Country music tends to be one of those love-it-or-hate-it genres, but for guitarists, it’s a treasure trove of slick licks and twiddly tricks.
And even if you don’t necessarily want to play country music, you’ll find plenty of useful ideas and techniques within this style. Buckethead and John 5 may not be country guitarists, but their playing borrows heavily from country guitar!
Here are a few topics we’ll cover in this article:
- Country guitar scales
- Pedal-steel bends
- Chicken pickin’ (is there a connection with Buckethead’s KFC hat? We have the answer below.)
Dust off your cowboy hat, plug in that gee-tar, and let’s learn how to make that thang twang! 🤠
What’s the best guitar for country?
This is the part where we help you rationalize buying yet another guitar.
It’s an addiction, and as guitarists, we need to stick together and encourage as much wreckless spending as possible.
- If you want to strum chords and sing about how much you’re hurtin’, a big-bodied acoustic is the way to go.
- Dreadnoughts are typical of the genre – something like a Gibson J-45 or a Martin D-series
- By law, lead country guitar must be played on a Telecaster.
- For those outlaws among you that are thinking about attempting it on anything else – do so at your own risk.
In all seriousness, you don't need to spend a lot of money on a guitar, especially if you’re just testing the waters.
There are loads of affordable options available that are perfect for beginners.
- Find a guitar that feels comfortable in your hands and has a sound that puts the yee in your haw.
- You can also check out the used guitar market, which can be a great way to get more for your money.
Why are Telecasters so popular in country music?
There’s no doubt they’re iconic guitars and feel at home in most genres, but none more than country. The essence of country guitar is that twang – which seems to emanate particularly well from the Tele.
- It’s difficult to pinpoint what makes the Telecaster the go-to guitar for so many country players.
- It’s probably down to its relative affordability, durability, and of course, that unique spanky sound it produces.
- Overall it's just a no-frills workhorse, and that appeals to country players.
Learning the basics
Now that you’ve spent your next paycheck on a Telecaster, it's time to start learning the basics.
The backbone of country music is normally quite straightforward.
- “Three chords and the truth” is an often quoted maxim, and the simplicity of a lot of country music makes it accessible for beginners.
- Strumming some open chords can be all it takes to make a great country song
- Start by just playing G, C, and D chords.
- Practice switching between them until you can do it smoothly.
Some basic chords paired with a sweet melody can often hit harder than more complex styles of music.
People enjoy the uncluttered, ‘warts & all’ approach, with more of a focus on emotional content than technical.
Playing rhythm guitar
The meat and potatoes of any good country song is a solid rhythm, and guitar often plays a big part in that.
Whether it’s plucking the root notes on the downbeat, or rolling banjo arpeggios, country guitarists need to be strong rhythm players.
- It doesn’t need to be complex to be effective.
- Start by strumming the chords in a simple pattern, such as down-up-down-up.
- Once you can do this smoothly, start experimenting with different strumming or fingerpicking patterns to create a more interesting sound.
One of the defining features of country guitar is the use of fingerpicking.
- This involves using your fingers to pluck the strings of the guitar, rather than using a pick.
- There are many different fingerpicking styles that you can learn, but a good place to start is with Travis picking.
Travis picking involves alternating between the bass note and the higher strings of the guitar.
- Start by plucking the bass note of the chord with your thumb.
- Then pluck the higher strings with your index and middle fingers.
- Practice this pattern slowly until you can do it smoothly, and then try incorporating it into some basic chord progressions.
The answer is no, it has absolutely nothing to do with KFC. This staccato style of hybrid picking got its name by sounding like a clucking chicken🐔
You’re asking yourself: Why should I learn this technique? What’s the big clucking deal?
We’ll tell you:
- Fast runs – using your fingers as well as the pick allows you to hit more notes in quick succession.
- More dynamic picking – being able to pluck the strings with your fingers helps get that snappy country tone.
- Unique rhythmic options – arpeggiated triads using banjo style rolls are fairly straightforward and sound great!
Soloing and improvisation
When you have mastered the basics of country guitar, you can start experimenting with soloing and improvisation.
This involves playing lead guitar over the chords of the song and can be a lot of fun once you get the hang of it.
- To start soloing, you will need to learn some basic scale shapes.
- The most common scale in country guitar is the major pentatonic.
If you’re already familiar with the minor pentatonic shapes this will be a breeze!
They’re basically the same patterns just in a different position. The main thing to bear in mind is that the root notes are in a different place compared to the minor pentatonic.
- Practice these shapes slowly until you can play them smoothly.
- Once you’re comfortable, start experimenting with different patterns and sequences.
- You’ve not got to start totally from scratch – many classic blues and rock licks transfer over to country quite well.
Bending is an essential technique for guitarists of every genre but country playing relies on it more than most.
Attempting to emulate the iconic pedal steel sound is one of the main reasons bending is so popular in this style.
Try this pedal steel style bend for instant country goodness!
- Place your pinky finger on the 17th fret of the B string
- Put your ring finger on the 16th fret of the G string (feel add your middle finger behind it for supporting the bend)
- Now pluck the G string and bend it up a full tone
- While that note is still ringing hit the B string
Tips for beginner country guitarists
As a beginner, it's important to start with the basics and build your skills over time. Here are a handful of tips to help you along the way:
- Like any skill, learning to play country guitar requires consistent practice.
- Set aside time each day to practice your chords, fingerpicking patterns, and soloing techniques.
- Start with just a few minutes a day and gradually increase your practice time as you get more comfortable.
Listen to country music
- To really internalize the style of country guitar, it's important to listen to as much of it as possible.
- Actively listen to the music and pay close attention to what the guitarists are doing
- Try to Identify the chords, fingerpicking patterns, and soloing techniques that are being used.
Experiment with different styles
- ‘Country music’ is a bit of a blanket term, there are many different sub-genres to delve into.
- Experiment with different styles, such as bluegrass, honky-tonk, and western swing – find one that resonates with you.
Join a community
- Playing guitar can be a solitary pursuit, but it's important to connect with other guitarists and musicians.
- We’ve got a great online community here at Pickup – our members and teachers share tips, and can give you feedback on your playing.
Come and say howdy!
Getting to grips with this style should be a rewarding experience, but it will take practice and dedication to master.
- Don't get discouraged if you don't progress as quickly as you'd like, or if you make mistakes along the way.
- Keep practicing, keep learning, and most importantly, have fun!
- With time and dedication, you'll be twanging, twiddling, and chicken pickin’ in no time!
If you want to take your playing even further check out our Country Pathway – it’ll take you as far as you want down that long ol’ country road!
Country Learning Pathway
Master the art of country guitar.Learn more
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