** As featured in issue 29 **
In this guitar lesson you’ll learn the common country guitar technique of playing open strings interspersed with fretted notes to create an interesting cascading effect as I call it. Learn to play the C and G major scales using open strings. Learn to play 3 essential country guitar licks using this technique.
This unique distinctive sound can be heard by guitarists in virtually all styles of music. In this lesson we’ll focus on Country guitar. The idea of playing open strings against fretted strings is not new but knowing the technique and how to use it will provide you with endless ideas for creating your own licks and sounds. The technique is quite simple really. You begin by playing a scale or a lick and add open string notes between the fretted notes as desired.
To introduce the technique we’ll start with a simple descending C scale in the 5th position. If you are using the CAGED system, this will be the G shape with the tonic or root tones on strings 6, 3 and 1. As you play the scale starting from the root, you’ll see that the first five notes: C,B,A,G and F must be fretted. The E note typically would also be fretted on the second string 5th fret but notice that is also available as an open first string. Replace the fretted E note with the open string E note played using the middle finger of your right hand. Play all of the fretted notes with your pick and all of the open strings with your middle finger. This small example is the technique in a nutshell. Continuing on, play the remainder of the descending C scale and replace fretted notes with open strings wherever possible. The D and C notes must be played on the third string. The B note however is available as an open string.
The A note must be fretted on the fourth string but the G is also available as an open string. The F and E are played on the 5th string but the D is played as an open string. Finish with the C note on the 6th string.
Strive to keep your fingers arched out over the fret board so all of the strings are permitted to ring out throughout the scale. If played correctly, all 6 strings should be ringing at the end creating a shimmering chord reminiscent of holding down the sustain pedal on a piano.
Now let’s learn the concept using the descending G scale in the 5th position. Begin by pulling off from the G to the F# on the second string. The next note, E is available as an open string so play it with your middle finger. Remember to allow the second string to ring. Next, pull off from D to C on the third string. The B is available as an open string to be played using your middle finger.
Remember that the fundamental right hand technique is done by alternating between your pick and middle fingers with your pick playing the fretted notes and your middle finger playing the open strings.
Once the concept is mastered using a major scale then you can begin to create licks. Licks using this technique may be played in almost any key but work best in keys where all or most of the open strings are diatonic to the key.
Let’s try one in G. I call it “walking the ladder”. It is the first lick on the video. I’ll describe it here but be sure to watch the video for a visual. It consists of a descending G major pentatonic Country lick using fretted notes at the seventh fret and open strings.
Start in the 7th position by pulling off from D to B on the first string. Next play the G note on the second string then an E by playing the open first string. This is the picking formula for this lick. Replace your first finger on B at the 7th fret of the first string then on to G on the second string, E as an open first string, the D on the third string is played by moving your first finger to the third string. Now that you have the shape, continue moving across the strings by moving your first and second finger over the top of each other until you reach the open fifth string. End the lick on G at the third fret of the 6th string.
The second lick is in the key of E and is played in the 9th position using a right hand technique called the banjo roll. The banjo roll is done by playing three consecutive strings using your pick, middle and ring fingers respectively in a forward rolling motion. It is a form of hybrid picking. Begin this lick by pulling off from an E to a C# note on the first string. Then closely follow the video instructions for the two remaining banjo rolls that will finish the licks. Strive to keep your fingers arched over the fret board allowing each string to continue to ring. Practice slowly to ensure that the banjo rolls are even.
This one is in the key of A. Start with a pull off from A to G on the first string. Then play Eb on the second string followed by an E open on the first. Alternate between your pick and middle finger.
Move to the second string and pull off from D to C#. Followed it with B on the thirds string and back to C# on the second. The remainder of the lick in played using this formula. The video will get you through the last 8 notes.