How to Play Boom-Chuck Guitar Variations in G, the Most Common Bluegrass Key

Here we continue exploring boom-chuck, with an emphasis on moving bass lines

Say you know a handful of boom-chuck patterns on guitar and would like to learn how to add variety to them. Here are some variations in G major using both short and long chord progressions.

In the last few lessons you’ve learned a bunch of different boom-chuck accompaniment variations in different keys—patterns heard all over American roots music. This time, we’ll continue exploring boom-chuck, with an emphasis on moving bass lines, all in the common bluegrass and folk key of G major. 


Try Some Walk-Ups

As you’ll recall, the basic boom-chuck pattern involves bass notes on beats 1 and 3 and strums on 2 and 4. But you can fancy things up by adding bass notes that connect different chords. For instance, in Example 1, there’s a walk-up from the G to the C chord in bar 2, from C to D in bar 4, and from D to G in bar 6. Note that all of the walk-ups are built from notes within the key, except the one between the C and D chords, which uses a chromatic note, C#, for a little spice.

Example 2 expands on the chromatic approach with different, more involved walk-ups. Bar 2 is comprised entirely of bass notes—G, A, A# and B—that neatly connect the G and C chords in the surrounding measures. Similarly, in bar 4, the bass line C–B–C–C# bridges the C and D chords. This sort of pattern adds excitement to the basic approach.  

Add Other Bass Notes

On a single chord, most of the boom-chuck examples you’ve played so far in this series have involved bass notes that were either the root or the fifth or the chord. Example 3 shows a nice little two-bar figure that departs from this pattern. This move starts on the root of the G chord (G), then goes to the sixth (E), rather than the usual fifth, on beat 3. The bass notes in the next measure move first to the fifth (D) and then the third (B). Patterns like these work well for introducing a song or for when you sit on a chord for two or more measures. 

To get from the riff shown in Ex. 3 to a D chord, you could play a walk-up like that shown in Example 4. If you watch the video at, you’ll notice that on beats 2 and 4 of bar 2, I’m not exactly strumming chords, but instead lightly brushing the strings. These brushes, shown as X’s in the notation, help maintain rhythmic momentum while freeing up the fingers to focus on the bass notes.

Play a Longer Sequence

Example 5 ties together all of this lesson’s concepts in a 16-bar chord progression, including the G, D, and C chords and starting off with the pattern introduced in Ex. 3 for four measures. Chromatic bass lines abound—see bars 6, 10, and 12. Commit all of these different patterns to memory, practicing them at both slow and fast tempos, and you’ll be well equipped to play so many traditional songs in the key of G major. In the next lesson, we’ll move on to more boom-chuck patterns in the key of D.

Boom-chuck guitar lesson in G music notation sheet 1
Boom-chuck guitar lesson in G music notation sheet 2
Acoustic Guitar magazine cover for issue 340

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2023 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.

Cathy Fink
Cathy Fink

Cathy Fink is a Grammy Award-winning multi-instrumentalist. She teaches bluegrass and Americana guitar and performs around the world with her partner, Marcy Marxer.

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