In this article, I’ll reveal the top 30 licks for country guitar that’ll kit you out with six soloing essentials and help you get to grips with the country guitar playing style.

Building a sizzling collection of minor, major pentatonic, and mixolydian scale licks is a crucial step to becoming a country guitar pro.

With technical tips, theory explanations, and 30 hot riffs to keep you occupied, this is the only article you’ll need to level up your country chops. 

Here’s Pickup Music’s country guitar teacher Daniel Donato demonstrating some of his top 30 licks for country guitarists.

Let’s get into it…

30 must-know licks and riffs for country guitar players (beginners to intermediates)

Major Pentatonic Licks

If this is your first foray into studying country guitar licks, you’ll want to have a firm understanding of both major and minor pentatonic scales - but more on the minor pentatonic scale later.

Unlike chord progressions found in the blues, you’re more likely to find country chord progressions in major keys. 

So, it’s important to know which scales are the most useful for dealing with major chords.

Think of the major pentatonic scale as your creative workshop for building country guitar riffs over major chords. 

Whenever you’re creating double stop licks or learning how to outline a major triad in your licks, the major pentatonic scale has all the ingredients you’ll need to get that upbeat, happy sound heard in country guitar.

  • The major pentatonic scale is built using the root - 2nd - major 3rd - 5th - 6th
  • The major 3rd and major 6th intervals of the major pentatonic scale are much more consonant against major chords than the minor pentatonic.
  • Learning the scale horizontally across the fretboard opens up lots of creative bending opportunities.

#30 - Classic G Major pentatonic lick

This first G major pentatonic lick is a perfect starting point if you’re looking for country guitar riffs for beginners, or if you need a major pentatonic refresher.

What’s in this lick? 

A pretty sweet line, huh?

Inside this short idea, you’ll find a useful country lick that uses the major pentatonic scale with an extra chromatic note to create a slight bit of tension.

You’ll find a sneaky Bb added on the 3rd string to create some ‘minor against major tension.’ 

It might be helpful to think of this as a chromatic approach note onto the major 3rd.

This lick is especially important to learn as every great country player from Tony Rice, to Keith Urban has used it at one time or another to ascend the scale.

What chord is this lick based on?

This lick can be used over a G major chord, G7, or G power chord. 

What scales are here?

The G major pentatonic scale

Extra notes

  • This lick sounds extra crisp because it starts and ends on the root note.
  • Adding in the chromatic note allows you to fill the entire bar with 8th notes. This is useful to know as most country guitar solos are created using long, weaving lines through the scale.

#29 - A major bending moment

Knowing where and which notes to bend is another major skill to have when playing country guitar.

What’s in this lick? 

Developing some bending bravado will take you far when learning how to play country guitar licks. 

Mixing string bends into your major pentatonic phrases is a silky way of approaching chord tones and is a key part of country guitar vocabulary. 

  • The lick features a whole step bend from the 2nd to the major 3rd. 
  • This is a common way of using the major scale to approach the major 3rd of the chord.
  • The last bar features a slide from the 2nd straight into an ascending A major triad.

What chord is this lick based on?

Over A7, an A major chord, or A power chord.

What scales are here?

This lick uses the A major pentatonic.

Extra notes

  • When working on bending, make sure that your half step and whole step bends are in tune. 
  • With enough practice, you will develop this skill innately. 
  • Underbending or overbending notes can take your solo out of tune and sound less confident.

#28 - C Major pentatonic lick

What’s in this lick? 

Much like the first lick you worked on, this C major pentatonic lick uses chromatic steps to create a little bit of tension between the minor and major 3rd.

You’ll also notice that the lick starts and ends on the root once again, this is a common feature used in country guitar phrases to complete the riff.

Activating open strings using hammer on and pull offs is another useful country guitar-playing technique that can drastically speed up your licks when descending or ascending the fretboard.

What chord is this lick based on?

C major triad, C7, or a C power chord 

What scales are here?

This lick primarily uses the C major pentatonic scale.

Extra notes

  • Lots of hot country licks and bluegrass melodies use open strings to create an over ringing,‘waterfall’ effect when ascending or descending through a scale.
  • Incorporating open strings to ascend and descend scales can help you create easy country licks as they help you get across the fretboard much faster with much fewer fingers.

#27 - Extended A Major pentatonic lick

This slippery lick packs a bunch and demonstrates how to use the entire fretboard in one long phrase, check it out.

What’s in this lick? 

