G, Thats Easy

A few years back, I had the pleasure of interviewing Roger McGuinn, the legendary Byrds guitarist, and discussing notes and riffs we can play simultaneously with and over strummed chords to create more sophisticated tunes—or to discover the foundations for many already popular songs and song forms. I’ve found that teaching this concept to my students really opens their eyes to possibilities beyond simply strumming open-position chords. This technique can be applied to nearly every chord shape. However, for this lesson, I will demonstrate it with a series of increasingly more challenging examples based on a simple G chord.

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.