From the March/April 2023 issue of Acoustic Guitar | By Cathy Fink
The problem: You’re familiar with the basic boom-chuck strumming pattern and would like to know how to play it in different keys while making it sound more interesting. The solution: Learn how to use different kinds of bass lines to add variety to boom-chuck accompaniment in the keys of E and A major.
In a previous lesson, I introduced you to boom-chuck patterns in the key of C major. This time, I’ll teach you how to play them in E and A, while adding some new approaches for bass movement—everything you need to turn your strumming up a notch.
START WITH SINGLE CHORDS
Let’s begin in the guitar-friendly key of E major. For the E chord, there are two good options for the bass notes on beats 1 and 3: You can either go between the open sixth string and the B on string 5, fret 2, as shown in Example 1a, or between that low E and the E on string 4, fret 2 (Example 1b). The same goes for the A chord—move between the open A root and the open low E bass notes (Example 2a) or the A and the second-fret E (Example 2b).
As for the B7 chord, use your second finger to switch between the second-fret B and F# bass notes, while keeping the other notes in the chord held down with your first, third, and fourth fingers, as shown in Example 3. Make sure that you can play all these patterns confidently before moving on.
PUT IT ALL TOGETHER
When you are ready, try playing the E, A, and B7 chords together in a typical chord progression (Example 4). Take it nice and easy, and make sure to pick the bass notes such that they sound full and pronounced. To ensure good timing, remember to use a metronome set at a tempo that is comfortable to you.
The previous examples contained bass notes all based on roots and fifths, but you can make things more interesting by using non-chord tones. In Example 5, beginning in bar 2, the bass line travels up stepwise, from E to F# to G#, landing neatly on the root (A) of the A chord in the following measure. From measure 4, beat 3 to the first beat of the next bar, a neat chromatic (containing notes outside of the key) bass line—A–A#–B—is used to connect the A and B7 chords.
Speaking of chromatic, on guitar it’s generally easiest to add this kind of motion between the E and A chords (Example 6) and A and B7 (Example 7). The second measure of each figure is comprised solely of bass notes that function as a transition between the two chords. These bass lines serve as a nice contrast to those that alternate between root and fifths.
PLAY IN A DIFFERENT KEY
Let’s switch to A major for the last couple of figures. Example 8 shows a typical approach using bass notes all within the key. Note that at the end of bar 4, I let go of the chord form and strum the open strings—a handy trick in general when it comes to switching chord shapes.
Example 9 is similar but adds a chromatic bass run in bar 2 to connect the A and D chords and another in bar 6, bridging the E and A chords in the surrounding measures. Once you’ve got all of these moves under your fingers, try plugging them into some of your favorite songs—you can see me doing just that on the traditional song “New River Train” in the accompanying video.
Cathy Fink is a Grammy Award–winning multi-instrumentalist based in the Washington, D.C., area. She teaches bluegrass and Americana guitar and performs around the world with her partner, Marcy Marxer.
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2023 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.