Sliding across the fretboard is one of the most satisfying things you can learn to do. 

Lots of country guitar legends, such as Brad Paisley and Brent Mason, are masters of using the entire range of the fretboard to build burning licks that join together using the scale.

Once again, you’ll notice that the lick uses the minor 3rd on the 13th fret of the B string to create the ‘minor against major’ character.

The trick to getting the most out of this lick is visualizing the 5 major pentatonic boxes that you’re sliding through as you go from fret 2, to fret 13 at the top of the fretboard.

What chord is this lick based on?

This lick can be used over an A major, A7, or F# minor chord.

What scales are here?

The A major pentatonic scale

Extra notes

Need a refresher on the major pentatonic boxes? 

Here’s an excellent article on all 5 boxes to get you up to speed.

#26 - A major pentatonic lick

Bending can help you grab notes that don’t belong to your scale but still fit the solo.

What’s in this lick? 

Following on from the previous lick, this idea uses half-step bends on the 2nd to bend up to the minor 3rd.

As you’ll now be familiar, the minor against major sound is pretty well utilized in country solos and it’s good to get your ears acquainted with it as soon as possible.

What chord is this lick based on?

A7, A power chord, or A major triad.

What scales are here?

A major pentatonic scale

Extra notes

  • This lick starts on the 5th of the chord and uses only four notes. 
  • The string bends help create variation when using a repeated set of notes.

Minor Pentatonic Licks

The minor pentatonic is the sister scale to the major pentatonic scale and is often used for creating grittier, sadder, and sometimes meaner-sounding licks.

You’ll find lots of examples of the minor pentatonic scale in most basic country guitar licks. 

The scale patterns are easy to visualize across the neck and often create melodically interesting phrases.

One of the most famous country songs of all time, Jolene by Dolly Parton, features a melody that clearly ascends the C# minor pentatonic scale. 

If you started as a blues or rock guitar player, you’ll already be familiar with this scale. 

  • The minor pentatonic scale is: Root - minor 3rd - 4th, 5th, b7th.
  • Learning the minor pentatonic scale is crucial for unlocking the blues scale, which adds a b5th to the minor pentatonic.
  • The major and minor pentatonic are the most significant musical building blocks for country guitar playing. 

#25 - C minor pentatonic pre bend lick

Pre bends are another fun technique to help you get your solos off the ground in an unexpected way.

What’s in this lick? 

By using a pre-bent note that hits the minor 3rd of the minor pentatonic scale, the pre bend releases the note and lands on the 2nd.

The 2nd is usually not a note found in the minor pentatonic scale, but it does live in the major pentatonic scale. 

It’s a nice note to touch on that doesn’t take away from the obvious minor sound of the minor pentatonic.

The rest of the lick falls down the minor pentatonic box 1 shape before resolving onto the root note.

What chord is this lick based on?

You may also notice, that this lick is based on a C major chord.

Like the major pentatonic licks, the minor pentatonic country licks can be used against major chords for a nice slice of tension.

What scales are here?

C minor pentatonic scale

Extra notes

  • The main area to focus on with this lick is making sure that the pre bend is in tune before starting the lick.
  • Minor and major pentatonic scales are frequently mixed together to create cool country licks that straddle both minor and major moods.

#24 - E minor pentatonic sequencing lick

Make a lick stick with this homegrown trick.

What’s in this lick? 

This is one of my personal favorite licks that uses sequencing as a way of extending a melody.

Sequences are great fuel to add to the burning lick fire when you really get going. 

They help to add intensity and lengthen a phrase by using previous material.

This lick in particular does an excellent job of showcasing how to fill two bars by using sequences to keep the line flowing. 

Check out our Country Learning Pathway instructor Daniel Donato ripping it up by using sequences at different points in his solo to increase texture and intensity.

  • Sequencing is when a melody is repeated but from a diatonic step lower each time. 
  • This usually follows the descending notes of a scale.
  • It’s a handy way of squeezing all of the melodic juice from one idea through repetition. 

What chord is this lick based on?

E minor or G major

What scales are here?

E minor pentatonic 

Extra notes

Did you see it? 

In the last half of the lick, you’ll notice the blues scale being used with the chromatic, blues note (b5th) being added between the 4th and 5th.

#23 - A Minor-major pentatonic switching lick

Use this vibe change midway through your next country solo to switch it up.

What’s in this lick? 

One thing you’ll notice with modern electric country guitar players like Danny Gatton, Brad Paisley, and Vince Gill, is their endless flow and ability to change from major or minor within the same phrase.

