Warm Up Exercise

Murder ballad groove in A-minor

Lesson #179

Video Overview

Get the educational PDF(3 pages)

  • Support me on Patreon.com to get access to this and 200+ other educational PDFs I've made, plus new PDFs I make going forward (1-2 added each week).
  • The cost is $3/month (one month minimum, cancel anytime). Annual plans also available. Here's a free sample if you're on the fence. Thanks!
Download the PDF on Patreon

After clicking the button and logging in to Patreon, look for the PDF attached to the bottom of the post.

Editor’s notes

This exercise is inspired by the bluesy, folksy riffs heard in the Colter Wall murder ballad “Kate McCannon”. Each of the two sequences are based in A-minor, and use a relatively small amount of repeated flourish notes on the 5th and 6th strings. What’s great though, is how these sequences can be dialed up or down in their intensity – which makes for some nice practice opportunity when it comes to dynamics as part of musical storytelling.

Full riff for this exercise

Sequence 1:

E —–—–––0–0–—–––0—0–—–––0–0–—–––0–0––
B —–—–––1–1–—–––1—1–—–––1–1–—–––1–1––
G —–—–––2–2–—–––2—2–—–––2–2–—–––0–0––
D —–—–––2–2–—–––2—2–—–––2–2–—–––2–2––   ...repeat
A —–0–——–—–—–———–—––0——––––—––––—––––
E —–—––––—–—0—–––––––—–––––—0h3––––––

Sequence 2:

E —–—–—–—––0–0––—––––––––0—0––––––––3–3–––––––––––0–0—––
B —–—–—–—––1–1––—––––––––1—1––––––––0–0–––––––––––1–1—––
G —–—–—–—––2–2––—––––––––2—2––––––––0–0–––––––––––2–2—––
D —–—–—–—––2–2––—––––––––2—2––––––––0–0–––––––––––2–2—––   ...repeat
A —–––—–0–—–—–—–3—0—–—0––——–—–––––––2–2—––2–0–––0––—––––
E —–0–3–—–––—–—––—––3–––––—–—–0–2–3––––—––––––3––––—––––
        Am                        G             Am

Playing the chords

You’ll need to know these two chords. An important note here is the fingers used in your G-major chord voicing: note how the left ring finger plays the 6th string bass note. This may feel awkward if you’ve never learned it, but is worth becoming familiar with for songs such as this.

E —––0–––                              E —––3––– <= left pinky
B —––1––– <= left index                B —––0–––
G —––2––– <= left ring finger          G —––0–––
D —––2––– <= left middle finger        D —––0–––
A —––0–—–                              A —––2–—– <= left middle finger
E —––—–––                              E —––3––– <= left ring finger
     Am                                     G

How to learn sequence #1

Here’s a step-by-step guide to learning the first sequence. In essence, this is just an A-minor chord played by plucking alternating bass notes before each strum.

E —–—–––0–––—–––0—––—–––0–––—–––0––––
B —–—–––1–––—–––1—––—–––1–––—–––1––––
G —–—–––2–––—–––2—––—–––2–––—–––2––––
D —–—–––2–––—–––2—––—–––2–––—–––2––––
A —–0–——–—–—–———–—––0——––––—–––––––––
E —–—––––—–—0—–––––––—–––––—0––––––––

    1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

Next, we’re going to add a simple 6th string walk-up at the end of the sequence. Use your left ring finger to play this 3rd fret note. Also, note that the very first time you play this, you’ll want to start on the 3 count (*) so the walk-up kicks things off. From there, just repeat the entire sequence over and over.

E —–—–––0–––—–––0—––—–––0–––—–––—––––
B —–—–––1–––—–––1—––—–––1–––—–––—––––
G —–—–––2–––—–––2—––—–––2–––—–––—––––   Start on the 3 count (*), then
D —–—–––2–––—–––2—––—–––2–––—–––—––––    ...repeat the entire sequence
A —–0–——–—–—–———–—––0——––––—––––—––––
E —–—––––—–—0—–––––––—–––––—0–––3––––
    1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

The next step is to add double-strumming to each of the chord strums. That is, a single “down” strum becomes a “down up” within the same amount of time.

E —–—–––0–0–—–––0—0–—–––0–0–—–––—––––
B —–—–––1–1–—–––1—1–—–––1–1–—–––—––––
G —–—–––2–2–—–––2—2–—–––2–2–—–––—––––   Start on the 3 count (*), then
D —–—–––2–2–—–––2—2–—–––2–2–—–––—––––    ...repeat the entire sequence
A —–0–——–—–—–———–—––0——––––—––––—––––
E —–—––––—–—0—–––––––—–––––—0–––3––––
    1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

Finally, we’ll add some complexity to the walk-up by (1) using a hammer-on to go from the open to 3rd fret; and also (2) adding a “down up” strum of the would-be A-minor chord shape - which will have the G string open, since that left-hand finger is playing the 6th string walkup note.

