How to Mix Single Notes and Strums on the Guitar
Rhythm guitar includes many more approaches than just simultaneously strumming chords. A piano player doesn’t plunk down all her fingers at once every time she plays an accompaniment part, and guitarists shouldn’t have to strike all the strings every time they bring their pick down.
In fact, guitarists borrow a technique from their keyboard-plunking counterparts, who separate the left and right hands to play bass notes and chords, respectively. When guitarists separate out the components of a chord, they don’t use separate hands, but combine both aspects in their right hand. Playing bass notes with chords is called a pick-strum pattern.
Separating the bass and treble so that they play independently in time is a great way to provide rhythmic variety and introduce different chordal textures. Guitarists can even set up an interplay of the different parts — a bass and treble complementarity or counterpoint.
The simplest accompaniment pattern is known by the way it sounds: boom-chick. The boom-chick pattern is very efficient because you don’t have to play all the notes of the chord at once. Typically you play the bass note on the boom, and the all the notes in the chord except the bass note on the chick — but you get sonic credit for playing twice.
Here is a boom-chick, or bass-chord, pattern in a bouncy country-rock progression.
The symbol C immediately to the right of the treble clef is a shorthand way to indicate 4/4 time. Many examples of printed sheet music use C to indicate common, or 4/4, time.
Separating the bass notes from the treble chord forms can also create a more dynamic and interesting rhythm sound in a straight-ahead rock groove in a funky, Led Zeppelin-type of feel.
Moving bass line
Another device available to you after you separate the bass from the chord is the moving bass line. Examples of songs with moving bass lines include Neil Young’s “Southern Man,” Led Zeppelin’s “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You,” the Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil,” and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s “Mr. Bojangles.” A moving bass line can employ the boom-chick pattern.
This example shows a descending bass line, made more effective by isolating the bass line from the chords. Although this is left-hand movement within a chord form, you can think of this as new chord forms entirely, if that’s conceptually easier for you.
When a chord symbol features two letters separated by a forward slash, it indicates the chord and the bass note over which that chord sounds. For example, C/G is a C chord with a G in the bass. In this case, the bass note is a chord member (the notes of a C chord are C, E, and G), but it doesn’t always have to be that way.
In the chord progression C-C/B-C/A, the bass notes B and A are not part of the chord but help to provide motion to another chord.