This lick is a country guitar lesson in itself and exhibits a clear change from A major to A minor pentatonic while descending down the fretboard. 

You’ll start by seeing a full bar of A major pentatonic followed by another bar with A minor pentatonic/blues scale, before a subtle rise back up the A major pentatonic to round off the lick.

  • Practice this lick by playing slowly and identifying when you’re switching scales. 
  • If you can spot the major and minor 3rds you’ll have a much easier time visualizing the two scales.

What chord is this lick based on?

A major triad or A7

What scales are here?

A major pentatonic and A minor pentatonic

Extra notes

There is some use of melodic sequencing in the initial stages of the phrase.

Starting and ending on the root note is a nice way to round off the line.

#22 - G Minor pentatonic pre bending lick

Another masterful pre bending lick to get your teeth into.

What’s in this lick? 

Like so many famous country guitar licks, this lick uses a popular device to help define the quirky, country character we hear.

Holding a pre-bent note a 4th below your starting note is a classic country guitar lick idea and creates a perfect 2nd interval clash between the starting note and the bent note.

Easing the pre bend down from the 5th onto the 4th of the scale is a great way to pass by the blues scale note (b5th) as you descend the G minor pentatonic scale.

The last measure uses a half-step bend from the major 7th, a non-diatonic note, back to the root. 

Usually, a major 7th creates ugly tension, but it sounds great when resolving back to the root note.  

What chord is this lick based on?

This phrase could be played over a G minor or G7 chord.

What scales are here?

G minor pentatonic

Extra notes

  • There is a G minor arpeggio highlighted at the beginning of the second bar.
  • The ‘X’ is a ghost note, sometimes called a muted note. 
  • It can be played with the pick or fingers to add texture before a slide or bend.

#21 - A Minor pentatonic sequences

The lick that keeps on licking.

What’s in this lick? 

On the surface, this lick looks like a basic minor pentatonic lick that wouldn’t sound out of place in a blues or country solo. 

But a closer look reveals 4 interesting features that your favorite country guitar players will know all about.

The first technique involves using finger slides to approach notes of the minor pentatonic box 1 shape. This smoothens the attack and immediately gets the momentum flowing.

The second technique is sequencing when ascending the minor pentatonic scale.

The third technique is the surprise double stop heard at the midpoint to add a slice of harmony.

The fourth technique is the hammer on major 3rd against a minor chord.  

What chord is this lick based on?

A minor, A major, or A7.

What scales are here?

A minor pentatonic

Extra notes

You may find it easier to grab the double stop with your middle and ring fingers – this is known as hybrid picking, or in the country guitar tradition, chicken pickin’.

Mixolydian Scale Licks

The mixolydian scale is the 5th mode of the major scale and is used by country guitarists to highlight dominant seventh and ninth chords.

The scale has all of the ingredients of the major pentatonic scale with the addition of a 4th and dominant 7th – this makes it perfect for playing over major, or dominant 7th chords.

One reason you might use the mixolydian scale instead of the major scale is that it mixes two notes that ordinarily are found in the minor pentatonic, the 4th and b7th. 

The scale is built using: 

Root - 2nd - major 3rd - 4th - 5th - 6th - b7th 

#20 - Open string waterfall lick in G 

Learning how to use over ringing, waterfall technique will allow you to achieve your flow state.

What’s in this lick? 

The waterfall lick is aptly named because it produces an overly ringing sound when using open strings with fretted notes.

Especially in bluegrass and traditional country licks, you’ll hear open-string waterfall techniques used a lot to get across the strings quicker.

Each of the open strings provides a useful moment to move from one scale position to another, hence why open strings are still an important part of playing country lead guitar. 

What chord is this lick based on?

G7

What scales are here?

G mixolydian scale

Extra notes

This lick mostly uses G mixolydian, but you’ll hear the Bb from G minor pentatonic on the 1st fret of the 5th string.

#19 - Classic G Major pentatonic lick

What’s in this lick? 

Ready for a rodeo lick? 

This spicy line is a great country guitar riff for intermediates looking to test their sequencing, open string, and scale-switching skills all at the same time.

The essence of this lick is a climb down from the top of the A mixolydian scale to the bottom.

Inside this hot lick, you’ll find ghost notes used to break up each of the descending patterns, and chromatic approach notes for extra effect.

The trick to mastering this lick is by visualizing A mixolydian scale. 

