In Ex. 1 we’ll start with a basic country-fied pattern that should sound instantly recognizable. Take your time getting the bass-strum-bass-strum eighth-note pattern smooth and accurate. If you haven’t done much playing utilizing an alternating bass pattern (either with or without a pick), you might first consider this as much a picking exercise as a melodic example. Work it until it flows at a nice, even pace.
Now we’ll add a few more tones to the bass riff by continuing up, scale-wise. We’ll also spice up the rhythm a bit, and toy around with a popular kids’ song—just to use a well-known model—all at the same time. In Ex. 2 you’ll find that a cool version of “Frere Jacques” demonstrates some great potential for this walking bass line and strummed chord combination. I’ve seen similar scale-wise bass movement over an open string chord used in songs by the likes of Collective Soul, Steve Miller, Laurence Juber, and countless artists spanning genres and decades – and I’m not talking about some star-studded kids music compilation, either.
Of course we don’t simply have to move scale-wise. Any common bass pattern is fair game for this technique. Ex. 3 tweaks a basic piano blues bass line, set with a slightly Latin groove. This rhythm can be a little tricky. Try it with a shot of tequila; the lime is optional.
After working out these fairly common bass/chord moves, let’s step outside the expected scale pattern and challenge ourselves a little more. Ex. 4 hangs on to that same G major chord, but goes for a chunky bass line featuring a Bb, C, and F—hinting at a G minor tonality. As long as you keep your third finger on D at the 3rd fret on the second string—eliminating the major third (the open B string)—you’ll have nothing to worry about.
Since we’re riffing around on top of an open-string G chord, I can’t help but end this lesson with another classic country move. This one uses a slightly different fingering for the chord, and really riffs it up as well. Ex. 5 is a very recognizable—and very cool—ending for many a country or alt-country hit.
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