Playing alternating bass

Alternating bass lines

Everyone has probably heard an alternating bass line played by some folk musician at some time. It builds on what we learned in the last folk lesson. Instead of playing a cluster of notes in the bass, you just play one note.

Use an “E” chord

Focus on your right hand and the patterns. Just play an “E” chord.

Three parts to the strumming pattern


We’ll start out playing the bass note on the 1 and 3 and strumming on 2 and 4. Down pick/strum everything.

Usually the two bass notes are different – hence the name alternating bass. Also, the lower bass note most often starts first.

On the one

Play the first bass note. This is usually the lower note. With an E chord, this is on the sixth string.

On the two

Downstrum the top three notes of the chord.

On the three

Here again we play the bass note. This time we play the bass note on the fifth string.

On the four

Downstrum the top three notes of the chord again

Practicing alternating bass

  1. Practice the E chord slowly, so there are no hiccups in the beat. Set your metronome to about 50-60 to start.
  2. Once you’re comfortable with this, play it a little faster.
  3. Start playing other chords – play e minor and G
  4. Play between e minor and G
  5. Play A major – this time play the bass notes on the 5th and then 4th strings.
  6. Do the same for C
  7. Play D major – this time play the bass notes on the 4th and then 5th strings -yes, this is reversed!
  8. Play different chord progressions – G, C, D or G, e minor, C, D or E, A, D. You get the idea.

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