Hey everybody, and welcome to my new guitar lesson column for Guitar Interactive magazine where we'll be looking at Country guitar.
To warm things up, and prepare you for everything coming, I thought it might be best to open with a look at the harmony we're going to be encountering when playing Country guitar. We're going to do that by looking at the dominant 7th chord in some detail.
When listening to great Country players like Hank Garland, Roy Nichols, Jimmy Bryant, Jerry Reed or James Burton, you'll hear a stylistic approach to playing over the material you're presented with. This is an important part of playing any style of music, the phrases a Country player would play over an A7 chord will differ greatly to how a great blues or rock player might do it. What we need to understand is how a Country player will approach the same 12 notes differently.
A dominant 7 chord can be described as major triad with a b7 – so R 3 5 b7. It occurs in major scale harmony as the 5th chord in the key. So in the key of C, (CDEFGABC) our 5th chord will be a G dominant 7 chord and will take the notes G,A,B,C,D,E,F as a scale – the G mixolydian scale.
To take your playing beyond just running up and down the correct scales, we need to stop thinking of scales as mere pools of notes, and instead focus on how the notes sound, and what they do in relation to the chord you're playing over. So over a G7 chord, the F is the b7 of the chord and it will sound a certain way. To me it's one of the defining characteristics of the scale.
In Country guitar, we're not just thinking of the mixolydian scale, we're thinking sounds. The idea of “I can't play that note because it's not in the scale” doesn't apply, in fact, sometimes it sounds fantastic if we approach a chord tone from a note not in the scale.
If we approach the 3rd of the scale (B) from the b3rd (Bb) it's going to sound really cool, and it's something we hear all the time in Country music. The real important part to remember is that we don't have a new scale, you don't sit and practice G, A, Bb, B, C, D, E, F as a scale, you continue to play the mixolydian scale, you're just aware of that little tension note that can be used to approach the 3rd.
We can also add the b5 to the scale too (Db), again it's not a new scale, just a little passing note between the D and C that I’ll play when descending. I'll probably never sit on and play the Db against the G7 chord because that sounds a little Jazz.
Now what we have is a big pool of 9 notes we can use over our G7 chord, G, A, Bb, B, C, Db, D, E, F – which we really need to start thinking of as R,2,b3,3,4,b5,5,6,b7 – all we have to do is start building our vocabulary using these notes by learning established phrases you'll hear all the time in the style.
The best homework you can really do is go out and do the listening required to really get these sounds in your ears. Now you know what's going on, hopefully you'll pick up on it when you hear it!