Want to Play Like Johnny Cash? Learn the Boom-Chuck Rhythm in 3 Easy Steps

By Chris Grampp | Excerpted from Rhythm Guitar Essentials

The boom-chuck beat is one of the first rhythms guitarists learn, and for good reason: you can play thousands of acoustic-guitar songs in this style—just ask Johnny Cash. Ex. 1 begins with a bass note on the root of the C chord (the “boom”) followed by the rest of the chord (the “chuck”). The second bass note is a G (the fifth of the C chord) and is again followed by the rest of the chord.

This figure, called an alternating bass, tends to sound better if the fifth is played below the root rather than above it, but certain chord voicings won’t allow you to do this. It’s usually best to play the “booms” and “chucks” with downstrokes. When playing at faster tempos, try making the “chuck” staccato (rapid, brief, and clipped in sound) by lifting your fingers off the chord just after you play it.  At slower tempos, let it ring.

Ex. 2 substitutes a bass run for a strum in each measure preceding a new chord. Bass runs are a series of notes that lead into the root of the next chord.


Ex. 3 adds an upstroke strum to the first “chuck” of the measure, changing it from a quarter-note chord to two eighth-note chords. The rhythm is livelier and works well over faster tempos. Good boom-chuck songs include “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “Long Black Veil,” and “Oh Lonesome Me.”

Easy as 1,2 3. Learn more in Rhythm Guitar Essentials.


This lesson on the boom-chuck beat is excerpted from Rhythm Guitar Essentials.

Play classic rock, country, and soul grooves. Add cool rhythm fills. Discover new chords.

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