Magazine article Acoustic Guitar

Alternating-Bass Fingerpicking

Magazine article Acoustic Guitar

Alternating-Bass Fingerpicking

Article excerpt

Learn to play versatile accompaniment by training your picking thumb and fingers to work independently.

See video of the music examples at AcousticGuitar.com/rockbaslcs

Many a talented thumb has held down the rhythm for countless rock, pop, and country songs using a technique called "alternating-bass fingerpicking." This method - in which you use your thumb to alternate between different bass notes - works great as a rolling rhythmic foundation for songs, and it has also been used by such guitarists as Chet Atkins and Jorrna Kaukonen to create upbeat solo guitar pieces. The '60s wouldn't have been the same without Simon and Garfunkel, and many of their tunes provide great examples of alternating-bass fingerpicking. "The Boxer," "Homeward Bound," and "!Cathy's Song" feature this technique. In this lesson, you'll learn how to get the essential alternating-bass pattern under your fingers.

Combine Thumb and Fingers

Many fingerpickers start by assigning each picking-hand finger to one of the top three strings and repeating a rolling partem while playing bass notes on the bottom three strings with the thumb, as in Example 1. The p, m, t, and a abbreviations represent Spanish-named fingerings: pulgar (thumb), indice (index), medio (middle), and anular (ring). In Example 1, your thumb stays on the low E string, as it does on the most basic fingerpicking patterns. Alternating-bass fingerpicking puts your thumb on double duty, requiring it to alternate between strings, as in Example 2. Spend some time with this example before moving on, and slow it down if you need to. It's important to get the thumb comfortable with alternating strings before you add anything else. Once you have this groove under your fingers, it should thump along like a chugging train, keeping rock-steady rhythm. This rhythmic drive is part of what makes alternating-bass fingerpicking so effective for accompanying songs. …

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