Warm Up Exercise

Strummy Walk-Downs in the Key of A major

Lesson #408

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Editor’s notes

In this lesson I want to show a handful of ways you can walk “down” the A-major scale while simultaneously strumming – which creates a rich mixture of full chords atop a descending bass-line. This is quite the common trope in popular music (rock, folk, country, etc) – and while it may sound fancy and complicated, there are actually some relatively approachable ways to tackle this. Let’s look at a few!

The Notes in the Key of A

As a quick refresher, the 7 notes in the A-major scale are as follows. I’m showing the “A” note at both the beginning and end of the scale. These notes repeat in both directions (forwards in backwards), repeating over and over.

A B C# D E F# G# A

The idea of a walk-down, is to start at the “A” on the right-hand side, and go down (aka “backwards”, or to the left) at least 3-4 notes. Our ears are quite good at recognizing this descending sound, especially since each note you’re playing is coming from the very recognizable major scale –– which, despite the pitch differences of each key, always sounds the same.

In the exercises that follow, I’ll walk from A down to D, and then back up one whole-step to E – which sets things up nicely for us to repeat each riff (which makes for great practice).

Basic Walk-Down

One simple way to play an A-major walk-down is to use regular chord shapes, as shown here. I’ve circled the descending bass-line notes to make sure they stand out. Note how each of these circled notes also appears inside each chord. With the exception of the E-major chord, the bass note has the same letter-name as the chord being played. For the E-major, it’s the G# note that carries the bass-line torch – which is the major 3rd interval within the E-major triad (i.e. that’s why it sounds good, in that case).

See my PDF for additional annotations (finger positions, etc)

e ––0–––––––0–––––––2–––––––0–––––––2–––––––––––––––0–––––––––––––––––
B ––2–––––––0–––––––2–––––––0–––––––3–––––––––––––––0–––––––––––––––––
G ––2–––––––1–––––––2–––––––1–––––––2–––––––––––––––1–––––––––––––––––
D ––2–––––––2–––––––4–––––––2–––––––0–––––––––––––––2–––––––––––––––––
A ––0–––––––2–––––––4–––––––2–––––––––––––––––––––––2–––––––––––––––––
E ––––––––––0–––––––2–––––––0–––––––––––––––––––––––0–––––––––––––––––  
    A       E       F#m     E       D               E
    1   2   3   4   1   2   3   4   1   2   3   4   1   2   3   4  

You could also play this by picking the bass note first, followed by a full strum of the chord. This helps accentuate the walk-down itself (via the individually picked note), and then emphasizes the chord context – which again, contains the bass note you just played.

See my PDF for additional annotations (finger positions, etc)

e ––––––0–––––––0–––––––2–––––––0–––––––2–––––––2–––––––0–––––––0–––––
B ––––––2–––––––0–––––––2–––––––0–––––––3–––––––3–––––––0–––––––0–––––
G ––2–––2–––1–––1–––––––2–––––––1–––––––2–––––––2–––––––1–––––––1–––––
D ––––––2–––––––2–––4–––4–––2–––2–––0–––0–––0–––0–––2–––2–––2–––2–––––
A ––––––0–––––––2–––––––4–––––––2–––––––––––––––––––––––2–––––––2–––––
E ––––––––––––––0–––––––2–––––––0–––––––––––––––––––––––0–––––––0–––––  
    A       E       F#m     E       D               E
    1   2   3   4   1   2   3   4   1   2   3   4   1   2   3   4  

Advanced A/G# and E/G# versions

Another way to play the same walk-down is to use this riff, which swaps out the E-major chord for a A/G# (read as “A over G#”). This captures the G# bass-note much more explicitly, but it’s trickier to play. To pull this off, I’ll barre the 2nd fret notes in the A-major with my left-index finger. Note how we’re using lower (in pitch) versions of the walk-down notes, by one full octave… though for the D-major, we have to jump back “up” to the open 4th string, which is the lowest D note on a guitar.

See my PDF for additional annotations (finger positions, etc)

e ––––––––––––––––––2–––––––0–––––––2–––––––––––––––0–––––––––––––––––
B ––2–––––––2–––––––2–––––––0–––––––3–––––––––––––––0–––––––––––––––––
G ––2–––––––2–––––––2–––––––1–––––––2–––––––––––––––1–––––––––––––––––
D ––2–––––––2–––––––4–––––––2–––––––0–––––––––––––––2–––––––––––––––––
A ––0–––––––x–––––––4–––––––2–––––––––––––––––––––––2–––––––––––––––––
E ––––––––––4–––––––2–––––––0–––––––––––––––––––––––0–––––––––––––––––  
    A       A/G#    F#m     E       D               E
    1   2   3   4   1   2   3   4   1   2   3   4   1   2   3   4  

Similar in its difficulty is using this, which favors a E/G# for the A/G#. Again, this one is tricky to play! But I am including it for context, and so you know what the entirely of possibilities includes.

