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Intro to Bluegrass (Guitar Lesson)

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Steve Eulberg

Intro to Bluegrass

Welcome to the Bluegrass Guitar Series! In this first lesson Steve covers some bluegrass basics. This includes history, which picks to use, and more. Steve gets you playing right away by teaching the foundation of most bluegrass guitar parts -- the bass/chop rhythm.

Taught by Steve Eulberg in Bluegrass Guitar with Steve Eulberg seriesLength: 16:00Difficulty: 2.0 of 5
Chapter 1: (0:50) Introduction In this lesson series, Steve will teach and demonstrate fundamental guitar techniques found in the bluegrass genre. These lessons do not serve as a starting point for beginning guitarists. The concepts in this lesson series expand upon techniques discussed in Steve’s Phase 1 series. If you find that you are struggling with the material presented in this lesson, take a few weeks to review the material discussed in the Phase 1 series.
Chapter 2: (6:43) Bluegrass Background and Bass Chop A. Brief History of Bluegrass
The roots of early bluegrass can be found around the early 1920’s in the southern United States. Bluegrass emerged as a synthesis of many genres popular at the time combined with traditional music. The Scotts-Irish in the Appalachian region combined their traditional music with popular American styles such as blues, country, jazz, and ragtime. Bill Monroe is widely known as the father of bluegrass since the genre’s name was derived from the name of his band, The Blue Grass Boys. The sound of bluegrass is also often associated with the banjo picking of Earl Scruggs. Both of these acts are must listens in order to hear the fundamental musical techniques of bluegrass.
B. Instrumentation of Traditional Bluegrass bands
As Steve mentions, the guitar is the backbone instrument of a bluegrass band. In bands that do not feature a drummer, the role of timekeeper falls upon the bass player. However, many traditional bluegrass bands do not have a bass player. As a result, the role of bass player, timekeeper, and rhythmic accompanist all fall upon the guitarist. This is possible since the guitar’s range overlaps somewhat with the four string bass.

The mandolin, fiddle, upright bass, four string banjo, and vocalists typically join the guitar in a bluegrass band. Occasionally, a resonator guitar is added to the lineup. Resonator guitars are most typically referred to by the popular Dobro brand name. Most bluegrass bands feature three or four part vocal harmony. The lead singer typically has a high, nasal voice. He or she sings a high, nasal melody line above the primary melody.
C. Bass Chop Technique
Before you begin to practice the bass/chop technique, some slight right hand adjustments need to be made. When playing bluegrass, a heavy pick must be used. This is due to several factors. Bluegrass is primarily played on a steel string acoustic guitar. Thin picks will cause a plastic, clicking sound when they strike steel strings. Also, a heavy pick will create a clearer tone when playing low bass notes. This is especially important when a guitarist fulfills the role of bass player. Finally, the right hand wrist must be kept as loose and relaxed at all times. The bluegrass genre requires frequent, rapid strumming. You run the risk of dropping your pick or having your wrist lock up if you do not keep it relaxed.

Many styles of musical composition such as the march feature an emphasis on the so-called “downbeats” or beats 1 and 3. These accents create a very rigid, deliberate rhythm. However, many popular American styles such as jazz and rock and roll feature an emphasis on the “backbeat,” or beats 2 and 4. The emphasis on beats 2 and 4 gives a style its terpsichorean quality. If one of the performers in a bluegrass group flips the beat and begins emphasizing beats 1 and 3, the music will loose all of its rhythmic impact, and the audience will cease to dance.

