Flatpicking Bass Runs

January 1, 2005

Learning how to fret chords is a crucial first step in the guitar-playing journey. But once you know how to strum a handful of major, minor, and dominant-7th grips, the next challenge is to link them in ways that create rhythmic and harmonic motion. Such momentum keeps you and any listeners engaged with the music. One way to generate this energy is to use a sequence of low notes—called a bass run—to connect one chord to another. A typical bass run comprises a series of scale tones that starts a few beats before a chord change and ends on the new chord’s root. Think of it as building a short stairway that ascends or descends from one chord to the next.

In the Dec. ’04 and Jan ’05 installments of EZ Street, we explored how to fingerpick alternating bass patterns. In this lesson, let’s insert a few bass runs into the mix, and—for variety—tackle them with a flatpick.

The eight-bar example below kicks off with an ascending three-note bass run—B, C#, D. Notice how the run’s last note is also the D chord’s root. The next bass run (E, D, C#, B, A) crosses bar 2's last two beats and descends to the A chord’s root.

The bass run in bar 6 mimics bar 3's move, except it falls on the next higher string pair. Finally, the fat D arpeggio in bar 8 builds on principles we covered in the Nov. ’04 EZ Street. As indicated by the let ring marking, keep all five strings sustaining as you work across the arpeggio. Some additional pointers:

  • For starters, stick to the suggested picking pattern.
  • Notice how the pull-offs in bars 2 and 6 add expression to the bass runs and keep them from sounding too mechanical.
  • When playing the chords that occur on beats two or four, quickly strum across the top three strings using a brisk downward snap from your forearm.

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