Must-Know Riffs using Droning Strings

Lesson #548 • Apr 24, 2024

In today’s video I’d like to share a collection of 13 songs I’ve taught previously – all of which utilize droning strings as part of the main riff. This isn’t something you’ll find in all songs — but when used well, it can really elevate a riff to a whole new level.

By “droning strings” I’m simply referring to one string, usually open (un-fretted), which is played constantly. While this is happening, a melodic riff is played on other strings. When the droning string is combined with a melodic riff, it creates a sound that is bigger & more full — while also adding some harmonious layering to things. Over some notes this droning string may create tension, but over other notes it may create a sense of satisfying resolution.

Here’s some timestamps for each song I discuss — and links to each of my full lessons (teaching all these) can be found further below. Thanks and enjoy!

  • 0:00 Introduction
  • 0:51 Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond
  • 1:51 All Apologies by Nirvana
  • 2:35 1979 by Smashing Pumpkins
  • 3:37 Moonshadow by Cat Stevens
  • 4:02 Copperhead Road by Steve Earle
  • 4:52 Welcome to Paradise by Green Day (in the style of Tyler Childers)
  • 5:38 She Talks to Angels by The Black Crowes
  • 6:54 Malaguena (traditional Spanish fingerstyle)
  • 8:13 Gone Till November by Wyclef Jean
  • 9:18 Yellow Ledbetter by Pearl Jam
  • 10:37 Angel Flight by Rodney Foster
  • 11:26 Blackbird by The Beatles
  • 12:20 Two Finger Chords in the Key of C
  • 13:12 Goodtime Charlie’s Got the Blues by Danny O’Keefe
  • 14:21 Farewell & Final Thoughts

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Lessons That I Reference

Droning the Open 6th String

These are all in the Key of E, with the exception of All Apologies (which is in the Key of D, using Drop D tuning). The thickest string typically makes for easier droning, given it only has one neighboring string — making it a bit easier to pluck repetitively.


Droning the Open 4th String

These are all in the Key of D, where plucking the open D string tends to sound quite good. Even if you happen to strum the open 5th string, things will generally sound fine — as that note (A) is a perfect 5th relative to a D root note, which is quite complimentary.


Droning the Open 1st String

Again, the Key of E reigns here. Given the 1st string (in addition to the 6th string) is an E note, this makes for a convenient option in this key. It’s also nice when fingerpicking, as this string is fairy easy to grab/flick/play given it has no neighboring string on one side.


Chords with Droning Strings

Here’s a nice mix of songs, some in the Key of E (where the thinnest two strings are open). We also have a few in the Key of C and G, where the 3rd string is left open for all chords. See Joni Mitchell’s A Case Of You for an example of putting the Key of C chords to use.


Fingerstyle with Droning Bass Notes

And finally, an example of a would-be Travis Picking song… but instead of alternating the bass note between two strings, we’ll be droning the bass note of the current chord on the quarter notes.

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