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Joe Pesce - How To Sound Country When You’re Not - Yet! Part 1: Embellishing Common Chord Progressions and Melodies

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 48 **

Welcome to my brand new series, “How To Sound Country When You’re Not…Yet” This series is intended for guitarists coming from another genre other than Country, but equally valuable for you Country pickers out there looking for some new ideas, approaches and inspiration to get your creative juices flowing. I will also be showing a lot of tips for those who want to explore “modern Country”.

In terms of difficulty, I would rate this specific lesson a “four out of ten”, for the rhythm and “six out of ten”, for the melody because of the bending; but in usefulness and value I would give this a 10. This type of arranging is something I’m constantly doing when writing songs and arrangements for myself or others.

Most of you by now should be able to play an F, C, and G chord. This is the foundation to the arrangement. The thing is, we’ve heard a “bazzilion” songs that use this chord progression and it can sound awfully generic and boring. Here’s a few ideas to breathe new life into a dull progression.

Tips To Make a Generic, Boring Chord Progression Worthy of Your Audience:

Replace, add or combine sus chords (or “add9” chords) with the original chord. Example: instead of an F chord, try an Fsus2, or Fadd9 chord. Because the 3rd is not implied, a sus 2 chord has a neutral nuance, yet a deeper emotional subtext. The formula for a sus 2 chord is 1-2-5. (Root, 2nd, 5th). So a Fsus2 would be F,G,C. An “add9” would be almost the same, but with the 3rd incorporated back into the chord, and usually the “2nd” voicing, in this case the “G”, would be an octave higher; implying the “9”.

Add syncopation to the chord progression’s rhythm. It doesn’t need to be “funkified”. Syncopation can be as simple as starting specific chords in the progression on an up beat; like the upbeat of beat 4. This is also called an “anticipated beat”.

Arpeggiate your chords. Again, not necessarily an arpeggio you would hear Yngwie sweep picking. I mean, breaking the chord apart and playing the individual voicing in a pattern that creates interest from you and the listeners.

Voice a chord in a new chord position, or use a chord inversion. Ex: Instead of C, try C/E; a “C” chord with 3rd in the bass.

It’s as simple as that. Now for the last part, I’ve added 3 extra chords to tie up the “song”.

We’re still in the key of C, and the chords are: Dm,C/E, and F. I chose C/E instead of Em, because it sounds more “rootsy” with this bass movement of Dm climbing to F. Playing this F chord, I’m in a new position; the “C shaped position” of the chord. It’s voiced very similar to how “keys” voice chords, like piano/organ/Wurlitzer. If you’re confused by the term “C shaped” chords. It’s based on the CAGED system, which Danny Gill teaches a terrific and easy to understand lesson on Lick Library on this topic that’s worth checking out!

A great thing about these techniques is that they can be used in just about every genre of music.

Writing Country Melodies

This motif is a very common scale using the notes e,d,c,b, and a, which is an “A natural minor scale” from the fifth degree, down to the root note. For those who don’t know this, this works great because A minor is the relative minor of C major, the key we’re in. That means they share the same exact notes.

If you notice most modern genres of music, Country included, they are hybrids of two or more genres, as well as adaptations from one instrument’s characteristics to another (like guitar emulating an organ). Sidenote: A tip I had picked up along the way is to listen and play many genres to get phrasing and melodic ideas that will strengthen your main genre that you are most at home with. Another tip is to know who your intended audience is. As much as some of us (including me) love to melt people’s minds and faces off with intricate, crazy performances, the melodies that get stuck in most people’s heads are the simplest ones; Motifs that are easy to digest. If you’re looking to reach the most people with your songs, give them melodies that will get stuck in their head after the first 10 seconds. You can always combine it with mind blowing musical passages to twist your audience’s ear. This type of contrast works really well too.

Infusing the Country sound

This is where the magic happens…The main ingredient which we’ll also get into deeper throughout the series is through strategic bending of certain intervals and chords. Some bends lend themselves to sounding bluesy, but others Country


Add a drone note when doing double stop bending melodies, like a fiddle, dobro and pedal steel does. Usually the root or 5th is common for the top voicing, but it can also be the major 3rd or dominant 7th too.

A double stop containing the dominant 7th “staying” as a drone note will sound bluesy, but if you choose for example a major 3rd as your drone note and bend the dominant 7th up to the root note simultaneously,  it will sound Country.

I welcome you to try out these ideas and use them on your own melodies and chord progressions. As simple of a concept, they make a world of difference when arranging for modern Country guitar. Be sure to check out the video provided along with this column to get extra insight and tips. See you next time with new techniques, advice and lessons for Country guitar!

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