Magazine article Acoustic Guitar

Connect Your Chords

Magazine article Acoustic Guitar

Connect Your Chords

Article excerpt

Beef up your rhythm by playing riffs and bass lines between the changes.

After you've mastered basic open chords, you'll realize that there is more to rhythm guitar than meets the ear. Have you ever listened to a song and realized that, despite having only three or four chords, it doesn't sound simple? Great guitarists in every style of music, from Norman Blake to Jimi Hendrix, know that even the simplest songs can become more interesting by using melodic ideas and bass lines to connect chords. This lesson will focus on a few of these ideas-bass runs, sus chords, and riffs-to help your rhythm playing come alive.

Bring on the Bass

One of the key tricks guitarists use to spice up simple songs is creating bass lines between strums to lead the ear from one chord to the next. Example 1 shows an easy, repeating pattern that moves back and forth between open-position G and C chords. The bass line in measure 2 climbs from a G note (on beat one) to A and B notes on beats three and four, creating a sense of movement by leading your ear to the C chord. The B and A notes at the end of measure 4 lead back to the G chord. When creating bass lines, be careful about where you place them rhythmically. You want to lead the ear to the next chord, but you have to make sure you get there at the right time. In Example 1, the bass line going to the C chord arrives at the C note just in time for the downbeat of measure 3.

As anyone who has ever heard a good bass player knows, there are many ways to construct bass lines. Example 2 shows one of the most common: a line that moves from the root to the fifth of the chord-the same fret on the next lower string down (on the third beat of measures 1 and 3). Lines like this appear often in bluegrass, country, and other rootsy styles.

For even more country flavor, try the lick in Example 3, which travels from an E chord to a B7. For the last note in measure 4, use your middle finger to fret the F# on the second fret of the low E string. But before you hit the note, lightly pull the string downward (toward the floor) with your fretting finger, so that when you pluck it, it sounds more like a G. Keeping your finger on the note, let it pull you back to F#. This is called "bending" the note. This bend, which sounds a lot like the bass riff from Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues," is a cool way to get back to the E chord.

All of these examples deal with open-position chords, but it's a good idea to practice bass lines up the neck with barre chords as well. Any of the bass lines you use with open strings can also be played in closed position. Example 4 demonstrates a few bass runs between B[musical flat], F, and E[musical flat] barre chords. Notice the chromatic line between the F and E[musical flat] chords in measure 2.

Get Yourself Suspended

Many guitarists use suspended chords ("sus" chords, for short) to fill time between chord changes, particularly when a song stays on one chord for a long time. …

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