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Acoustic rhythm guitar licks?
April 8, 2010 9:51 PM   Subscribe

I've been playing acoustic guitar for a bunch of years now (and am so-so at it). I really like those transitional moments between chords -- stuff you can throw in to make just strumming along a bit more interesting; things like the turnaround in Alice's Restaurant, but even really simple things like -- starting on a D chord and leading on the low e string 0-2-3 to get to a G chord. What are your favorite little phrases like those? Or, alternatively, do those have an official name I can google? Or, alternatively alternatively, any good websites or books for that kind of thing? Oh -- I mostly play with a pick, so I'm more interested in phrases you can play that way.
posted by The Dutchman to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (16 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think I'd call this a turnaround.
posted by cmoj at 10:06 PM on April 8, 2010


I'm a very poor guitar player, but I know exactly what you're talking about. There's a lot of this in "I'll Be Your Mirror" by the Velvet Underground. The song is mainly D-G-A and there's a lively little melody that's played over the chords on the high E string. I think all of the tab sites will have it.
posted by chrchr at 10:12 PM on April 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's some lovely little examples of what you're talking about in this Kris Kristofferson song! And this Townes Van Zandt song. I'd call them turnarounds, too.
posted by bewilderbeast at 10:30 PM on April 8, 2010


Neil Young's My My, Hey Hey has this sort of thing.

I wouldn't call it a turnaround because this sort of thing is so common and can come and go so quickly, often without leading into a different section of the song. I don't know of a specific word for it... maybe just "bass line" or "lead-in"? When you practice more (or perhaps you can already), you'll be able to throw this sort of thing into certain songs that might not even have it notated. When playing acoustic guitar, it's often just you providing the music and there's no bass or keyboard player to lead into the next few chords. So if you took a song with basic strumming, such as Eight Days a Week, I'm sure it wouldn't be beyond you to add your own bass line in between the chords.
posted by battlebison at 10:30 PM on April 8, 2010


Maybe you're asking, without fully knowing it, about Travis picking? I spent about 9 months learning to Travis pick John Denver's "Leaving On a Jet Plane," and I can still bring tears to the eyes of nubile young women, and cynical over-60 women, just by pullling 7ths, and high harmonics, and looking terribly old, wrinkled, grey and sad, in that old thing...
posted by paulsc at 10:42 PM on April 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


Other great Travis picking favorites: Early Mornin' Rain by Gordon Lightfoot, Sunday Morning, Comin' Down, by Kris Kristoferson, and The Big Rock Candy Mountain. You can also Travis pick a lot of Doc Watson's repertoire, although Doc and Merle would hate to say so, if given the chance.
posted by paulsc at 10:53 PM on April 8, 2010


Riffs (is what I call them.) I originally learned developed a "vocabulary" of them by listening to records and copying them--initially guitar music but then I started trying to copy piano riffs and other stuff, like orchestras and tv commercials. I suggest you take the same route.

Also, try and transpose riffs you already know into another key. E.g. try playing Alice's Restaurant in E.
posted by Obscure Reference at 11:47 PM on April 8, 2010


Travis picking is more of a fingerstyle technique. If you're primarily using a flatpick, you might get more out of Carter picking. Maybelle Carter pioneered the technique using a thumbpick, but plenty of people nowadays use a flatpick.

Carter picking makes it relatively simple to transition from rhythm playing to playing simple riffs or even a full-fledged instrumental break and back again.
posted by tdismukes at 5:26 AM on April 9, 2010


Here's an example of what I mean by Carter picking. It's a relatively easy arrangement, but it sounds really good.
posted by tdismukes at 5:43 AM on April 9, 2010


I know exactly what you're talking about, and the lead in to a G on the low E string is probably the most famous one.

Another one I see a lot is when someone puts their pinky on the on the 4th fret on the high E string when playing a D chord, to do a little high sustain and then letting it resolve back to a D chord. Tom Petty made pretty much an entire song out of this with "Free Fallin'". That entire song is just D and A back and forth, with little pinky there, the D again, then dropping out the high E entirely on the D chord, then D again and then A.

