I'm trying to play the following (part of Guitar Boogie) without a pick. What's a reasonable way to pick with the right hand? So far I've only been using the thumb, but trying to speed up, I think it's keeping me back.

I've got the feeling that this is some "standard" pattern with a "standard" way of picking? I recognize the 12-bar blues (it continues D7 A7 E7 A7E7) and I've been trying to search for advice on how to pick, but didn't manage to find anything useful.

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  • Are you playing the bass line and the chords on the guitar or are you playing along with another musician (e.g., bass player or pianist) who is playing the bass line? The bass line is an important aspect of the boogie feel, so it makes a big difference whether you're solo or in an ensemble. Jan 31, 2018 at 17:46
  • @ToddWilcox I just found these notes, tried to play it and felt that it sounded pretty nice and swingy. I have no idea how it fits into a larger context or how it's supposed to be played. I'd like to be able to play it myself with no other instruments and have it sound good. Maybe I should have read up a bit on boogies before asking!
    – Anna
    Jan 31, 2018 at 17:51
  • @ToddWilcox I heard this which I believe is played on a single guitar, right? youtube.com/watch?v=8tNYyoelXTw I think the notes in my question are the start of this song, Guitar Boogie by Arthur Smith.
    – Anna
    Jan 31, 2018 at 17:53

2 Answers 2


The music you have shown would likely be played as a bass line in a fingerpicking style. For this, I would probably just use the thumb with all down strokes. This line would likely be combined with one or more other parts to be played by the other fingers, but the bass line is important to the feel of the boogie.

Here is an example 12 bar blues in tablature using the boogie bass line from the question. It is important to maintain some independence between the bass line and the upper voices. The fingerings here are not complicated, but it may take some practice to be able to execute them smoothly.

$E 5 $E.5.$G.6.$B.8 $A 4 $A.4.$G.6.$B.8 $A 7 $A.7.$G.6.$B.8 $D 4 $D.4.$G.6.$B.8 | $D 7 $D.7.$G.6.$B.8 $D 4 $D.4.$G.6.$B.8 $A 7 $A.7.$G.6.$B.8 $A 4 $A.4.$G.6.$B.8 | 
$E 5 $E.5.$G.6.$B.8 $A 4 $A.4.$G.6.$B.8 $A 7 $A.7.$G.6.$B.8 $D 4 $D.4.$G.6.$B.8 | $D 5 $D.5.$G.6.$B.8 $D 4 $D.4.$G.6.$B.8 $A 7 $A.7.$G.6.$B.8 $A 4 $A.4.$G.6.$B.8 | 
$A 5 $A.5.$B.7.$e.8 $D 4 $D.4.$B.7.$e.8 $D 7 $D.7.$B.7.$e.8 $G 4 $G.4.$B.7.$e.8 | $G 5 $G.5.$B.7.$e.8 $G 4 $G.4.$B.7.$e.8 $D 7 $D.7.$B.7.$e.8 $D 4 $D.4.$B.7.$e.8 |
$E 5 $E.5.$G.6.$B.8 $A 4 $A.4.$G.6.$B.8 $A 7 $A.7.$G.6.$B.8 $D 4 $D.4.$G.6.$B.8 | $D 7 $D.7.$G.6.$B.8 $D 4 $D.4.$G.6.$B.8 $A 7 $A.4.$G.6.$B.8 $A 5 $A.6.$G.6.$B.8 |
$A 7 $A.7.$G.7.$B.9 $D 6 $D.6.$G.7.$B.9 $D 9 $D.9.$G.7.$B.9 $D 6 $D.6.$G.7.$B.9 | $A 5 $A.5.$G.5.$B.7 $D 4 $D.4.$G.5.$B.7 $D 7 $D.7.$G.5.$B.7 $D 4 $D.4.$G.5.$B.7 |
$E 5 $E.5.$G.6.$B.8 $A 4 $A.4.$G.6.$B.8 $A 5 $A.5.$G.6.$B.8 $A 6 $A.6.$G.6.$B.8 | $A 7 $A.7.$G.7.$B.9 $A 9 $A.9.$G.7.$B.9 $D 5 $D.5.$G.7.$B.9 $D 6 $D.6.$G.7.$B.9 | $E.5.$G.6.$B.7 ||

