Need Help with Chet Style Playing

Discussion of history's greatest guitar player.

Need Help with Chet Style Playing

Postby Bryan B. » Sat Jul 23, 2011 12:26 pm

Hi all,

I am a struggling student of Chet's Thumb Style picking and need some help. I have achieved the thumb independance and can play some Chet style TABs, but I would like to understand how to add the thumb bass to a song melody.

I read that Chet said that he would start with learning the song melody, once he had that down, he would then add the bass lines to it...

Does anyone have a source of information that will help me do this?

I was told to start with a very short and simple song such as the "Happy Birthday Song" or "When the Saints Come Marching In"but need help on how to get started.

Thank you

Bryan B.
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Re: Need Help with Chet Style Playing

Postby Roger Pratt » Sat Jul 23, 2011 1:33 pm

Bryan......The best thing I could suggest to you is to go to Youtube and type in "Thumbpicking Lesson" and there are a number of videos that will give you some insight as to what you are looking for. Tommy Emmanuel has a video for sale that teaches you the basics of the thumb lick like Chet did it. I recommend you get that. Good Luck!!!
Roger Pratt
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Re: Need Help with Chet Style Playing

Postby Fred » Tue Jul 26, 2011 9:10 pm

Hi Bryan, Welcome to the Struggle Club. I've been in that one a long time. Chet has a video lesson called Get Started on Guitar that goes over a lot of the basics. Also Buster B Jones "Fingerstyle from the Ground Up, vol 1 and 2 is chock full of exercises. Pat Kirtley has one too, Intro to Thumbstyle Guitar, they should all get you going. I think most are available at Enjoy.
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Re: Need Help with Chet Style Playing

Postby Bryan B. » Wed Jul 27, 2011 11:28 am


Thank you for all of the kind replies to my post....

I have mastered the basics of Chet's Thumbpicking and have the physical mechanics down...thanks to Tommy Emmanuel's Fingerstyle book. What I am trying to do is take a very simple song melody and add the thumb bass parts to it ,as Chet said that he did.
I am trying to understand the mechanics of song construction, in the Chet Atkins style, so that I can apply it to other songs..or even write my own music.

Thank you

Bryan B.
Posts: 22
Joined: Tue Sep 07, 2010 9:08 pm

Re: Need Help with Chet Style Playing

Postby thenorm » Wed Jul 27, 2011 1:29 pm

Learning chords and chord substitutions helps a lot.

The way I figured it out was to use the chord form that included (or had in easy reach) the melody notes I required.

That's it (oversimplified) if You're playing the right chords for the song the melody notes should be in easy reach.

It's best to try to confine the melody notes to the first three strings and work the bass notes around them.

This gets easier as time goes on.

Another tip. Find another finger stylist (or find them on YouTube) and Steal Their Licks. Find a local teacher if you can. This saves LOTS of time and minimizes unlearning bad form.

Go to jack baker's site

(his site is a treasure trove of finger style stuff) and learn to use tabledit
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Re: Need Help with Chet Style Playing

Postby bill raymond » Wed Jul 27, 2011 7:47 pm

Another thing that Norm didn't mention is to try your arrangements in different keys. Some melodies are accommodated more easily on the guitar in particular keys, as the chord inversions can be different and you can make best use of open strings.
bill raymond
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Re: Need Help with Chet Style Playing

Postby Randy Finney » Wed Jul 27, 2011 11:21 pm

Bryan, you may find this liberating - or you may find it useless to you. In any case, it is meant to introduce the general simplicity of the concept, not to be an introduction to an in depth study of it, so, don't over think it.

A creativity based, trial and error exercise / exploration for writing / finding bass lines is...

Take a chord progression - let's just take a real simple, and real popular, C-Major to F-Major to G-Major.

Your first goal is to get from the bass note "C" to the bass note "F". The first and most obvious creative choice you have is to play the "C" and then either play the "F" below the "C" or the "F" above the "C".

Now, define the notes which lie in between these two target notes - "F" and "C". For example, moving from "C" down to "F", your in between note options are: "B", "Bb", "A", "Ab", "G", "Gb". You can use any one, all, or any combination of these notes to transition from the "C" bass note to the target bass note "F". Experiment, go slow, and listen.