The bass/chop technique may seem sound quite elaborate and difficult, but it is rather easy to perform. Start by fingering the basic open G chord that you learned from Phase 1 lessons. On beats 1 and 3, play the low G of the chord. On beats 2 and 4, strum all of the notes in the guitar chord with the exception of the bass note. A slight accent should be placed on these beats. Beats 2 and 4 comprise the “chop” portion of the bass chop technique. Observe Steve closely for a great example of how this technique should sound. As always, begin at a very slow tempo and gradually work your way up to the tempo that Steve initially demonstrates the bass/chop with.
Chapter 3: (8:44) Flavor and Speed A. Bass Chop Exercise
Now that you have mastered the bare basics of the bass/ chop Steve demonstrates a great exercise that will take this technique to the next level. This basic exercise combines the bass/chop with a full chord progression. The progression is four bars long. Here is a measure by measure breakdown of the chords:
Bar 1: G
Bar 2: C
Bar 3: D
Bar 4: G<
Once again, the bass note of each chord should be played on beats 1 and 3. Be careful when you get to the C chord. You will have to avoid strumming the low E string. When playing D, you will have to avoid strumming both the low E and A strings.
B. “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain”
This basic traditional song will put what you learned in the last exercise into a practical musical context. Once again, the G, C, and D chords are used for this tune. Here is a breakdown of all the chord changes.
Bar 1: Beats 1 and 2-G Beats 3 and 4- C Be careful of this first measure! Each chord only lasts 2 beats.
Bar 2: G
Bar 3: G
Bar 4: D
Bar 5: G
Bar 6: C
Bar 7: D
Bar 8: G
Once again, the bass note will be played on beats 1 and 3. The chop will occur on beats 2 and 4. For example, in measure 1, the bass of the G chord will land on 1. The chop of the G chord occurs on beat 2. Beat 3 is now the bass note of the C chord. Finally, beat 4 is the chop of the C chord.
C. "She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain” Part II
The rhythm of this song sounds a little too empty compared to most traditional bluegrass songs. For this reason, a bass and chop will now be played within the space of every beat. Previously, all the notes you were playing were quarter notes. Now, all of the rhythms will be played in eighth notes. The bass note is now played on the first eighth note of each beat. The second eighth note of each beat is the chop. Watch how Steve plays these rhythms very carefully. Pause the lesson, and practice the song several times by yourself. Once you are ready, try to play along with Steve.
D. Final Thoughts
The bass/chop technique is the rhythmic foundation to bluegrass guitar playing. The following lessons will continue to expand upon this important fixture in the bluegrass genre. Do not proceed to the following lessons until you have mastered all of the exercises in Lesson 1.

Video Subtitles / Captions


Supplemental Learning Material



Member Comments about this Lesson

Discussions with our instructors are just one of the many benefits of becoming a member of JamPlay.

BootSQBootSQ replied

Is this the same as a Boom / Strum? (sounds the same)

Bradley.ConwayBradley.Conway replied

Hi BootSQ! Good ear! That is basically the Boom/Strum with the only difference being that Steve downstrokes on the "strum" section rather than the upstroke for the strum. BUT this is all semantics really since Boom Chop is essentially the same technique as Boom Strum.

DavidgibbsDavidgibbs replied

I gave up playing a year ago and would like to learn to play Bluegrass. After viewing other teachers I feel more at home with you. Regards David Gibbs

braventopbraventop replied

that was awesome.. who would havethought bluegrass could be so much fun to play .. i am hooked

israel lopezisrael lopez replied

thank you i love bluegrass. didn't bluegrass originate from christian hymns?

raymeeraymee replied

I am wondering if bluegrass is proper to play on electric guitar. Or is this not advisable .

jebchloejebchloe replied

Thank you so much for your help! I started learning to play about 3 months ago, by what friends at church tell me, but mostly following along and learning the cords. I do Have a musical with playing the trumpet, so a few of the things that you have mentioned, I understand fully and that as really helped me to get the collective whole to watch the music is about. As far me on the guitar, I am still slow going from the G to C or the D to C, That C cord just hasn't been memorized by my hands yet! But lots of practice and execution will take care of that. Also I watched this video before I went to church and I was amazing by how watching the older men play, they were using the bass Chop and that made following along a lot easier. Thank you so much Steve! God Bless!

lanecrawfordlanecrawford replied

Hello Steve. You are the best thing since sliced bread. I am learning so much from your way of teaching and cannot thank you enough. I have now started the second sessions and want to thank you again. With your teaching method I have already become alot better and will keep on learning from you. Thanks again and God bless.

sdearsdear replied

Steve, I went through phase 1, I am a total beginner and have learned allot! I understand this lesson, but cannot keep up. Do you have any practical exercies to help with cord changes? I seen to get left in the dirt try to change.

jnc51jnc51 replied

Steve, I went through your phase 1 lessons and recently joined a Bluegrass club here in Tucson. There are over 200 members. Every Monday evening they host a Bluegrass workshop consisting of Guitars, Banjos, Mandolins, Dobros, Bass, fiddle, etc...It goes for 2 hours with beginner and intermediate levels. I believe this lesson set will fill the void of individual lessons to help me jam with the rest of the group. we usually have more than 50 people show up for these workshops. I never was much into Bluegrass but I'm hooked now. Desert Bluegrass is the name of the club and they have a great website.

lonewolflonewolf replied

Can someone tell me what a chord/chord means? Example: The lyrics to many songs that I like will show D/F# or G/B instead of a single chord. I'm sure its out there in a future lesson, but the music I'm tinkering with at this time wants me to know now. Also, please explain what Cadd9 is.

