondering about?
Glad you're enjoying the course,
I just enrolled last week and love your teaching. On "Some Old Day" I had been jamming with the straight boom-chuck pattern. I love the strum pattern you teach but would like to have a slower tempo (MP3) to learn it. I feel as though I'm trying to pat my head & rub my belly at the same time on the tempo you sing it. Is there a way to slow it down by using riffststion?
Glad you're enjoying the course. We don't have MP3s for the lessons, but I've used a program called Transcribe! to slow things down -- and it allows you to record directly into the program from your computer's speakers. I'm not sure whether you can do this with Riffstation. If you're having trouble getting the upstrokes, my guess is that you're probably using the "bounce stroke" for your downstrokes (the "boom"). Check out my lesson on downstrokes for some advice about this. But the basic issue is that if you're using a "bounce stroke" on bass notes, then your pick is automatically bouncing back up in the air after playing the downstroke. Which means it's impossible to play an upstroke afterward - your pick has already made the upward motion. So you have to move your pick through the bass note and across the strings so that you can play the upstroke back up across the strings afterward. If you're having trouble with this, you can also try leaving out every other bass note for a boom-chuck __ a-chuck pattern. Hope that helps.
Glad you're enjoying the courses. A duets course is an interesting idea. We'll think about it. And maybe the next time we're in the studio together Joe and I will do a duets lesson. We'll see.
BTW - What strings are you using on your bluegrass guitars, Scott?
I would like to see some lessons on "walking bass" rhythm techniques used in backing up old time (contest style) fiddle tunes. I'm not sure which course I would need to enroll in to find such lessons.
In my Roots and Bluegrass Rhythm Guitar course I have a couple lessons on swing chords. The lesson on Trouble in Mind has all the basic chord shapes you'll need to play contest-style backup, and I'll think about adding a lesson that uses those chords specifically to play fiddle tunes.
Thanks for helping to create Peghead and for this course in particular. It's great to have access to your talent and skill.
Really enjoying the class and the site as a whole - great work! I've been taking the rhythm class for about a month and working my way through the lessons. Eventually I'll start taking your flatpicking course as well, and I was wondering if you have lessons in that course that teach how to improvise solos and/or fills over these tunes from the rhythm course? Seems like it'd be a nice way to build on what we're learning here.
Glad you're enjoying the rhythm course. The Flatpicking Course does have solos and improvising ideas for bluegrass songs, but necessarily for the same songs as the rhythm guitar course. But most of the ideas and licks are applicable to many songs, in the same way that the rhythm lessons are applicable to many songs not just the ones taught in the course. Hope to see you in Flatpicking some day soon.
I like your teaching style,your to the point and we get down to business.I have been playing for years but would say i'm about intermediate level ,but noticed my rhythm needed quite a bit of work with both the bluegrass and country,ole-timey etc.I play with my only 3 fingers on the chording hand.I do enjoy flatpicking and learning by ear also.
Appreciated the lesson on "stealth" chords. I find that I forget to add something like a Cadd9 when playing out with others. Any hints how to remember those or is it just practice, practice, practice?
Would Neil Young's "Comes a Time" be worth a look as a song to add for this course? It's not bluegrass but possibly could be considered Americana/Roots. Not hard to play at all and it's great practice for walkups and walk downs. It's just such a nice song to play and I've found I'm applying what I learn here to it. Thought you might be interested in considering it. Thanks!
Good idea -- great song with an unusual chord progression. FYI, the next few lessons will include a more extensive look at bass runs, so that would probably be a good song to work on, since there are so many different chords to move through. I'll keep it in mind.
Thanks for considering Comes a Time, I hope you use it as a basis for a lesson in the near future!
