The most important role of the guitar in Bluegrass is a rhythm instrument. In the early Bluegrass recordings, the guitar often never took a lead break at all. Just a few bass runs, and the rest was rhythm. Today it's common for guitarists to take lead breaks in bands, but even then the guitarist is playing rhythm 80% or more of the time.
Rhythm Guitar Roles
As a rhythm instrument in bluegrass, the guitar serves several roles:
Playing rhythm requires you to:
Open chords are the most typical shapes used by Bluegrass guitarists. These are the standard shapes that you would learn in beginning guitar books. Barred chords and closed form jazz-style chords are not commonly used.
The G-run is one of those signature guitar licks that seems to get into every bluegrass song. It's origin is attributed to the great Lester Flatt, who played with Bill Monroe and later with his long time friend Earl Scruggs in the Foggy Mountain Boys.
The guitarist has little opportunity for inserting much lead playing into Bluegrass songs when playing rhythm, but there are places where there are opportunities for short licks. These typically occur in turnarounds between verses. The singers or lead musicians take a short break then, and that's where you'll typically hear the G-run played.
The G-run comes in many styles and keys. We've included examples of the most common in our Rhythm Tabs Page for G-runs.