randyrockerrandyrocker replied

As jnc51 indicated, Cadd9 adds the ninth degree of the C major scale to the basic C chord. That is a D. Think C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C (octave or 8th note of the scale, then D = 9. You can play Cadd9 in the open position by forming the open-position C chord, then placing your little finger on the third fret of the B string. My brother Gary Hawthorne built a very moving song called "Man in Bloom" by alternating between the C and the Cadd9, which you can easily do by just lifting your little finger off the B string, then fretting it again.

lgraveslgraves replied

Enter your comment here.

jnc51jnc51 replied

I would suggest going to Steve's phase 1 lessons. When two chords are seperated with a (/) they are called slash chords. These incorporate the bass of one chord and the "treble" of the other. As for Cadd9, I believe it's incorporates the 9th interval in that C scale. This is all covered in theory in some of the beginning lessons. Mark Lincoln also does a good Phase 1 introduction to this theory.

brandtjbrandtj replied

Although I do not know much about Bluegrass music, I'd like to get a feel for all the genres and this looks like it can be fun to play. One question: For the bass/chop, do you hit the bass and then chop the rest of the strings or the bass string as well?

sarabsarab replied

some more bluegrass!!

gaurav_tsecgaurav_tsec replied

great lesson to start off bluegrass! thanks!

miller209miller209 replied

EADGBE= Eat All Dead Giraffes Before Evening

rockingchicagorockingchicago replied

thank you steve

cool merccool merc replied

hi steve love the lesson.have a question,when you chop,do you drag the fingers before hitten the pick ,or just the pick.

kjetilklkjetilkl replied

Hi! I just wondered: Is it common to play bluegrass with a thumbpick? I prefer using a thumbpick, but would it be wise to use a normal pick instead?

kyankyan replied

I am a recent convert to JamPlay. I played guitaar for a while as a kid and then just carried one around....well until now. I have made it through most of Steve's Phase I lessons and now am onto Phase II. I love the lessons and am progressing rapidly! I find Steve's lessons so good, that I feel remiss in not trying the other instructors yet... but I will! Thank you Steve.

sendbahtsendbaht replied

Yes a big THANKS to Steve. I retired and now live in Thailand and have LOTS of time to study the guitar. I am also coming along pretty fine. I love the online lesson a lot. How about a Thai song?:))

andrergsanchezandrergsanchez replied

"Welcome to the Bluegrass guitar lesson series! In the next segment Steve will give a bit of background on Bluegrass and begin teaching you the fundamantels." Question, what is a fundamantel? That looks horrible.

nadanada replied

Dear Steve, I am grateful I found you and am really enjoying the lessons... if only all the teachers throughout my life had been as patient,calm and friendly as you, I would have stuck with a lot more of the stuff I tried...

mav67mav67 replied

Thanks for the lesson Steve. I am not all that familiar with this style of music, although after this lesson it becomes apparent that I am more familiar with it than I realised. Looking forward to the rest of this lesson set.

steveeulbergsteveeulberg replied

Thanks for the feedback, jamn1! Steve

jamn1jamn1 replied

Very good instructor! He definatley explains/demonstrates very well from what I have studied thus far!

Bluegrass Guitar with Steve Eulberg

Found in our Beginner Lesson Sets

Bluegrass is one of the most recognizable styles of guitar. Some refer to bluegrass as a celebration of the simple things in life. Dive into this series to learn the essential components of the bluegrass guitar style.

Intro to BluegrassLesson 1

Intro to Bluegrass

Steve demonstrates basic, essential bluegrass techniques. In this lesson, you will learn the bass/chop technique.

Length: 16:00 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Building the SongLesson 2

Building the Song

Now that you have the bass/chop down, Steve demonstrates additional bluegrass techniques.

Length: 21:06 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Walking Between ChordsLesson 3

Walking Between Chords

Steve takes our bluegrass song one step further in this lesson. He demonstrates how to play a walking bass line between chords.

Length: 21:07 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Accenting Your PlayLesson 4

Accenting Your Play

In this lesson, Steve discusses hammer-ons and pull-offs and how they are used in the bluegrass genre.

Length: 33:34 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Double Picking and ScalesLesson 5

Double Picking and Scales

Steve explains double picking, also known as alternate picking. He teaches a scale that enables you to play an awesome bluegrass lick.

Length: 30:04 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Bluegrass LicksLesson 6

Bluegrass Licks

Steve teaches a widely used bluegrass lick.

