Want to Knock 'em Dead in Nashville? Learn These 20 Tasty Country Licks
This sweet, pedal steel–like lick is built around sixth intervals played on nonadjacent strings and features lots of slippery-sounding ascending and descending finger slides. Notice the half-step approaches going into the A and E chords. The challenge here is to get all the notes to ring as close to the same volume as possible. You’re looking for a seamless transition from chord to chord, so practice it slowly at first and strive for a smooth flow of notes.
This bouncy single-note line [FIGURE 12] dances around chord tones with “upper and lower neighbors” and is perfect as a fill or for ending a tune. Take note of the position shifts involved, especially in bar 2. Use whichever fingering feels right and doesn’t tie your fingers in knots.
FIGURE 13 is a first-position bluegrass lick that sounds equally good on acoustic or electric guitar. Flat-pick all the notes that are not hammered-on or pulled-off, and strive for a seemless flow of notes. If you’re having trouble connecting the whole phrase, try practicing bars 1 and 2 separately, and then put them together.
Demonstrating an approach often used by many of today’s most skilled country guitarists, this lick emulates the celebrated “weeping” sound of a pedal steel, with lots of oblique bends (a technique in which one note is bent while another, unbent note is sounded on another string). Use your pinkie to bend the B string in bar 1, supported by the ring finger, and use your ring and middle fingers for the G-string bends. The final bend is a tricky half-step bend with the middle finger. You’ll want the notes on the D and G strings to continue ringing while you bend the A string upward with the middle finger.
An essential technique for country lead guitar, chicken pickin’ is an application of aggressive hybrid picking and left- and right-hand muting techniques that creates a hen-like clucking sound. Begin this lick by fretting the G string’s seventh-fret D note with your ring finger, then pick the string and bend it up a whole step with the assistance of the middle finger.
Hold the bend and pluck the same note with the ring finger of your pick hand while muting the string with your fret hand. This should produce a pitchless snapping sound (indicated in the notation by an X) as the muted string ricochets off the fretboard. The second half of the lick consists of a roll across the top three strings with a held bend on the G string. Let all the notes ring together here until you pick the final note, the A root.
This traditional Western-swing pedal steel–like chord phrase features a series of shifting triads with chromatic approaches from a half step below. A good way to practice this lick is to first learn each chord shape and then add the slides. Pick each three-string group with the pick and your middle and ring fingers to achieve a simultaneous note attack. It’s important that the slides, hammer-ons and pull-offs ring clearly. The C13 shape at the beginning of the final bar requires a bit of a stretch. You might find this chord shape easier to finger with your thumb rotated further down the neck to give you a little more reach.
This country-rock lick incorporates a mix of double-stops and bends similar to what Keith Urban uses in a lot of his solos. Play the opening bends with your ring finger, supported by the middle. There is a quick position shift on beat three of bar 1, at which point you barre your index finger across the top two strings at the 10th fret.
This part of the lick has a very percussive, yet flowing, fiddle-like vibe, with oblique hammer-ons and pull-offs on the high E string sounded together with alternate-picked 16th notes on the B string. End the lick in the same place it began, in seventh position, with a bend-release on the G string’s ninth fret followed by the D root note at the seventh fret.
This lick is a hybrid-picked, “reverse-roll” pattern with pull-offs that moves down the neck chromatically across two chords. A good way to practice it is by playing one beat, or four 16th notes, at a time. Your index finger will barre across the top two strings in each position. Even though the lick is played over the chords G and D, there is a different implied dominant-seven chord substitution in each eight-note sequence (G7 C7 F7 Bb7) that will add color to any solo.
Inspired by Nashville “hired-gun” studio legend Brent Mason, this slick, challenging lick combines the use of hybrid picking, double-stops, hammer-ons, open strings and single and double pull-offs. Played over an A chord, bar 1 is built around the fifth-position A blues scale “box” pattern. Bar 2 has you moving down to second position with some open-string usage. Break this lick into pieces and slowly work it up to speed.
This is a flashy lick that combines the third-position G minor pentatonic box pattern with open strings that serve to double notes played at the fifth fret, creating a slinky feel and unusual melodic pattern with repeating notes. The pick hand pits the middle finger plucking the G string in opposition to picked downstrokes on the D and A strings, creating a lightning-fast wall of notes.
At the end of bar 2, the rhythm speeds up to 16th-note triplets, facilitated by the use of double pull-offs to open strings. The final note is a half-step bend from F# on the D string’s fourth fret up to the G root note, which may be performed by either pushing or pulling the string with the middle finger (supported by the index).