If you need a quick refresher on the scale, why not check out our article on the scale.

What chord is this lick based on?

A7

What scales are here?

A mixolydian

Extra notes

This lick is much easier when hybrid picking/chicken picking is used.

Practice this lick in 2 separate sections as you shift from the 5th fret to the 1st fret patterns before putting them all together.

#18 - Repeated E Mixolydian phrase

It sounds so nice we played it twice.

What’s in this lick? 

Here’s an example of how short ideas can be incredibly effective at building intensity in a solo.

Most country guitar improvisations use some form of repetition to keep the tempo up and highlight a good idea. 

Repetition is a powerful tool that when used correctly, can blow your listener’s minds.

This lick uses E mixolydian to form a short idea that uses half-step bends from the major 3rd up to the 4th, and down the E7 arpeggio.  

What chord is this lick based on?

E7

What scales are here?

E mixolydian

Extra notes

Sometimes a simple, 3 note idea can be much more effective than a stream of endless notes. 

This is a good lesson in crafting simple, three or four-note ideas from a scale and repeating them for melodic effect.

#17 - Rolling A mixolydian chord lick

This finger-splittin’, wrist-twistin’ lick is a must-have trick for your bag.

What’s in this lick? 

This is the perfect musical example for learning how to play authentic country guitar.

You can easily spot the double stops, chicken picking, and slides that make this a sweet lick to learn.

Hybrid picking rolls are a necessary skill to learn when arpeggiating chords on the same string set as this lick sets out. 

  • These ‘rolls’ are used to highlight the underlying chord changes without actually playing chords. 
  • By using this pick and fingers technique, you’re treating the chord as 3 individual melody notes.
  • The most common way to play rolls is to use hybrid picking instead of fingerpicking. 

Hybrid picking uses a pick between the thumb and first finger, with the middle and ring finger acting as the ‘picking’ part underneath.

What chord is this lick based on?

A7

What scales are here?

A mixolydian

Extra notes

Making the notes ‘snap’ when hybrid picking is what makes it sound most authentic as a country guitar sound. Pull them a little bit further from the instrument to get that sound.

Double Stop Licks

You’re really starting to get it together now, nice job.

Double stops are another heavily used technique that your country guitar teacher may have mentioned.

Here’s a fascinating clip from bending master, Jerry Donahue.

The reason they’re so useful is because they allow you to:

  • Harmonize a melody using 3rd, 6th, and octave intervals.
  • Outline the basic triads of the song.
  • Thicken the melodic texture by adding an extra note underneath or above.
  • Grab larger intervals that would otherwise be difficult to find when alternate picking.

#16 - I-V-I double stop 6ths

Double-stop that.

What’s in this lick? 

In this example, you’ll see how double stops can be used to outline the chord changes of the song.

At a quick glance you might also notice that this lick crosses a huge amount of fretboard real estate in under two bars. 

That’s where double stops can be a useful, horizontal device for switching between scale positions.

  • These double stops were created with the G major scale across one string.
  • Adding slides can really take this sound to the next level.
  • One country guitar practice tip for double stop riffs is to make sure that you’re visualizing the 6th string bar chords to help you form the double stop shapes quickly.
  • In this example, the double stop pattern creates hybrid picked sixths

What chord is this lick based on?

G to D7 and back to G

What scales are here?

G major scale

Extra notes

Double stops can be played using regular picking or hybrid picking, it’s all up to how you feel most comfortable.

#15 - Bending into tension

The tension is so palpable you could cut it with a knife.

What’s in this lick? 

Taking double stops and tension to the next level by combining the two techniques is a fun idea to explore with near-limitless possibilities.

Tension is created by bending notes just outside of the scale.

When the melody is harmonized with major 3rds, as in this lick, the double stops add an extra level of interest and tension.

  • Eagle-eyed guitarists will notice that this lick makes use of the major 2nd bending to minor 3rd on the lower notes – but the upper string shows a 4th bending to the b5th blues note.
  • Notice how this riff ends up settling on an A major chord shape.

What chord is this lick based on?

A7 or A major triad.

What scales are here?

A mixolydian scale

Extra notes

Learning to bend both notes at the same time and at the same half-step interval is a challenge, but you’ll get it down with enough practice.

#14 - The double stop sandwich lick 

What’s in this lick? 

This lick has been appropriately named the ‘double stop sandwich’ because it teaches you how to use double stops sandwiched between single note lines.

