31 May 2010

How To Play Guitar Bass Runs

This lesson on how to play guitar bass runs gives you all the ingredients you need to cook up some delicious sounding bass lines for your rhythm guitar playing.

Bass runs are short sequences of notes picked on the bass strings of your guitar as you move from chord to chord. You can use them to liven up your chord strumming by creating a sense of movement. Bass runs can also replace chords altogether as an alternative accompaniment to create some variety or give more space when playing in a band.

Bass Run 101

To play a guitar bass run you replace part of the bar preceding the chord change with a run of notes played on the bass strings. The bass run can last as many or as few beats as you wish. Short bass runs can be played on only the last beat, or you can replace the whole bar or more with a longer run.

You can play your bass run using any combination of quarter notes, eighth notes or triplets. Experiment and make up different rhythm patterns for the runs you learn, it is an essential ingredient of a good bass run.

Support The Chord Changes

The primary aim of your bass run is to announce the coming chord change and lead smoothly into the new chord. There are several techniques to keep in mind that support this effectively.

  1. Aim for the root note of the new chord.
  2. The new chord's third announces the new chord clearly.
  3. Use ascending or descending movement to the root.

The strongest way to finish your guitar bass runs is on the root note of the new chord. The third of the chord also works well and gives you a good alternative so that your lines don't become predictable and boring.

Ascending or descending runs that lead to one of these two notes naturally and effectively guide the listener's ear to the new chord.

Note Choices

You have plenty of note choices available to create your bass runs. Here are a few options to explore, keep in mind the objective of clearly outlining the chord change.

  • Use notes from the major scale of the song's key.
  • Use notes from the target chord/scale.
  • Use notes from the current chord/scale.
  • Use chromatic movement.

Note that often notes from these three scales will be the same, but thinking in terms of a different scale or chord gives you different ways of looking at those notes. You also have a couple of more advanced options you can try.

  • Play a part of the song's melody on the bass strings.
  • Think of the new chord as a I chord and use notes from the roots of common chord progressions that lead to it, e.g. IV V I, ii V I


Experiment with all these approaches and learn to create the sounds you like. Your ears are the final judge of the sounds you create.

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