To supplement this course, I am also working through Flatpicking Essentials, Volume 1 by Dan Miller which is focused on rhythm, bass runs, and fill licks similar to the material presented in this course. I'm currently working on material in the order as presented for this course on the course web page and at this point I am fine tuning Long Journey Home with some up strokes and trying to get more proficient at rest strokes and I'm hot and heavy on Some Old Day. Should I continue to work through the material in the order it is presented? My guess was that was the case but now it seems like after working the first four videos, the next batch of songs could be taken on in any order (?) followed by fiddle tune backup material. The latest bass runs lessons looks similar to what I have been working on in Flatpicking Essentials so perhaps I could work that material at any time.
Just wanted your thoughts on how to consider the order of progression in the course. I'm really enjoying it. Thanks!
I present new material and techniques in each lesson, but following the order isn't essential. However, there are times when I refer to something I've covered in a previous lesson, but that might be something you know already. Everyone moves at their own pace and has their own interests. I always think it's better to happily work on something you're interested in than spend time slogging through something you're not.
I watched through the lesson video and your thoughts on handling the G to Bm transition were an Ah Ha moment for me as I have always tried to manage the Bm as a full barre and it just kept tripping me up as far as keeping the song tempo flowing. I'm still early along in this course (just getting into Storms are On the Ocean) but this is one lesson where I am tempted to skip forward and take it on. Really like the sound and the lyrics in this song, makes you feel good.
Non-music footnote (hope this is not out of place) - I'm a cyclist also and heard a podcast where you talked about your love of cycling. Just curious in the Portland area if you were familiar with Jan Heine and Bicycle Quarterly. I love that periodical and I love the kind of riding Jan promotes.
I've really enjoyed re-learning Comes A Time with your new lesson. I'm playing about 85% accurate to your suggestions on chords and the bass notes. I substituted the Bm in the verse with a Bm7 which is a lot easier for me to get to and it actually sounds pretty good.
If you are still interested in Neil Young songs as course lessons, I would suggest/request consideration of Harvest Moon and Old Man.
I have begun your Roots and Bluegrass Rhythm course and am thoroughly enjoying it. I have already put a number of new tools in my bag from just the first two song/lessons. One thing I've noticed--in your play-along tracks--is that you play a G major chord fretting both the high E and B strings. I have always played it only fretting the E string (but once heard James Taylor say that you MUST fret the B string and was puzzled then by the dislike for the 3rd here).
In other to 3rd-or-not-to-3rd queries, I wonder if you are fretting or muting the B note on the A string.
Apologies if you discuss this in one of the lessons I haven't gotten to yet, but I would be interested to hear your take on the role of the 3rd in the so-common G chord.
Welcome to the course. I think I covered that in the first Bluegrass Rhythm Basics lesson, but at any rate, the G chord played by fretting the B string at the third fret is often referred to as the "bluegrass G" because it's become standard for bluegrass guitarists. Glad to hear that James likes it too. One reason for using it is that in music where singers may sing bluesy flatted thirds against a major chord, having the major third (the B string) ring out can be dissonant, and constrict the singer (or fiddler) to one specific tonality. Also by fretting that note you get an octave with a fifth in the middle on the top three strings, which has a very specific "chimey" sound that cuts through the sound of a band quite well. I will sometimes play the the other G, which I sometimes refer to as the "folky" G, and I usually point out when I do so in each lesson. Sometimes, it's more convenient to fret the G chord that way, since the fingering is similar to that of a C chord. If I'm playing in C and need a quick G chord, I often use the folky G chord, because it's easier to get to quickly. And yes, when playing the "bluegrass" G, I usually mute the A string by leaning my second finger against it, unless, of course, I'm playing a bass run on that string. I think I cover this in the lesson on rest strokes. At any rate, that string usually just muddies things up in the low end if you want a clear solid single bass note. Of course, if you want a big full strum using all six strings, which is great for some country and rock songs, you'll want to fret the A string as well. Hope that makes sense.