This could be described as an ‘old school country guitar lick’ because it doesn’t feature many characteristic string bends, slides, or hammer ons that you’d hear from electric guitar players. 

But similar to more traditional country licks, it does a great job of outlining the chord shapes of G7 and E7. 

  • Sometimes you’ll see triad pairs being used over dominant chords to highlight the extension notes of the chord in quick succession. 
  • The two triad pairs you can see over the E7 chord are E major and D major.

What chord is this lick based on?

G7 to E7 – using the Nashville numbers system, this would be I7 - VI7

What scales are here?

  • G mixolydian over G7
  • E mixolydian over E7

Extra notes

This is a good lick to apply to chicken pickin', too, as you’ll want to use your pick-and-finger technique to pick wider intervals.

For guitarists who have learned to see the fretboard using the CAGED system, this lick will be easy to visualize. 

#13 - Double stop variation in G

A simple twist on an old classic.

What’s in this lick? 

This variation on lick 15 adds finger slides into the mix.

You can break up your usual double stop licks by varying when the the top note joins in.

What chord is this lick based on?

G7

What scales are here?

G mixolydian scale

Extra notes

Although you can always bend a minor 3rd back to a major 3rd, slides are useful finger tricks that you can use to approach your chord tones.

#12 - D7 hammer on double stops

It’s hammer time with this upcoming lick, grab your tools.

What’s in this lick? 

Hammer ons are the feature in this lick and another well-used technique for playing country lead guitar. 

They allow you to minimize the effort by utilizing the fretting hand to generate notes.

  • This lick highlights the triad of D major initially before moving up and highlighting the b7th.
  • Repetition is another familiar feature of this lick and it works perfectly for outlining the chord changes.

What chord is this lick based on?

D7

What scales are here?

D mixolydian

Extra notes

  • This lick is very shiftable when you can visualize the chord shape that you’re highlighting.
  • Bluegrass and Country players tend to stick to playing in guitar-friendly keys such as G, A, D, and E because these keys allow them to use open strings freely. 
  • Remember to practice these country licks in all keys for maximum familiarity. 

Country Bending Licks

Country music without bends is like apple without the pie – it just ain’t right!

String bends are a key feature of every classic country guitar solo you’ll hear – so it’s worth spending time making sure you know how to access and use them.

One key difference between bluegrass (an acoustic guitar style), and country (more of an electric style), is the use of bends and double stops.

Guitar bending is a technique used to imitate the sound of lap steel guitar players who play with a slide, instead of picking each note.

There are many ways to bend notes, here are some options:

  • Single notes bending a whole or half step.
  • Double stop bending both notes.
  • Bending one note while another stays static.
  • Pre bends where a note is already bent before it is picked.
  • Barring two notes on the top strings while bending a note below.

#11 - Bending through C Dominant 7 

What’s in this lick? 

Bending can help you approach notes in a chord and create beautiful ways of highlighting a single chord.

This lick combines slides, bends, and open string phrases to outline a C7 chord.

What chord is this lick based on?

C7

What scales are here?

C Mixolydian with chromatic notes from the C blues scale.

Extra notes

When bending the b7th a whole step up, make sure all of your fingers are sitting on the same string. This will give you maximum strength when bending up to the root.

#10 - Bending through C and G

What’s in this lick? 

Double stop phrases where the top note stays static and the bottom note bends up a whole step are excellent for creating a pedal note lick such as this one.

This lick works perfectly when playing over a I - V progression.

  • Over C, the 2nd is bent up to the major 3rd from C major pentatonic.
  • Over G, the 5th is bent up to the major 6th from G major pentatonic.

What chord is this lick based on?

C moving to G

What scales are here?

C major pentatonic scale and G major pentatonic scale.

Extra notes

Most of the time, the notes from C mixolydian will work when playing over the V chord, G7. You may find a minor 3rd (Bb) appearing over the G7 but this still works nicely in the country guitar style.

#9 - Pedal steel bends in A

Here’s another lick for you to (pedal) steal.

What’s in this lick? 

This next lick continues the idea of using a pedal note at the top while notes are bent beneath.

The theory for country guitar licks can be quite fluid at times, especially with the minor scale against the major chord dynamic again.

However, using the minor pentatonic scale this way creates a bluesy feeling, which is used in many country guitar phrases.

What chord is this lick based on?

A7

What scales are here?

A minor pentatonic

Extra notes

Once you’ve got this lick down, it’s a great phrase to work into the major pentatonic by switching out the minor 3rd for a major 3rd.

