Toggle Menu

Oh Susanna - demonstrating the use of different bass lines.

Guitar Lesson by Kirk Lorange
Difficulty Rating: Beginner-Intermediate

Brass guitar slides
Guitar Lesson by Kirk Lorange

Kirk LorangeAs well as putting together these fingerstyle guitar lessons, I am also the author of PlaneTalk - The Truly Totally Different Guitar Instruction Package, which teaches a mindset, a way of thinking about music and a way of tracking it all on the guitar fretboard. Yes, there IS a constant down there in the maze of strings and fret wire, a landmark that points to everything at all times. I call it The Easiest Yet Most Powerful Guitar Lesson You Will Ever Learn and many testimonials at my site will back up that rather superlative description. If your goal as a guitar player is to be able to truly PLAY the guitar, not just learn by rote; to be able to invent on the fly, not memorize every note; to be able to see the WHOLE fretboard as friendly, familiar territory, not just the first 5 frets and to do it all without thinking about all those scales and modes, then you should read more here.

Oh Susanna - The Lesson explained

Here's an old tune, written back in 1850 by Stephen Foster. It's a real classic.

I've been meaning to do a lessons demonstrating the use of different bass lines for a while and this simple tune lends itself perfectly to that end. I've kept it very simple, though, so even beginners will be able to handle it.

It's in our favorite key: G. Once again, the way the guitar is tuned and laid out makes G a great key for lessons as the related chords are all open chords. I'm very aware of how difficult barre chords are for the first few months of playing guitar ... no need to discourage you right from the start!

You'll notice I didn't include the usual chord diagrams in the tab or in the video for this one. That's because the way I arranged it turned what is usually a very simple I-IV-V chord progression into something much more complex, even though no full chords are being used. I figured it would just confuse everyone if I were to insert the names of the chords I hint at in this version.

So ... the main point of this lesson, apart from giving a nice little tune to play, is to show you how a simple melody can be underpinned by any number of bass lines and that by doing so, the overall 'vibe' of the tune keeps changing.

To be specific: the simple melody that we all know occurs three times in this rendition, at bars 2-3, 4-5 and 8-9 ... the first occurrence at bars 2-3 ends a little differently than the other two, but essentially, it's the same. But, you'll notice how each time I use a different bass line. The first time I move up through the scale starting at the root, G; the next I move up starting at the major 3rd, B (don't worry if you don't understand all this theory jargon) the last time I move down through the scale starting at the root again. I think you'll agree that it makes for an interesting sound, and how each snippet of melody has a different feel to it, a different flavor. This is a very simple example, but you often hear this kind of thing in movie soundtracks, where the theme is treated in various ways to suit the mood of the scene. Bass lines are a good place to start making those changes. Once you have a melody line and bass line, you can fill the middle register in with other notes and create chords. I might take this tune and demonstrate exactly that next time.

I've made a separate midi file of just the bass line so you can hear how it changes each time. I suggest when you piece this together that you work on each line and make sure you know what each sounds like on its own.

As always, have fun with it, take breaks as necessary, and work on making it all flow as a unit.