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Lesson Series

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Joe Pesce - How To Sound Country When You’re Not - Yet! Part 6: Dominant Arpeggios In Country Music

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 54 **

For those coming from jazz, blues and rock backgrounds, you know how practical dominant chords and the mixolydian scale are used in these genres. But what about in country? A chord progression that uses dominant chords, especially as the root chord in country can give the song an “outlaw/renegade” type of vibe, which is a useful technique when you want to “toughen up” a song.

Let’s break down what exactly a dominant chord and arpeggios are: For you theory buffs, a dominant chord is a chord that incorporates a major 3rd and a flattened 7th. So, a C7 chords would look like this: (1 - 3 - 5 - b7) or, C  - E - G - Bb.  *the 5th doesn’t need to be incorporated in the chord to be considered a dominant)

9, 11, and 13 chords, for example: “C9”, “C11”, and “C13” are also dominant chords with an extension of the 9th, 11th, and 13th degrees in their voicings.

Once we have established what chord we’re going to play, let’s arpeggiate it in a musical pattern, so it sounds more interesting. (See example 1)

This is the first step, It doesn’t sound country yet, but we’re getting there. Here, we are outlining a D13 chord played in a 16th note pattern, with every downbeat climbing to the next interval in the chord, so it looks like this: R,3,5,b7 - 3,5,b7,9 - 5-b7-9-11 - b7,9,11,13.


Once we can do that, let’s adopt a technique used in jazz and slide into the specific voicing of the chord from a half step below. Here’s what it look like: (see tab) As you can tell, I’m still using a straight 16th note pattern, but what makes it sound more interesting is the first “flattened” note of every arpeggio is started on the last 16th of teach beat and the down beat is where the actually diatonic voicing is played. If you break it down, the voicings follow this pattern:

(pickup)      beat 1         beat 2          beat 3           beat 4

_ _ _ bR -     1,3,5,b3   -  3,5,b7,b5  -  5,b7,9,bb7   -  b7,9,11,9 (The flattened red notes are slid into the down beat.) * It sounds odd to say “bR” (flattened root). Technically it’s the major 7th, but since the major 7 interval isn’t involved in a dominant chord, and it’s just a passing note to infer the root, it’s easier to refer to it as a flattened root that approaches the root from below in my perspective.

This arpeggio is great as an end run in a solo, because it adds a repetitive pattern, it’s quick, and has an ear twisting quality the grabs the listeners’ attention. What’s great about this lick is that’s it’s movable all up an down the neck, so you can play it in just about every key using the same finger positions. Besides using it in a song, it’s also a great warmup and finger exercise!


Here is another example played over an A7 (see tab). Like most of these arpeggios, they can be played straight, with a swing feel, or as triplets instead of 16th notes. This lick sounds great on top of a West Coast Swing rhythm.


Lastly we have an open string, dominant run in the key of G. I’ve seen Brent Mason do runs very similar to this. It sounds harder than it actually is. If you use hybrid picking, it will be even easier to get up to speed.

For more examples on country guitarists who use dominant arpeggios, check out Brent Mason, Brad Paisley; John Jorgenson; and for country/rockabilly, Brian Setzer is king!

Until next time, happy playing!

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