#8 - Single bend into double stop bend

What’s in this lick? 

This phrase is a bending masterclass on how to blend the major and minor pentatonic scale with bends.

As you’ll notice, this lick starts with a pre bend from the 5th, down to the 4th, and finally from the minor 3rd onto the major 3rd.

The second half of the lick keeps the root on the top as a pedal note, while bending the 6th from the major scale, into the b7th of the minor pentatonic. 

What chord is this lick based on?

G major or G minor could be the underlying chord for this lick.

What scales are here?

G major pentatonic and G minor pentatonic.

Extra notes

  • The genius of this lick is that it is equally in major and minor pentatonic. The last bar creates a bending phrase to outline a G major triad to resolve the sound.
  • Want to figure out the mechanics behind bending? I’ve sourced you the perfect article to read on bending and vibrato.

#7 - Pedal steel bending lick in 3 keys

Take a ride through IV-V-I with this addictive lick.

What’s in this lick? 

To expand on the pedal steel lick you’ve just learned, you’ll apply this to each chord in a IV-V-I in G major.

The IV-V-I progression is a well-trodden chord progression, and most country guitar standards use it to build songs.

  • If you’re searching for country guitar mastery, I’d recommend making sure that you can play your favorite licks over all 3 chords in a progression. 
  • This ensures that you can copy and paste the same material with ease.
  • The theory for this lick is exactly the same as before using pedal notes and bending approaches up to chord tones.

What chord is this lick based on?

  • C major - D major - G major
  • The nashville numbers system would show this as IV-V-I in G

What scales are here?

  • A minor pentatonic scale over C major
  • B minor pentatonic scale over D major
  • E minor pentatonic scale over G major

Extra notes

A quick improvising tip for applying minor scales over major chords is to learn the relative major and minor relationship. This means you’ll know immediately which minor scales go over which major chords.

#6 - Double stop sandwich part II

Ready for another bite at the sandwich lick?

What’s in this lick? 

Thinking back to the first sandwich lick which encased double stops with single notes, this lick takes an extra step up and uses bends between the double stops.

As you’ll now know, double stops are useful for all kinds of things such as thickening the texture, harmonizing a good melody, or helping you move across the fretboard horizontally.

  • Country guitar improvisers love to mix it up by changing between single notes, double stops, and bends – the challenge is to throw them all together.
  • The final section of this lick uses a chromatic step up through the double stops to add tension as you approach the major 3rd of the chord.

What chord is this lick based on?

C or C7

What scales are here?

C major pentatonic scale

Extra notes

This lick is far easier to play when the 5th fret is barred with the first finger, leaving the others free to carry out the bending function.

Chromatic Passing Tone Licks

The final section of our 30 licks focuses on chromatic passing and approach notes.

At this point, you’ve probably spotted a few moments where chromatic notes have been used to chain sections of licks together.

But this time, you’ll look a little closer at how to inject chromatic notes to create the best country licks.

Chromatic approach notes are frequently played by modern country guitar masters to fill the space between scale notes. 

They’re excellent for creating a moment of tension before resolving into the scale, and back into the key. 

Here’s a killer clip of country guitar master Albert Lee using chromaticism throughout his solo, leaving the listener hanging onto his every note before resolving the phrase and starting a new idea.

Most country guitar riffs on youtube will use the blues scale as the gateway scale for creating chromaticism between the 4th, b5th, and 5th in a minor scale.

  • Chromatic phrases create ‘outside of the key’ dissonance.
  • It’s slightly easier to slide onto chord tones by a half step above or below, hence why they are called chromatic approach notes.

#5 - Blues scale lick 

Let’s tread back through our footsteps and rediscover the blues scale.

What’s in this lick? 

The blues scale is a go-to scale for creating immediate chromatic licks, and many country lead guitar lessons introduce this scale alongside the minor pentatonic.

The chromatic tension lives between the 4th, b5th, and 5th.

Starting as a double stop slide from a half step beneath, this line immediately uses the G blues scale to descend from the 5th back down to the minor 3rd.

This lick is a ‘helter-skelter’ of sorts, and changes direction at every turn by switching minor 3rds into major 3rds. 

The blues scale is a 6-note scale based on the minor pentatonic.

What chord is this lick based on?

G7 or G minor

What scales are here?

G blues scale

Extra notes

Lots of top players will mix the blues scale and it’s chromatic tension notes with major and minor 3rd switches, which aren’t native to the scale but fit nicely into the soundscape.

