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Bluegrass Guitar: "Walking" Bass Between Chords

bluegrass guitar:  walking bass

Some of the most famous bluegrass tunes consist of catchy licks that connect common chords together. These transitions are often referred to as ‘walking’ between the chords, or ‘walk ups’ and ‘walk downs,’ since they sound like you are stepping up or down to the next chord in the progression. This technique connects the two chords in a rhythmic pattern and usually goes in one direction.

So what's the secret? Lucky for us, we have Bryan Sutton's excellent lesson on the topic to help guide us on the art of walking bass. 

For the purposes of this post, let's focus on a basic chord progression: G, C, G, D. 

This is also known as a I-IV-I-V chord progression. The key of G works nicely on guitar because the G chord is a rather easy chord to play and has several open notes including the G-string itself. This allows for an easy transition from the G-chord to the C-chord. 

bluegrass guitar: walking bass

Once the progression begins to repeat, we can start adding in notes from the G-major scale to create the walking bass sound. For example, when we move from the G-chord to the C-chord, we first strike the low G-note, then walk up to the scale: A, B, C... finally landing on the C-note before strumming again.

For this example, you can just do a simple strumming technique which allows you to pick, and then strum using all downstrokes.

You can count off each measure out loud as: "1 and, 2 and, 3 and, 4 and", and then repeat for as long as you're playing.

Try it out for yourself!

Pick the low G-note(1), strum(and), pick the A-note(2), the B-note(and), then finally the C-note(3), then strum(and). Simply pick and strum in the key of C to finish the measure. If we wanted to walk back down to G-chord, we could simply go in reverse on the last beat in the measure. For example, on the 4th beat you would strike the B-note, then the A-note(and), returning to the G-note to begin the new measure.

bluegrass guitar: walking bass

To complete the I-IV- I-V chord progression, we will go on the the D-chord in this measure.

Let’s try another one. Begin like you did before except this time go ahead and make the transition from the G-chord to the D-chord.

In order to stay in rhythm, we know from the previous walks that we need 3 notes after the last strum to get to the desired chord. On the 2nd beat of this measure we will utilize the same G-major scale and begin the walk on the B-note, then walk to the C-note, and finally land on the D-note where we can finish out the measure with a pick, then strum before returning to the beginning of the progression.

Of course, as before there is an alternative way to finish the measure. Instead of going in reverse, back to the G-chord, we will make a walk up from the low E-note starting on the 4th beat of the measure, then strike the low F-note, and finally striking the G-note as we begin the next measure.

This is just one example of many that can be used for ‘walking’ between the chords in bluegrass music. The key of your chord progression will most likely determine the scale to use in the notes of your walks. You can play as many measures in a single chord as you like and use different chord progressions as well.

So grab your guitar, pick out some chords and have some fun walking that bass!

bluegrass guitar lesson on walking bass

If you're ready to step up your bluegrass guitar playing, be sure to check out Bryan Sutton's free sample lessons! 

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