Thanks for all the time and effort you put into the lessons. I've been enjoying working my way through them. One question comes to mind, especially around bass runs. Do you have any suggestions in terms of technique or exercises for improving 'accuracy"? I pretty regularly hit the wrong string when doing those runs and would love to get better at hitting the string I'm aiming for. Thanks.
In addition to this course I am also working through Flatpicking Essentials Vol. 1 by Dan Miller and you might find the technique discussions and exercises you are looking for to improve bass run accuracy. I find the course work in that book is a great compliment to this course. I usually spend about an hour woodshedding/warming up with exercises from that book and then spend 1-2 hours on Scott's material.
Glad you're enjoying the course. Accuracy, like a lot of things, is mostly a matter of practice and muscle memory, getting your pick to know where the string is through repetition. But here are a few suggestions.
Try watching your pick when you're working on bass runs, or anything that you find difficult to do with the pick. Most people naturally look at the their fretting hand while they're playing.
I've found that the rest stroke is a good stroke to work on for accuracy. If you're not using rest strokes to do bass runs, try working on that. To get a good rest stroke takes control, and that's really what you're after.
If you've gotten to the lesson on bass runs, print out the music that comes with it -- two pages of two-beat downstroke bass runs -- and work on those at a slow tempo (with or without a metronome) until you can play them accurately, then increase the tempo bit by bit. Once you get those down, move on to the 2 pages of bass runs in the Milwaukee Blues lesson, which includes bass runs with some eight notes/upstrokes.
If you're interested in playing melodies as well, you might check out my Intermediate Flatpicking course. I spend a lot of time on pick technique in that course, and it starts with some good pick exercises. Bob mentioned Dan Miller's book. I'm not familiar with that particular one, but Dan has some great stuff. Hope this helps.
Love the title you gave these category of songs: typical western murder song. I should've thought of that title sooner.
I'm enjoying the course. I'm not familiar with some of these songs. Is there a chance that you could put the melody of songs with words in standard music notation? That would be helpful to me. Thanks.
Glad you're enjoying the course. This music is mostly passed down by ear so the melodies to songs tend to change a bit depending on who's singing them. But I've put up a Spotify playlist on the bottom of the course page with versions of all the songs in the course, which should give you a pretty good indication how they go. If you don't have Spotify, I'm sure there are good versions on YouTube you can listen to. In general, it's much better to try to learn these songs by ear.
I'm a beginning guitarist, just beginning to learn closed chords. I have a couple of questions. 1. For the A7 chord on If No News Is Good News: how do you leave out the 5th string? Is is muted? If so, with which finger? And, why are closed chords called "swing" chords? Are all closed chords "swing" chords, or just added 6 chords? I'd be happy to do some reading about that if you have any urls. I'm a musician and enjoy reading about music history and theory. Also, I would like to hear you talk about muting strings versus not strumming them. In you playing I see you using your thumb maybe to mute some strings but I haven't noticed that you mentioned it. Specifically, on an open chord C chord: do you mute the 6th string or just not strum it? I keep accidentally strumming it and it annoys me. Thanks so much.
For that A7 chord you can let your index finger, which is playing the sixth string, just lean against the fifth string to mute it. Not all closed chords are "swing chords." Swing chords refer to the chords played by swing guitarists -- both big band guitarists and Western swing guitarists. They usually consist of a bass note on the sixth or fifth string and three other notes on the second, third, and fourth strings. Sometimes they include the 6 or 7, but there are lots of exceptions. I don't usually use my thumb to mute strings. I mostly use the finger that's on the string above to mute any interior strings, like in the A7 chord that I mentioned where the finger playing the sixth string leans over to mute the fifth string. I'll usually mute the first string in the same way. I try to explain this in most of the lessons, but I may have omitted some explanations on some chords. On an open C chord, you can just start your strum from the fifth string, or mute the sixth string with your thumb. You can also try playing a C chord by adding the low G (third fret of the sixth string) to the C chord. That means you'll play the C note with your pinky and the low G with your third finger. Hope that helps.
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