E —–—–––0–0–—–––0—0–—–––0–0–—–––0–0––
B —–—–––1–1–—–––1—1–—–––1–1–—–––1–1––
G —–—–––2–2–—–––2—2–—–––2–2–—–––0–0––   Start on the 3 count (*), then
D —–—–––2–2–—–––2—2–—–––2–2–—–––2–2––    ...repeat the entire sequence
A —–0–——–—–—–———–—––0——––––—––––—––––
E —–—––––—–—0—–––––––—–––––—0h3––––––
    1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

How to learn sequence #2

This sequence is a bit more heavy with the walkups and walkdowns. When starting off your practice, only do a single downstrum on each of the chords you’re playing.

E —–—–—–—––0––––—––––––––0—–––––––––3–––––––––––––0––—––
B —–—–—–—––1––––—––––––––1—–––––––––0–––––––––––––1––—––
G —–—–—–—––2––––—––––––––2—–––––––––0–––––––––––––2––—––
D —–—–—–—––2––––—––––––––2—–––––––––0–––––––––––––2––—––
A —–––—–0–—–—–—–3—0—–—0––——–—–––––––2––—––2–0–––0––—––––
E —–0–3–—–––—–—––—––3–––––—–—–0–2–3––––—––––––3––––—––––
        Am                        G             Am

Once you have the above sequence under control, you can spice up the downstrums by turning them into a “down up” instead. This helps fill things out a bit.

E —–—–—–—––0–0––—––––––––0—0––––––––3–3–––––––––––0–0—––
B —–—–—–—––1–1––—––––––––1—1––––––––0–0–––––––––––1–1—––
G —–—–—–—––2–2––—––––––––2—2––––––––0–0–––––––––––2–2—––
D —–—–—–—––2–2––—––––––––2—2––––––––0–0–––––––––––2–2—––
A —–––—–0–—–—–—–3—0—–—0––——–—–––––––2–2—––2–0–––0––—––––
E —–0–3–—–––—–—––—––3–––––—–—–0–2–3––––—––––––3––––—––––
        Am                        G             Am

Good luck!

I hope you enjoyed this exercise. I recommend checking out the Colter Wall song “Kate McCannon” to see these two riffs in use - he does a great job capturing raw emotion in that song.

Get my lessons in your inbox!

Every couple weeks I send out an email newsletter with links to whatever new lessons I've made. Sign up here and stay in the loop!

Enjoy my lessons? Buy me a beer!

If this and my other lessons have proven helpful to you, please consider making a one-time donation to my tip jar. Contributions of any amount help make this project possible (including the many, many hours I put into it).

You can also support me on Patreon. For only $3/month you'll get access to a print-friendly PDF of my notes for each new lesson (view free sample).


Subscribe to my YouTube channel

Be sure to never miss a lesson by subscribing on YouTube. I put out 2-3 new videos every week. These include full song lessons, as well as covers, practice tips, behind-the-scenes updates. Thanks!

Recent video lessons:

📝 My "song" PDFs are now individually purcasheable! I've arranged a licensing agreement with Musicnotes, a service that lets you buy sheet music. Patreon suppoters get 50% off each purchase. Get the latest info here »   (last updated July 1, 2021)

October 14, 2021

How to Tune Half-Step Down (E-Flat Tuning)

Tips & Techniques  •  Lesson #394

A quick guide to tuning all your strings down 1/2 step (E-flat tuning), which is a very common alternate tuning used in many songs.

Patreon PDF

October 2, 2021

F Chord Cheat Sheet! 7 Easier Ways to Play It

Tips & Techniques  •  Lesson #392

A quick inventory of 8 different ways to play the dreaded F chord, 7 of which are easier than the dreaded six-string barred version.

Patreon PDF

September 28, 2021

Beginner Riffs with Major 7th Arpeggios

Warm-Up Exercise  •  Lesson #390

A quick exercise where I share over 10 riffs based on a single arpeggio shape, using major 7th chord tones. Backing track included!

Patreon PDF

September 19, 2021

Key of C Major Cheat Sheet!

Tips & Techniques  •  Lesson #388

A deep dive into everything you need to know when playing in the Key of C: notes, chords, fretboard map, tips & tricks, easier ways to play the F chord, and plenty more.

Patreon PDF

September 12, 2021

Major Scale Positions & CAGED Chord Shapes

Tips & Techniques  •  Lesson #384

A deep-dive into the common positions of the major scale, and how they each relate to the CAGED chord shapes... which makes it all easier to understand!

Patreon PDF

August 29, 2021

First Electric! 8 Things I Didn't Expect

Tips & Techniques  •  Lesson #386

I recently got my 1st electric guitar, and was surprised how many things immediately confused me. Here's a quick inventory, in case it helps anyone else starting out!

Patreon PDF

Browse my all lessons

By lesson type

By song decade

By musical genre

By guitar technique

By musical key

By popular artist

← back to lesson list