#4 - Descending A Blues scale

What’s in this lick? 

This will seem like quite a familiar lick now that you’ve played a few variations of it.

Nonetheless, it remains a popular idea to fill up bars and keep the flow of your country guitar solo cooking.

In the key of A, the blues scale uses chromaticism between E, Eb, and D.

What chord is this lick based on?

A7 or A minor

What scales are here?

A blues scale

Extra notes

Can you find this phrase in another part of the fretboard? Making sure that you can find the same licks in different places is a big practice point.

#3 - G Blues scale

Gee.. haven’t we met before?

What’s in this lick? 

Although this lick is largely the same as the A blues scale lick you’ve just studied, the twist is found with the chromatic passing tone at the beginning.

Sliding from the b5th onto the 5th is a neat way to slip into a riff.

As the lick continues to switch directions, keeping your listener guessing by ascending and descending the scale is a fun way of kicking up the momentum in your solo and moving into top gear.  

What chord is this lick based on?

G or G minor

What scales are here?

G blues scale

Extra notes

Using the ring finger on the first slide may seem illogical, but it helps massively when incorporating the chromatic step down immediately afterwards.

#2 - Chromatic approach tones on the 2nd

What’s in this lick? 

By getting this far, I’ve decided to let you in on a country guitar secret scale.

The major blues scale is the lesser known of the two blues scales, but it holds the same interesting chromatic note features as its minor counterpart.

This scale is the key feature in this lick and is used to chromatically approach the 3rd of G major, and chromatically back down onto the 2nd.

The major blues scale is built using: 

Root - 2nd - minor 3rd - major 3rd - 5th - 6th  

The lick falls nicely into a major triad shape for each chord.

What chord is this lick based on?

G7 and C7

What scales are here?

G major blues scale and C major blues scale

Extra notes

  • Most players don’t know about the major blues scale because its chromatic notes are often combined with minor blues scale licks to create the minor against major sound.
  • Building a couple of licks using the major blues scale helps you feel comfortable with where the chromatic step is and how to approach the major 3rd of your chords.

#1 - Descending A Blues scale

One last lick to send you back to the ranch.

What’s in this lick? 

This final lick combines almost all of the chromatic note information you’re likely to see in a country riff.

Starting on the b7th of the scale and falling down the rest of the A minor blues scale. 

This lick takes a slightly unexpected turn into the A major blues scale when touching on the major 6th (F#) and major 2nd (B) at the end of the phrase.

Sequencing still remains a major part of crafting long, flowing melodies that repeat through the bar.

What chord is this lick based on?

A7

What scales are here?

A minor blues scale and A major blues scale

Extra notes

  • This lick marries both blues scales, so it can be quite confusing to visualize. 
  • Try to practice both scales separately before joining them into a lick.
  • It is very helpful to practice both scales by speaking out the intervals as you go.

My 5 top tips for country licks

Tip 1: Know the fundamentals

One of the crown jewels of the Country Guitar Learning Pathway is described early on as the 5 pillars which lists the 5 essentials of country guitar soloing:

  • Pillar 1: Pentatonic Scales
  • Pillar 2: Triads
  • Pillar 3: Bends
  • Pillar 4: Hybrid Picking
  • Pillar 5: Double Stops

Memorizing this set of country staples will keep your idea bank full when crafting your next solo or melody.

Tip 2: Learn the 3 types of picking style

There are 3 primary types of picking that you’ll hear in most country guitar riffs. It’s important to spend equal amounts of time learning each of them. 

Different riffs require different picking techniques to execute double stops, chicken pickin’, and the bends that you’ll hear in country music. 

Tip 3: Single coil pickups are the king of the ranch

If you have the option to choose between electric guitars, always pick a guitar with a single-coil pickup, such as a Fender Telecaster or Gretsch.

Single-coil pickups are much better for getting the super clean, snappier, and treble-heavy guitar tone you’ll hear in country playing.

Tip 4: Keep good time... At all times

Playing country guitar correctly requires strict time keeping and a strong sense of rhythm. 

Practicing these 30 licks with a metronome is an invaluable way to develop a strong sense of where the downbeat is. 

The downbeat is another term for the first beat of the bar which is often accented by the rest of the band.

Tip 5: Learn to see scales across the fretboard

If you’ve come from the blues guitar world, you’ll probably be familiar with how the pentatonic boxes system works.

But in country guitar, it’s incredibly important to know how to play scales horizontally and vertically across the fretboard.