Experiment rhythmically. For example, if you have four beats to get from "C" to "F", you could play "C" on beat one and then choose three transition notes and play them as quarter notes and land on the "F" on beat one of the next bar. Or, you could play "C" on beat one and let it ring through to beat three and then play the three transition notes as eighth notes starting on the "+" of three and land on the "F" on beat one of the next bar.

When you combine the possible permutations of these six transition notes with the possible rhythmic permutations, you end up with lots to explore. And remember, you could just choose one transition note and play the root as a half note on beat one and the transition note as a half note on beat three. Trust your ear to decide which sounds best.

You can do the same thing moving from "C" up to an "F". The transition notes would be "C#", "D", "D#", "E". In fact, you can do this between the roots of any two chords. Remember, all the notes in between the roots are always an option - although they all may not always sound "good" or "right" in every situation.

You will want to experiment a lot with moving in one direction as this is a "safer" thing to do (read: more solid bass line playing thing to do). However, changing direction is possible and sometimes more desirable. Generally, the more direction changes you employ, the more you will sound like you are playing counter-melody (or riffs, or hooks, etc.) and not just laying down a solid, functional bass line.

This exercise is meant to just get you started with the idea of constructing bass lines. The nice thing about this particular exercise is that you don't have think about Keys, or Chord Spelling, etc. You just need to listen and explore.

There are many other concepts to explore. As you say, the most important is, of course, considering the melody when constructing your bass lines. This is part of a larger topic often referred to as the study of Melodic / Harmonic Relationship and, again, it is very easy to begin a trial and error exploration of this.

Just add melody to the above exercise. There is lots to explore and learn here but, here is tip: when you add a melody to your bass line, or a bass line to your melody, and it doesn't work, remember this...

You may have a "wrong" bass note or you may not. This is because Melodic / Harmonic Relationship is rhythmically and tempo dependent.

If you find a melody / bass note conflict in one of your ideas, try shifting one or both of them rhythmically so they occur in different parts of the bar. Also, understand that, the quicker the tempo - or the shorter the notes rhythmically - the less it matters what notes you play. Under these circumstances, the listener's ear doesn't really have time to register any harsh dissonances - they really just hear direction, contour, and which note you land on.

Often people forget this and immediately try to find different notes when something sounds "wrong". If you always use the "choose different notes" as a solution it ends up just stifling you creatively as you will only learn to choose "safe" notes. Boring. The excitement in Les Paul's playing didn't come choosing safe notes!

On the other hand, if you always use rhythmic "tricks", or tempo, to make things work, you end up sounding like a guitar player trying to play music rather than a musician who plays guitar. "Modal Tappers" (I don't know what else to call them), are often guilty of this.

So, my point is to find both a "note solution" and a "rhythmic solution" to bass line / melody conflicts as this will give you the most creative freedom. In fact, this is one of things that sets Tommy apart from a whole lot of other players. He can make anything work in any situation.

Randy Finney
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Re: Need Help with Chet Style Playing

Postby thenorm » Thu Jul 28, 2011 12:30 am

Bill Raymond is correct.

Finding the "right" key can make all the difference in the world.
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Re: Need Help with Chet Style Playing

Postby PhilHunt » Thu Jul 28, 2011 6:00 am

I always liked the Dolton LP "Play Guitar with Chet Atkins". It has certain Chet tunes that aren't that difficult and it plays them slowed down then normal speed and it has the background so you can play along with it. Tunes like: Windy and Warm, Nine Pound Hammer, Red Wing.
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Re: Need Help with Chet Style Playing

Postby smokymtguitar09 » Thu Jul 28, 2011 6:39 am


There are variations that come from Chet's style and one of the best examples is Doc Watson's version of the Chet Atkins classic "Windy and Warm". I've found it a good thing to get the basics down then adjust to what works best for you as you see Doc do in this video. Doc is known to play Merle Travis style of thumbpicking but if you observe he throws in some alternating bass that Chet is famous for. Doc is a Chet Atkins admirer and they recorded together in 1979 on a record entitled "Reflections". Doc told me a wonderful story about how that came about and how he got to know Chet as a person through that experience.

Good luck

Doc Watson "Windy and Warm"
Ronnie Evans
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