My favorite "fill out the song with just a chord" trick is the hammer-on and/or pull-off. Take a C Chord. Strum it, and then remove your middle finger from the G string just long enough to hear it wobble, then put it back, just long enough to hear it wobble again. It takes a long time to get it right, but you can get a lot of mileage out of a few chords with this trick.
posted by pazazygeek at 5:57 AM on April 9, 2010


It's not really a turnaround -- that's something that goes at the end of a section and leads you back to the start. Sounds like you're talking about playing a walking bass on the guitar. You can find these ideas in lots of guitar technique books, but in general, you just have to figure out the key you're playing in and pick out some notes from that scale.

For instance, your example works in the key of D or G major because it involves the notes E and F#, which belong to both of those scales. As another example, if you're playing in the key of C, you can connect the C chord to the A minor chord with the B on the 2nd fret of the A string. Or you could walk from a C chord up to an F chord by playing C D E F, like in a lot of country tunes. Or walk from G back up to C by playing G A B C. Just learn your scales, particularly on the low strings, and you'll figure out lots of ways to do this sort of thing.

My favorite "fill out the song with just a chord" trick is the hammer-on and/or pull-off. Take a C Chord. Strum it, and then remove your middle finger from the G string just long enough to hear it wobble, then put it back, just long enough to hear it wobble again. It takes a long time to get it right, but you can get a lot of mileage out of a few chords with this trick.

Your middle finger would be the on D string here, but I get what you mean. In this case you're making the major chord into a sus2 chord, which is a common ornamentation. You can do the same thing to a D chord by removing your 2nd finger and letting the open E ring, or by lifting your first finger off of a G chord and letting the open A ring.
posted by ludwig_van at 7:01 AM on April 9, 2010


These are great, but I think I led you to stay firmly on the simpler side. Here's a great example of the kind of stuff I'd love more of.
posted by The Dutchman at 7:50 AM on April 9, 2010


James Blunt uses that technique in "you're beautiful" quite successfully
posted by freddymetz at 8:38 AM on April 9, 2010


If the Carter-picking song I linked to seems above your skill level, don't worry. You can still use the same technique for much simpler riffs.

Probably the easiest way to start is with bass runs that connect one chord to the next. All you need to know is
1) the notes of the scale for the key you're playing in
2) the component notes of the chord that you're currently on and the root note of the chord you're heading towards
3) how many beats you want to use for your run

I'll give a few examples for the key of G, assuming your chords are G, C, D, Am & Em and that you want to use an entire measure (4 beats) for your run. In these examples, each note or strum should take a single beat. Once these sort of runs become second nature to you, you can construct more advanced runs with trickier timing.

G to D: G (E string 3rd fret) - A (A string no fret) - B (A string 2nd fret) - C (A string 3rd fret), landing on D (D string no fret) for the first beat of the next measure.

G to C: G (E string 3rd fret) - strum the G chord - A (A string no fret) - B (A string 2nd fret), landing on C (A string 3rd fret) for the first beat of the next measure.

G to Am: G (E string 3rd fret) - D (D string no fret) - C (A string 3rd fret) - B (A string 2nd fret), landing on A (A string no fret) for the first beat of the next measure.

G to Em: G (E string 3rd fret) - strum the G chord - F# (E string 2nd fret) - strum the G chord, landing on E (E string no fret) for the first beat of the next measure.

C to Am: C (A string 3rd fret) - strum the C chord - B (A string 2nd fret) - strum the C chord, landing on A (A string no fret) for the first beat of the next measure.

D to C: D (D string no fret) - strum the D chord - A (A string no fret) - B (A string 2nd fret), landing on C (A string 3rd fret) for the first beat of the next measure.

And so on.
posted by tdismukes at 9:31 AM on April 9, 2010


tdismukes - thanks again. Sorry I'm not being clear. That Carter link is a bit TOO simple. This slightly more complex style is the kind of stuff I'd like more of.
posted by The Dutchman at 10:09 AM on April 9, 2010


Get a bluegrass flatpicking guitar book (I have a Mel Bay one, I'm sure it's not the only good one.) Even if you don't like bluegrass music, the chord transitions and fills make a good repertoire of improvisation licks that you can fit into any style music by changing the feel a little bit.
posted by ctmf at 3:44 PM on April 9, 2010


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