See my PDF for additional annotations (finger positions, etc)

e ––––––––––––––––––2–––––––0–––––––2–––––––––––––––0–––––––––––––––––
B ––2–––––––5–––––––2–––––––0–––––––3–––––––––––––––0–––––––––––––––––
G ––2–––––––4–––––––2–––––––1–––––––2–––––––––––––––1–––––––––––––––––
D ––2–––––––2–––––––4–––––––2–––––––0–––––––––––––––2–––––––––––––––––
A ––0–––––––x–––––––4–––––––2–––––––––––––––––––––––2–––––––––––––––––
E ––––––––––4–––––––2–––––––0–––––––––––––––––––––––0–––––––––––––––––  
    A       E/G#    F#m     E       D               E
    1   2   3   4   1   2   3   4   1   2   3   4   1   2   3   4  

2-string version

Let’s get away from the fully-strummed chords, and try something a bit off the beaten path. This version uses double-stops, where we only play two notes at a time from each given chord. Note how much easier this is to play, given you only have two left-hand fingers to worry about. All notes in parentheses are optional – I’ll sometimes add them (or leave them out) for affect.

See my PDF for additional annotations (finger positions, etc)

e –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––(2)–––––––––––––(0)––––––––––––––––
B –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––(3)–––––––––––––(0)––––––––––––––––
G ––6–––––––4–––––––2–––––––1–––––––2–––––––––––––––1–––––––––––––––––
D ––7–––––––6–––––––4–––––––2–––––––0–––––––––––––––2–––––––––––––––––
A ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
E ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––  
    A       E/G#    F#m     E       D               E
    1   2   3   4   1   2   3   4   1   2   3   4   1   2   3   4  

You could play this same thing with some added open strings on the B and high-E strings specifically. This sounds a bit off the beaten path (e.g. the F#m sounds a bit dissonant) – but ultimately, has some nice character.

See my PDF for additional annotations (finger positions, etc)

e –(0)–––––(0)–––––(0)–––––(0)–––––(0)–––––––––––––(0)––––––––––––––––
B –(5)–––––(0)–––––(0)–––––(0)–––––(3)–––––––––––––(0)––––––––––––––––
G ––6–––––––4–––––––2–––––––1–––––––2–––––––––––––––1–––––––––––––––––
D ––7–––––––6–––––––4–––––––2–––––––0–––––––––––––––2–––––––––––––––––
A ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
E ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––  
    A       E/G#    F#m     E       D               E
    1   2   3   4   1   2   3   4   1   2   3   4   1   2   3   4  

Three- and Four-string Versions

Here’s another fun version using alternative chord voicings, which mostly uses triads on strings 2-3-4.

See my PDF for additional annotations (finger positions, etc)

e –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––(2)–––––––––––––(0)––––––––––––––––
B ––5–––––––5–––––––2–––––––0–––––––3––––––––––––––(0)––––––––––––––––
G ––6–––––––4–––––––2–––––––1–––––––2–––––––––––––––1–––––––––––––––––
D ––7–––––––6–––––––4–––––––2–––––––0–––––––––––––––2–––––––––––––––––
A ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
E ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––  
    A       E/G#    F#m     E       D               E
    1   2   3   4   1   2   3   4   1   2   3   4   1   2   3   4  

Again, you could extend this by adding in the thinnest string – and playing 4 tones from each of the chords. This makes the overall sound much more full.

See my PDF for additional annotations (finger positions, etc)

e ––5–––––––4–––––––2–––––––0––––––(2)––––––––––––––0–––––––––––––––––
B ––5–––––––5–––––––2–––––––0–––––––3–––––––––––––––0–––––––––––––––––
G ––6–––––––4–––––––2–––––––1–––––––2–––––––––––––––1–––––––––––––––––
D ––7–––––––6–––––––4–––––––2–––––––0–––––––––––––––2–––––––––––––––––
A ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
E ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––  
    A       E/G#    F#m     E       D               E
    1   2   3   4   1   2   3   4   1   2   3   4   1   2   3   4  

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