It is also worth noting that when tempos speed up (or even at slower tempos), it is not uncommon to omit some of the bass notes when the upper voices help to establish the rhythmic feel:

$E 5 $G.6.$B.8 $A 4 $G.6.$B.8 $A 7 $G.6.$B.8 $D 4 $G.6.$B.8 | $D 7 $G.6.$B.8 $D 4 $G.6.$B.8 $A 7 $G.6.$B.8 $A 4 $G.6.$B.8 | 

Concerning these Chord Voicings

The OP has asked about why I played these chords starting at the fifth fret, noting that this could also be played with open strings. This is true, at least in part. It is good to play things in different positions and with different fingerings, and there is no reason that the above must be played exactly the way I wrote it.

To start, note that the chords used above are shell voicings, which are chords composed of the root, third, and seventh of a chord. These notes contain the essential skeleton of a seventh chord, and are very handy to have in your hip pocket. There is plenty of interesting stuff to say about shell voicings, but that would take us too far afield, I fear. Here are some shell voicing chord diagrams (apologies for the chord diagram rendering-- I couldn't get jTab to render more than two diagrams side-by-side):



Note that the D7 here is voiced with the F♯ and C (the 3rd and the 7th) on the top two strings. If this chord is moved to use an open D, those top notes won't be reachable, so either you would have to move up to the fifth fret after playing the A7, or you could voice the chord differently.

If you are paying attention, you will notice that there are two voicings for a dominant 7th chord with the root on the fifth string shown above. Here are three such possibilities for C7:



And here are four possibilities for a G7 rooted on the sixth string (the first one requires a stretch, and may be easier higher on the fingerboard):




So, I voiced the D7 starting in the fifth bar the way I did because the bass line ends up on the G string, and I didn't want it to interfere with the top notes of the chord. I couldn't do this with an open D in the bass; since I needed to put the D7 at the fifth fret, I also put the A7 at the fifth fret to reduce movement around the fretboard.

You may want to try different ways to play this, and note that there isn't really a "right" way. You might not like the way it sounds, and prefer the sound of some open strings, or might prefer the sounds of some different voicings. You might like to change some of the chords to 6th chords (the final chord is an A6). You might find this too difficult to finger in the written positions. Any of these would be a good reason to find new ways to play this.

Experiment. Hopefully the above chord diagrams will help you to see other ways to play with the original bass line.

  • 2
    Thanks a lot! I had some suspicion that this was just a "base", thanks for showing me context with chords over the bass line!
    – Anna
    Jan 31, 2018 at 20:21
  • @Anna -- there was a mistake in the first tabulature I provided; I had shifted some fingerings to the wrong strings towards the end. I have corrected and reformatted the tabulature. Hopefully there are no more mistakes ;)
    – user39614
    Jan 31, 2018 at 22:06
  • 1
    I second the idea of using the thumb and all downstrokes. That's what I would do. That's what delta blues players did. Feb 1, 2018 at 6:57
  • Thank you again! I played the same notes at frets 0,2,4, what's the reason you're playing on 5,7,4? To have space for the voicings I suppose, anything else?
    – Anna
    Feb 2, 2018 at 1:32
  • Just realised you could move the "chords"/voicings a string as well, so why not play closer to the nut?
    – Anna
    Feb 2, 2018 at 1:35

You can use your thumb, or alternating i-m-i-m, and it will be a good exercise, but you'll never get much speed that way, especially if you're going to swing it (if you want to play it straight, i-m-i-m will work). I'd suggest p-i-p-i (thumb-index) if you want speed. You could also just play quarter notes with the thumb, in which case you could add a melody above it with the fingers.

If you watch this, you'll see Arthur Smith is using a flat pick:

  • Thank you! So you'd suggest a pick for speed? Also, with i-m-i-m, would i-m go on the same note or m-i?
    – Anna
    Jan 31, 2018 at 18:55
  • Also with p-i-p-i, I didn't understand: I'm trying to swing it (play the first note longer and second shorter), do you suggest playing the long note with the thumb and the short one with the index finger, or the other way around?
    – Anna
    Jan 31, 2018 at 19:08
  • 1
    A pick would help with speed, though with practice, i-m could work too. Use i-m OR m-i on the same note (try them both). Long note with thumb.
    – NeroXIV
    Jan 31, 2018 at 20:18

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