Skip to main content

Guitar lesson: Start playing bluegrass with this 5-minute tutorial

(Image credit: Harvey Silver / Getty)

Guitar skills (opens in new tab): Crossing over with country, bluegrass is a style of American roots music. Alongside acoustic guitar (opens in new tab), mandolin, banjo and fiddle are commonly used.

What you need to know

• Rhythm: Up-tempo bluegrass rhythms follow 16th note strum patterns. Count ‘1 e & a 2 e & a 3 e & a 4 e & a’ to keep time while strumming along with down- and upstrokes. 

• Scales: Guitar solos are often based in minor pentatonic scales. Add ♭5 for tension and a major 3rd for brightness. Play our scale over a G chord to get used to the sound.

• Speed: Bluegrass guitar often has constant streams of fast notes. One trick is to use pull-offs from fretted notes to open strings to help you play more quickly. 


Three key players to hear

1. Clarence White


2. Del McCoury


3. Ricky Skaggs 


G minor pentatonic scale with ♭5th and major 3rd

(Image credit: Future)
(opens in new tab)

(Image credit: Future)

Bluegrass is an energetic and driving style, often based on 16th notes. For the opening chords keep your strumming loose so the pick glides across the strings. Our descending lick uses the blues scale with an added major 3rd. Use picked notes, pull-offs and open strings for a smooth, continuous stream of notes.

Try our beginner's folk guitar lesson  (opens in new tab)

Total Guitar is Europe's best-selling guitar magazine.

Every month we feature interviews with the biggest names and hottest new acts in guitar land, plus Guest Lessons from the stars.

Finally, our Rocked & Rated section is the place to go for reviews, round-ups and help setting up your guitars and gear.

Subscribe: http://bit.ly/totalguitar (opens in new tab)