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Jun 13, 2024 - 6:26:28 AM
111 posts since 4/14/2024

So I have started trying to do some basic BG rhythm guitar and wanted to make sure I am going in the right direction. (haven't picked up a guitar in decades)
First off, if I understand the strumming correctly, you hit the root bass note of the chord followed by strumming the first 3 strings alternating the bass note of the chord with its 5th, root strum followed by 5th strum, right? I also noticed that in BG guitar many do a simplified G chord...first 2 strings, 3rd fret and 6th string 3rd fret using that finger to mute the 5th string..why is that? if you are hitting the 6th for your bass note followed by strumming the first 3 strings the A/5th string doesn't even come into play, so why bother muting it?
As to the upright/double bass..could you use an acoustic bass guitar in a jam session? or would that be frowned upon as not being "traditional"? And would an acoustic bass even be loud enough? I played a little electric bass many years ago and until I can get good enough at the banjo I thought I might give that a whirl..I'm assuming the bass played in BG is played like in any other style of music? Keeping the rhythm using quarter and eighth root notes, roots and 5ths, or arpeggiating what ever chord is being played..root, 3rd, 5th, root etc? Or is there a special way that its done in BG? Because I know that in reggae music the bass takes on a whole new dimension but am not sure about BG.

Jun 13, 2024 - 6:46:04 AM

4865 posts since 3/28/2008

1) Play whatever version of the low-position G chord you want. Muting the 5th string while fretting the 2nd string at the 3rd fret gives you a "power chord"--just 1s and 5s--that is more harmonically neutral than a full 1-3-5 chord. Some folks prefer this, especially for bluesy songs; others decry it as a modern abomination. But it's your decision to make.

2) Some may object to an electric bass or ABG, but I've been in MANY jam sessions where that was the bass. Once again, whether it's accepted depends on the particular bunch of folks you're picking with. (BTW, did you know that that the first known use of electric bass on a bluegrass recording comes from a Reno and Smiley cut from 1953? Yes, 1953, less than two years after Fender's Precision bass hit the market!) But an ABG won't have the volume needed for more than, say, a three-person living room jam unless you amplify it.

3) Two bass notes per measure--usually the 1 and 5 of the chord--is the norm, but runs, walking (especially in older bluegrass), and passing tones can be used. A jam is a good place to try that stuff out. Watch for people's reactions, and if they seem not to like what you're doing, lay off of it. 

Just listen to a wide range of bluegrass, and you'll get it figured out.

Edited by - Ira Gitlin on 06/13/2024 06:49:33

Jun 13, 2024 - 11:27:17 AM
Players Union Member

Texasbanjo (Moderator)


30305 posts since 8/3/2003

Dave played an acoustic-electric bass, a Martin B1-E, and as far as I can remember, no one ever got upset that it wasn't a doghouse bass. When we were on stage, it was micked and he had a small portable amp that he took along for jams just in case he needed the extra sound, otherwise, he'd just play it open.

He usually did the 1/5 rhythm, but got very good at bass runs which I thought added to both stage and jams (I could have been a little bit biased).

More and more electric basses are being used in bluegrass mainly because they are easier to handle than the old doghouse bass. However, there is nothing that can beat the sound of that old upright bass.

Jun 13, 2024 - 6:04:44 PM
likes this

111 posts since 4/14/2024

Ira, Sherry-appreciate the quick two are always so helpful..thanks!

Edited by - Patrick1962 on 06/13/2024 18:05:22

Jun 13, 2024 - 8:11:23 PM

111 posts since 4/14/2024

oh, I forgot to ask...if I want to do a song in 3/4 time can I just go boom strum strum, boom strum strum? And with the bass if I understood you correctly, you do essentially 1/2 notes on the first and 3rd beat? no 1/4 or 1/8th notes?

Jun 13, 2024 - 9:42:23 PM

3523 posts since 4/19/2008

here's 48 F&S waltz tempos to digest

Jun 14, 2024 - 4:34:09 AM
Players Union Member

Texasbanjo (Moderator)


30305 posts since 8/3/2003

I usually use the boom, strum, strum on waltz time when I'm playing guitar. I think it sounds right.

Dave used to play a 1, 3, 5 (I think) on 3/4 time because he didn't like to just play one note and wait for the next bar. Also, it sounded pretty good on almost any waltz tune.

Jun 14, 2024 - 5:56:13 AM

111 posts since 4/14/2024

ok cool..thanks Sherry

Jun 14, 2024 - 6:57:07 AM

4865 posts since 3/28/2008

Originally posted by Patrick1962

oh, I forgot to ask...if I want to do a song in 3/4 time can I just go boom strum strum, boom strum strum? And with the bass if I understood you correctly, you do essentially 1/2 notes on the first and 3rd beat? no 1/4 or 1/8th notes?

Guitar: Yes, basically "boom-strum-strum".

Bass: Mainly just the "boom", with the root and 5 on altenate measures; less often, "boom-x-boom" (hits on the first and third beats of the measure, typically 1-x-5 for every measure). As with the two-beat rhythm, walking, runs, and passing notes might be used.

Jun 14, 2024 - 7:06:54 AM

808 posts since 11/9/2021

So my band has been searching for YEARS for an alternate to full size bass fiddle. We use an electric bass on stage but for after hours jams and acoustic gigs (we are playing on a tall ship later this year - no electricity!) we have yet to find a suitable instrument. We have tried: acoustic bass guitars, those huge Mexican style bass guitars, a cello tuned like a bass, bass uke, you name it. None are loud enough.

As far as bass playing to BG, keeping to the 1-5 notes for each chord is standard. Me personally find if the bass is too busy, ie with runs upto and down to the chord changes, it gets too muddled. The bass in BG is really driving the truck as the time keeper, along with the rhythm guitar. They need to be in lock step tempo wise. Keeping the bass simple makes doing that easy and crisp!

Jun 14, 2024 - 8:14:29 AM
Players Union Member

Texasbanjo (Moderator)


30305 posts since 8/3/2003


Dave used a small portable amp to take outside and amp up his acoustic-electric bass if it was needed. About the size of a car battery, not too heavy, batteries lasted a long time before needing changing. Worked well for him for years. I still have that blasted thing. Wish I could get rid of it. The big amp, too!

Jun 15, 2024 - 12:17:25 PM

3831 posts since 4/5/2006

There were two "doghouse" bass players around L.A. that I distinctly remember. One transported his instrument in a homemade coffin style case mounted atop a small foreign car. The other drove a VW Beetle with the roof open & neck hanging out the top. Ya goota admire someone willing to go to that much trouble.

Oh, BTW, lots of vids on YouTube on playing BG style guitar & bass.

Edited by - monstertone on 06/15/2024 12:19:54

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