Your first steps on guitar usually involve strumming simple open chord arrangements of songs. This can be quite satisfying, but you'll soon want to do better. Here are three picking techniques that offer you a step by step route to build your simple chords, spice up your accompaniments, and develop some finger agility.
The three techniques shown here all involve playing with the bass notes of the chords. In order of increasing technical difficulty you will learn about:
1. Alternating bass
2. Bass hammers
3. Bass runs
1. Alternating BassUse alternating bass with a simple bass-strum pattern to give your songs a jaunty swing. You play a bass note on the first and third beat and strum the chord on beats two and four.
There are two kinds of bass strum that are easy to play with open guitar chords.
On A, D or E chords you can easily alternate between the root of the chord and its fifth. The fifth note is found on the string below the root, two frets up, or on the open string above the root (not available for the E chord).
For example, on an A major chord you pick the root (A) on the open fifth string on beat one, and the fifth (E) on either the fourth string second fret or the open sixth string on beat three.
On C and G chords it's a little harder to play the fifth. You can play it on the C chord by changing your fingering to hold down the third fret of the sixth string and play the fifth (G) note there. On the G chord you can play the fifth on the open D string. This takes a little practice to accurately skip over the fifth string in between.
As an easier alternative on G and C is to play the third of the chord instead. This note is found one string and one fret down from the root; second fret of the fourth string on C major, second fret fifth string on G.
2. Bass HammersOnce you've got the hang of alternating bass you can extend it to play bass hammers. You use the same fretted notes as for alternating bass, but hammer a finger onto them instead of playing them straight. Hammer onto either the fifth (A, D, or E chords) or the third (C and G).
Use the finger that normally frets these notes and try to move only that finger, lifting it off the bass note and hammering onto it while holding the other notes of the chord. It takes a little practice to move only the desired finger.
Practice this technique with different timing. You can hammer down very quickly, sounding only a brief "ghost" note on the open string, or let it sound longer and hammer down at the last instant before strumming the chord.
3. Bass RunsA little more complicated, the bass run offers you more possibilities to create interesting sounding accompaniments. The bass run is a series of notes on the bass strings leading up to a chord change. You can use notes from either the major scale of the key the song is in, or use a chromatic scale moving one fret at a time.
Your bass run should finish on a note that leads to the new chord. Here are three common leading notes you can use: walk up to the seventh of the new chord, walk down to its second, or walk up or down to its fifth.
You can use quarter notes, eighths, triplets, or a mixture to create interesting rhythm patterns for your bass runs. Experiment with different timings to get a feel for their effect and choose your favourites.
Now you know three ways to get more out of your beginner guitar chords and give simple open chord song arrangements some added sparkle. Let's review them here as a reminder.
1. Alternating bass - add some swing to your chord accompaniments.
2. Bass hammers – adding more emphasis to bass notes.
3. Bass runs – to emphasise chord movement.
If you want to improve your open chord playing pick a simple three chord song you know and try out these techniques on it. Leave a comment to let us know how you get on applying them.
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