Chris Eldridge

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Basic Bluegrass Rhythm Guitar

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Fundamentals > Basic Bluegrass Rhythm Guitar

Rhythm guitar is our topic this week. Given how important it is (as illustrated by the sheer percentage of time that you're playing rhythm when you're playing music), it's pretty under appreciated and understudied. The thing is: playing good rhythm is incredibly fun! There are few things I enjoy more than getting together with a couple of good old time musicians and trying to lock in with them, swatting out solid rhythm guitar. Very simple and very satisfying.

In this lesson, I lay out the fundamentals of "boom-chuck" style accompaniment, alternating roots and 5ths in the bass, and playing in 3/4 time.




p.s. The metronome is your friend.




Topics and/or subjects covered in this lesson:
White Dove
Chris Eldridge
Bluegrass Guitar
Rhythm Guitar

Print Print Chords & Tab

Loop 0:27 The Importance of Rhythm Guitar

Loop 2:44 Breakdown of "Boom Chuck" Rhythm Guitar


Download the Sheet Music PDF


Loop 7:01 Breakdown of White Dove 3/4 Rhythm

Loop 9:56 The Quick Upbrush

Loop 11:18 What to Practice





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Chris May 13, 2020

Hi Chris,

Thanks for this so much! I may have missed it, but which strings are you hitting on the down stroke after you hit the base notes? Is it the G, B, E strings or just the B, E strings?





Chris Eldridge
Chris Eldridge Aug 14, 2020

Hey Chris, 

The honest answer is that I'm not sure! It really doesn't need to be that precise - I mostly am aiming for the middle and high strings of the guitar. If I lean more into the middle strings it makes the guitar "bark" more on a strum and if I aim more for the high strings then it gives a slightly "string-ier" sound. Both can be appropriate in different circumstances. The main thing to focus on is really just staying relaxed as you strum through it!

Barry Chabala
Barry Chabala Dec 30, 2018

Hi Chris,

I've been playing for a long time and i've always been fancinated by the roll of rythmn guitar in a band and always adopted that roll gladly whenever possible. Your comment about Tony Rice being like Elvin Jones really grabbed me. Being pretty new to bluegrass (thanks to you and your fellow PBs) can you sight a few examples of this on record? Maybe a particular tune or 2, or record or 2 that would illustrate this? 



Chris Eldridge
Chris Eldridge Jan 06, 2019

Hi Barry, Listen to Whitewater by Bela Fleck. It’s the first track on Bela’s record, Drive. It’s also just a smoking track in general. There are some great “tempest of guitar” moments in the background throughout. The whole record is a modern classic. Béla, Tony, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Mark O’Connor, Stuart Duncan, and Mark Schatz.

Another fun, live feeling album is Dancing on the Fingerboard by Rickie Simpkins. Cattle in the Cane and Sally Goodin are standouts. The band is Rickie on Fiddle, Dan Tyminski on Mandolin, Tony and his brother Wyatt on guitars, and Ronnie Simpkins on bass. 

That said, what makes me think of that most is a live tape of the Tony Rice playing at Rockygrass in 2001. I was actually in the front row for that show and it was insane. I just did a quick search scouring the internet but I can’t find it. It’s amazing, I loved that show, the guitar was LOUD, Tony was playing at the peak of his powers. I used to have a copy and I want to hear it again so I’ll let you know if and when when I find it.


Barry Chabala
Barry Chabala Jan 07, 2019

Thanks Chris! really fantastic music, very inspirational to say the least. hope you find that Rockygrass gig, would LOVE to hear that. 

Gregory Kelly
Gregory Kelly Jul 09, 2017

Hey Chris-

Just stumbled across this site while looking for a lead sheet to Old Grimes, but you've convinced me that I should start at the beginning! My primary instrument is Mandolin, but I so desperately want to comp Old Grimes on guitar like you do that I'm making it a goal to graduate up from "guitar hack" this year.

Above is a quick video I just took. I am not concerned with the missed notes in my left hand as I can clean them up, but more curious about what you see in my right. I *really* struggle to hit the correct bass note more than ~ 80% of the time. It gets much worse if I am playing with people - in fact I wouldn't even try the alternating bass line with others.

Is there something fundamentally wrong with my strum? Or do I just need to do this 1000 times at half speed? And happy to hear any lefthand comments as well.

Thanks - Greg 

Chris Eldridge
Chris Eldridge Jul 18, 2017

Hi Greg, welcome! I wouldn't say that there is anything fundamentally wrong with your strum. It sounds good and looks fine too. I do think you might have an easier time accuracy-wise if you didn't move your arm as much in the strum, but instead got a bit more movement out of your wrist. I actually rotate my wrist quite a bit in my strums, rather than hinging at the elbow. This can give a more percussive snap to the strums (think Tony Rice). That said, doing what you're doing 1000 times at half speed certainly wouldn't hurt! And if I'm playing rhythm guitar in an old-time jame, I'll be playing more the way you are in this video - hinging at the elbow. That technique certainly has its place!

Another thing, you might try playing more bass runs with downstrokes. There is a lesson on bass runs in the Honey, You Don't Know My Mind series. You might also check out the Swing in Bluegrass Rhythm Guitar lesson from that same series. 



Chris Eldridge
Chris Eldridge Sep 11, 2015

Hi Mike,

Yes, it's very important to use a thick pick when playing bluegrass. You've hit the nail on the head about a thick pick helping out with the getting a stout, well-defined bass.

I usually use a pick that's approx 1.4mm thick. Sometimes thicker or thinner depending on the given song, but I only ever worry about that if I'm recording. FWIW, most people use a slightly thinner pick than me. 1.2mm is common.

I usually use a Blue Chip Pick. They're very expensive, but if you're someone who never loses his/her pick, they're great. They have a way of not being slippery in your hand. The sound they create is pleasantly dark. They also are very durable! I've been using the same one for over a year. It's worn, but still working just fine.

If you were looking for something less pricy I'd check out Wegens. They're usually great, although from time to time their quality control slips (bevels occasionally have been unusable). They have a soft, plasticy (but in a good way, IMO) tone to them. I like them.

Finally, the best inexpensive pick that I know of is a Dunlop Primetone. They sound and feel pretty good and they're certainly the best value.

Barry Chabala
Barry Chabala Jan 07, 2019

1.4 mm ? what model, Chris? Are you playing a Thile pick? I have one of those and a TP50. Love Blue Chips 

Chris Eldridge
Chris Eldridge Jan 10, 2019

I did use a CT-55 bluechip for awhile, but I’ve now moved onto to the TD-48. It’s closer to 1.2mm and the footprint of the pick is a bit smaller too. I feel like it’s a little more agile and I can handle it easier. When I was using the big pick I was playing slightly less nuanced things than I am these days. But who knows, I’ll probably be back to the 1.4mm before you know it 🙃

Mike Caren
Mike Caren Sep 11, 2015

Hi Chris --- great lesson, thank you.  One thing I need to work on is getting the alternating bass louder and more defined.  

I have a semi-related question --- do you use a thick pick?  If so --- I'm curious how thick.  You get a really nice defined sound from the bass that I want to try to get.


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