This’ll allow you to use double stops and more advanced bending techniques.

BONUS tip: Learn country solos

This may seem fairly obvious, but learning solos is just as important as creating your own.

If you’re serious about becoming a country guitar improviser, you’ll want to get into the mind of how the best players think when forming their solos.

Learning country licks from the masters is one of the most musically nutritious things you can do, and has the largest effect on your playing abilities. 

Learning country standards and classic songs is another excellent use of practice time to help you get to grips with the chord progressions you’ll be soloing over.

Take it from a country guitar master, Brent Mason: 

“If you don’t put down your instrument, listen to something else, and stop playing, you never advance”

Country guitar-playing techniques 

Country and bluegrass playing styles are a little different from other guitar playing styles. 

The technical side of picking is immensely important to achieving the country guitar sound.

Below, you’ll see a breakdown of three of the foremost picking techniques all country guitarists use.

Flatpicking

Flatpicking sounds very fancy, but in reality, this translates to using a regular pick and using alternate picking technique. 

Because so much of the country guitar picking style is based on hybrid picking and fingerstyle playing, it is common to find players using thumb picks like a banjo player might use.

Flatpicking uses a flat, triangle-shaped pick. 

Or, what most players know as a regular guitar pick to play through the strings.

Fingerpicking aka fingerstyle

Fingerpicking is often accompanied by using a thumb pick to accent the low notes.

Like hybrid picking, fingerpicking is used to mimic the rolling chord sounds of a piano or banjo player.

Look no further than Merle Travis, Chet Atkins, or Jerry Reed for world-class examples of how to fingerpick like a pro.

Hybrid picking (pick-and-fingers technique);

I think hybrid picking came from the close association of country musicians to bluegrass musicians. If you ever watch a banjo player, their right hand is playing all sorts of acrobatic feats at very high tempos. Hitting a lot of strings simultaneously, it yields a piano-like sound.” 

- Daniel Donato, Country Learning Pathway instructor

Hybrid picking, often called ‘chicken picking’ in the country guitar world, is a pick-and-fingers technique that you’ll want to have some grasp of.

This technique is very percussive and the fingers are often used to create a ‘snapping’ sound when plucking the notes and giving the iconic twangy tone.

  • The simple way to learn hybrid picking is to get comfortable holding the pick between your thumb and first finger, then use the middle finger and ring finger to pluck the strings below.
  • Hybrid picking allows guitarists to grab notes with the fingers that are usually on far away strings and are often very difficult to flatpick. The fingers can essentially ‘grab’ the far away notes with little to no effort. 

FAQs

What riffs should I practice for country guitar?

Make sure to practice riffs that use the 5 pillars: Bending, hybrid picking, pentatonics, triads, and double stops.

Which country guitarists should I check out?

Chet Atkins, Albert Lee, Johnny Hiland, and Brent Mason are a great place to start.

How do I train my ears to hear licks?

Try to identify short, musical melodies within a solo.

Licks are musical sentences that showcase a short melody or idea. 

If you’re familiar with the basic minor and major pentatonic scales, you’ll start to hear them naturally in your favorite solos.

How is the modern country guitar style different from traditional country guitar?

Traditional country music uses more acoustic instruments and modern country, and country rock uses electric instrumentation.

What is the most famous country guitar lick?

Pedal steel bends are arguably the most recognizable and famous country guitar riffs.

How do country guitarists practice?

Learning major and minor pentatonic scales across the fretboard, and learning how to apply those licks to IV, V, and I chord changes.

Is bluegrass the same as country?

Bluegrass is a subgenre of country music and uses mostly acoustic string instruments. Country music is a mainstream, electric genre that features lyrics more often. 

Wrapping Up

I hope you’ve had fun learning these 30 hot country licks.

Learning how to play country guitar is a worthwhile challenge for players wanting to master the fretboard and explore an exciting, high-octane guitar playing style. 

These 30 licks have given you a brief insight into how country musicians structure their solos and practice material.

In my own experience, I didn’t start looking into country guitar playing until a few years ago. 

The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that bending accuracy and maintaining a 50/50 balance between minor and major pentatonic language is crucial for achieving an authentic country guitar sound.

Want even more country guitar riffs and tabs? 

If you’re curious about how the Country Learning Pathway works, here’s how the course works

Yes, I’d Love A Free 14-Day Trial Of Pickup Music To Learn Country Guitar From Experts >

Author: Jack Handyside