The Bass Strum
Relax. This pretty easy to do, and it also opens up some really cool stuff down the road.
Put your hand into the same position that you use for the thumb-brush strum and rest your thumb on the sixth string.
Now apply some pressure with your thumb on the sixth (bass) string until your thumb pops off the string and comes to rest on the fifth string. We are not playing a full strum here. All we are doing is letting our thumb sound the sixth string.
As you sound the sixth string count, "one".
Strum down from the fifth string. As you strum count, "two".
Do you see what we are doing here? We are changing the first quarter note strum in the thumb-brush into a single bass note with a quarter note value.
With our first picking pattern (the thumb-brush) we were strumming four quarter notes. With the bass strum we are still playing four quarter notes but now the pattern is bass, strum, bass, strum.
It might be easier to see this if I write it out. In order to illustrate the examples in this chapter I will have to introduce you to something called tablature. Tablature (or 'tab' for short) is just a way of writing a song down.
You have six lines. Each line represents a string on your guitar. The sixth string is at the bottom and the first string is on top.
When any string has a zero you play that string open. The number on a string tells you what fret to play. So in this example you would play your sixth string at the sixth fret, your fifth string at the fifth fret, your fourth string at the fourth fret, your third string at the third fret and so on. A series of numbers running one on top of the other tells you to strum a chord.
Two measures of the open G tuning four quarter note thumb brush strum tabbed out would look like this:
The tablature shows the four strums along with the note value for each strum.
The new strum we are looking at in this chapter, the bass strum, is tabbed out in the next example. As you can see it has a lot in common with the thumb-brush except that we are playing the first and the third quarter note as a single bass string rather than a full chord.
Work on this strum for a little while and try to keep everything even just like you did with the thumb brush strum. Try playing some chord changes. Run from open G to barre-C until you can change chords and keep the rhythm of the picking pattern smooth.
Let's give "Skip To My Lou" a shot with the bass strum.
"Skip To My Lou" sixth string bass
The bass note we are playing here works, but there are some simple things we can do to make the strum fit the chord progression.
In order to make the bass note fit in a little better with the strum it's usually a good idea to play the root of the chord as the first bass note. In the key of G it would be the fifth, or G, string because that is the root of the G chord.
"Skip To My Lou" fifth string bass
Notice how the fifth, or G, string fits in a little better with the song? That's the advantage of using the root of the chord for the bass note. Now that you are completely sick of "Skip To My Lou" let's try a new song. This one is called "Roving Gambler".
I've gambled down in Washington,
When I was down in Washington,
She took me to her parlor
"Oh, daughter dear, daughter dear,
I hear the train a-coming,
"Oh mother dear, mother dear,
As you get more comfortable with the rhythm of this strum while you are changing chords and singing you can start accenting the count a little bit in each measure by putting the stress on the one and the three count.
"One two three four. One two three four. One two three four. One two three four."
This isn't a big deal. In some ways, because of the layout of the bass strum, you are already doing just that. It's just a good thing to be aware of as we start moving into more complex picking patterns.
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