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Old December 6th, 2010, 06:37 AM   #1 (permalink)
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alternating bass - thumb pick question

I so inspired by Chet Atkins and Tommy Emmanuel that I got myself a thumb pick and started to learn as much as I can from YouTube videos and such.

I'm still having some difficulty with alternating bass with my thumb pick. Should I just thumb the E and A string or should I learn to alternate between E, A, D?

I'm not new to playing guitar, just new to this particular style of music. Any tips to improve my technique?

Thanks.

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Old December 6th, 2010, 12:46 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Learn to alternate between E, A, and D. For example, if you are playing an open-D chord, you'll want to be able to hit the root note. I usually alternate between the D and A when playing a D chord.

As far as tips, sounds like you're on the right track with videos and stuff. Just be sure that they are quality lessons. I'm also really picky about the thumb picks I use. I will only use National (large), everything else just feels 'odd' and it shows in my playing. Make sure you find the thumb pick that is right for you.

Good Luck! Remember -> practice, practice practice!
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Old December 6th, 2010, 06:10 PM   #3 (permalink)
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For an E chord you would typically play a low E on the downbeat, then an E on the 4th string on the upbeat, then a B on the 5th string on the next downbeat , then another E on the 4th string. For an A you would play the open 5th string, then an E on the 4th, then an E on the open 6th string, then an E on the 4th. Use the same general idea for other chords.

Muting is a big part of the Atkins style. He often uses right hand muting at the bridge while additionally muting the upbeat bass notes by lifting the left hand after he strikes them.
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Old December 6th, 2010, 10:41 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Great advice there! Thanks. I'll focus on alternating between E, A, D.

I should keep practicing the alternate bass, focus on it and add some notes on the treble strings every now and then? Is this a good approach to learn?

Tommy Emmanuel mentioned that we should learn how to play till our thumb is independent, not as easy as it sounds, haha.
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Old December 6th, 2010, 11:23 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Definitely get used to using your thumb on the E, A and D strings.

If you're having difficulty with keeping a strong, steady beat on the bass notes I would recommend just practicing those bass notes without playing the upper chords. You can use a metronome or some sort of drum machine to keep time and simply play the quarter note bass notes. You can finger chord shapes and just play the bass notes without playing the rest of the chord or just play on open strings without even using actual chord shapes. Maybe you're skills are beyond this basic practice method already but if you are having trouble keeping the bass going steady and strong then this is a good way to practice it.
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Old December 6th, 2010, 11:31 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by boneyguy View Post
Definitely get used to using your thumb on the E, A and D strings.

If you're having difficulty with keeping a strong, steady beat on the bass notes I would recommend just practicing those bass notes without playing the upper chords. You can use a metronome or some sort of drum machine to keep time and simply play the quarter note bass notes. You can finger chord shapes and just play the bass notes without playing the rest of the chord or just play on open strings without even using actual chord shapes. Maybe you're skills are beyond this basic practice method already but if you are having trouble keeping the bass going steady and strong then this is a good way to practice it.
Great advice there! Looks like the focus is on the steady beat on bass notes before doing anything fancy.

Been flat picking blues for so long, now that I'm learning this, I feel like a newbie all over again, haha.

Thanks.
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Old December 7th, 2010, 01:22 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by TeleJedi View Post
Great advice there! Looks like the focus is on the steady beat on bass notes before doing anything fancy.

Been flat picking blues for so long, now that I'm learning this, I feel like a newbie all over again, haha.

Thanks.
You're absolutely right that the steady bass beat is the foundation for the Atkins and Travis style. Once you get that down solidly the rest will fall into place much more easily. Sometimes, as I've suggested, if you focus your practice just on the bass it can really speed up the learning process. The reason for that is because you need to feel very strongly and without any hesitation where those bass downbeats are in order for the syncopated melody and chordal bits to fall in to place.
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Old December 7th, 2010, 01:57 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Alright..... practice, practice, practice, I'll focus on the foundation before I even attempt the fancy stuff.....
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Old July 7th, 2011, 11:22 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Hello guys and I have been trying to learn thumb picking alt bass for several years now and the only way I HAVE BEEN ABLE TO DO IT IS TO MEMORIZE THE TABS AND WOW THAT MUST BE THE HARD WAY??? I can keep a steady beat going until I try to add the treble melody then the wheels come off any comments would be appreciated. I use JamPlay also. Thanks
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Old July 8th, 2011, 01:56 AM   #10 (permalink)
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Hello guys and I have been trying to learn thumb picking alt bass for several years now and the only way I HAVE BEEN ABLE TO DO IT IS TO MEMORIZE THE TABS AND WOW THAT MUST BE THE HARD WAY??? I can keep a steady beat going until I try to add the treble melody then the wheels come off any comments would be appreciated. I use JamPlay also. Thanks

Given what you've described it sounds to me like you're having trouble coordinating your fingers with what your thumb is picking. It's kind of like a piano player's left and right hands. They have to operate independently.


- Slow down (always good advice when having problems)

- Learn a song in small bits- maybe just take one bar (or even less) and rehearse it over and over until you've got it and then add another bar and repeat the process.

- Practice simple exercises- Grab one chord and stay on it-just use open strings and strings that are already fretted in the chord for melody so you can strictly focus on the coordination of your thumb and fingers without having to also think about moving your left hand fingers to fret melody notes.
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Last edited by boneyguy; July 8th, 2011 at 02:28 AM.
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Old July 8th, 2011, 10:50 AM   #11 (permalink)
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Just have to keep doing it until you can do it.

I hybrid pick, but play some Travis style, and love Jerry Reed licks. I thought I'd never be able to do it, and gave up several times. Then one day something clicked and I suddenly had it. So don't give up. Take a little time away from it if your brain is hurting, but keep at it. It will become second nature eventually.
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Old July 9th, 2011, 12:21 AM   #12 (permalink)
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thumb independence

Hey guys thanks for the advice and it really helps as I must be pretty hard headed about this as I have been trying for some time now.
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Old July 9th, 2011, 12:59 AM   #13 (permalink)
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Record your self as often as you can, you'll hear where you want to take it.
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Old July 9th, 2011, 08:09 AM   #14 (permalink)
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I might have missed it... but did anyone mention 'rolls'?

I learned by learning rolls... much like a banjo player would
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Old July 9th, 2011, 10:56 AM   #15 (permalink)
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mention 'rolls'?
Trolls, trolls did you say ......... :-)
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Old July 10th, 2011, 03:06 PM   #16 (permalink)
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I've been slowly but surely making progress with style over the last two years. My thumb still doesn't have a mind of it's own, but I've had a lot of fun learning songs that use this technique. It can really take your acoustic playing to places you didn't know existed before.
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