Length: 22:34 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Descending LickLesson 7

Descending Lick

In this lesson Steve teaches a descending bluegrass lick.

Length: 34:00 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Bluegrass MelodyLesson 8

Bluegrass Melody

Steve gives tips on playing a melody line in the bluegrass genre.

Length: 37:00 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Raising the OctaveLesson 9

Raising the Octave

Steve demonstrates how you can use "closed chord" voicings in order to raise the octave of the melody. Great lesson!

Length: 38:00 Difficulty: 3.5 Members Only
Fun Bluegrass LicksLesson 10

Fun Bluegrass Licks

Steve demonstrates some bluegrass licks that serve as introductions, endings, and transitions within a song.

Length: 23:00 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
I Am a PilgrimLesson 11

I Am a Pilgrim

Steve Eulberg teaches a classic bluegrass song entitled "I Am a Pilgrim." He covers strumming, the melody, and walking bass lines.

Length: 28:57 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Angel BandLesson 12

Angel Band

Steve teaches a bluegrass waltz titled "Angel Band."

Length: 28:09 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Catchy Bluegrass LickLesson 13

Catchy Bluegrass Lick

Steve dives deep into another classic Bluegrass lick that you can use to flare up a jam session or song.

Length: 20:46 Difficulty: 2.0 FREE
Wabash Cannonball Part 1Lesson 14

Wabash Cannonball Part 1

Steve Eulberg teaches the first part of the bluegrass classic, "Wabash Cannonball."

Length: 18:52 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Wabash Cannonball Part 2Lesson 15

Wabash Cannonball Part 2

Steve continues his two part "Wabash Cannonball" series by teaching how to develop the basic rhythm and melody into unique solo sections.

Length: 23:53 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Ballad of Jesse James Part 1Lesson 16

Ballad of Jesse James Part 1

Steve Eulberg teaches this old tune as if it were being played back in the old days. Here, Steve demonstrates the verse, chorus, and melody. Enjoy the story behind this one!

Length: 15:26 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Ballad of Jesse James Part 2Lesson 17

Ballad of Jesse James Part 2

In his second lesson of "The Ballad of Jesse James," Steve Eulberg demonstrates a more in depth look at how to play the song in a bluegrass form. This lesson is all about double stops, and when combined...

Length: 21:53 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Steve Eulberg

About Steve Eulberg View Full Biography An Award-winning multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter, Steve Eulberg weaves mountain and hammered dulcimers with a variety of unusual instruments to create thought-provoking, smile-inducing, toe-tapping acoustic experiences.

He has sung and composed for religious communities, union halls, picket lines, inter-faith retreats, mountain-top youth camps, as well as the more familiar venues: clubs, coffeehouses, bookstores, festivals, charity benefits and showcase concerts.

Born and raised in the German-heritage town of Pemberville, Ohio, Steve was exposed to a variety of music in his home. Early piano lessons were followed by trumpet in school band, and he became self-taught on ukelele and guitar and harmonica. Mandolin was added at Capital University where, while majoring in History, he studied Ear Training, Voice and took Arranging lessons from the Conservatory of Music.

While at college, he first heard hammered and mountain dulcimers, building his first mountain dulcimer just before his final year. Seminary training took him the west side of Denver where he built his first hammered dulcimer. With these instruments, he was able to give voice to the Scottish, English and Irish traditions to which he is also heir.

Following marriage in 1985 to Connie Winter-Eulberg he settled in Kansas City, Missouri. There he worked cross-culturally in a church of African-Americans, Latinos and European Americans, with music being a primary organizing tool. He moved with his family in 1997 to be nestled beside the Rocky Mountains in Fort Coillins, Colorado.

Founder of Owl Mountain Music, Inc. he teaches and performs extensively in Colorado and Wyoming with tours across the US and the UK. He delights in introducing the “sweet music” of dulcimers to people in diverse settings and in addition to his own recordings, has included dulcimers in a variety of session work for other musicians.

In 2000 he was commissioned to create a choral composition featuring dulcimers for the Rainbow Chorus in Fort Collins. It was recorded in the same year (BEGINNINGS). He is currently at work on a commissioned symphony that will feature hammered dulcimer and Australian didjeridu.

Eulberg passionately believes that music crosses cultural and language barriers because music builds community. Influenced by a variety of ethnic styles, his music weaves vital lyric with rap, rock, folk, gospel and blues. Audiences of all ages respond well to his presentation and to his warm sense of humor.

Steve is a member of Local 1000 (AFM), The Folk Alliance, BMI and BWAAG (Better World Artists and Activist's Guild).

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