** As featured in issue 44 **
One of the trademarks of Country guitarists is the influence drawn from other instruments. While the fiddle and mandolin are common sources of vocabulary, the most common (and best suited to guitar) is probably the pedal steel guitar.
An evolution of the lap steel guitar, the pedal steel guitar began developing in the '30s when engineers would add mechanical systems to lap steels to allow you to change the pitch of that string a fixed amount. These are commonly activated by foot pedals and knee levers. This became essential for the adventurous lap steel player as playing in a fixed open tuning (commonly E9 chromatic) makes playing tonalities other than the chord family you're tuned to very difficult.
The result here is that you're now able to take a chord and bend one of the notes within the chord. This differs greatly from common Rock guitar playing where a single note is bent. The pedal steel influence often bends one note against other static notes to create pleasing sounds.
To work on these concepts, I've got some example for you in the key of A. The thing you'll notice is that awareness of intervals will really help here. As an example, the first concept revolves around bending the 9th of the chord (B) up to the 3rd (C#) on the B string, and playing other notes against that on the high E string.
When doing this, the technique differs quite dramatically from Rock or Blues technique. In other genres of music, bending technique often comes from the wrist, pushing a string up with the support of other fingers placed behind the bending finger. In Country music, the bends often come from just the finger as the notes on other strings need to remain static. This takes time to develop, and a lighter string gauge helps.
Once you're familiar with the 9th to 3rd bend, you're able to play the 5th on the high E string (E), or the 4th on the same string (D). When bending the note up, this note should then be held while you alternate between the bent note on the B string, and the notes on the high E. To finishing the lick you're able to release the bent note on the B string, and end on the root note (A).
The second example expands on this idea, this time bending from the b7 up to the root on the B string. Against this you're able to play the 3rd, 9th, or root on the high E string, this gives you lots of melodic options.
The next example moves down a set of strings, bending from the 4th to the 5th on the G string, and playing either the b7th, 6th, or 5th against it on the B string. This can be ended in the same position, perhaps by resolving to the 3rd on the G string.
The final examples feature bends on the G string, with alternating notes on both the B and high E strings. The basic concept is similar to our first idea, bending the 9th up to the 3rd, but doing it on the G string means you're able to put the 5th on the B string, and the root (or b7th) on the high E string.
From here, the best thing to do would be listen to the great pedal steel players, and try and adapt some of their ideas. Try some Buddy Emmons, Paul Franklin, or the great Speedy West to really see what this instrument is capable of. It's a common sound in country music though, so you'll hear it on everything from Hank Williams to Carrie Underwood.