OK, so you want to add some twang, but not TOO much twang. How do you do it? Here’s the absolute, most important, most used, most essential lick in country music.
This country guitar lick has its origins in the folky mountain music. It has been integrated into bluegrass and classic country. Now you’re just as likely to hear this one in a song by the Carter Family, Doc Watson, and Lester Flatt as you are to hear it by James Burton, Brad Paisley and Brent Mason.
The Country Guitar Lick
The first version of the country guitar lick is from Ricky Skaggs. While he is known more for playing the mandolin, he played guitar on a great live album from the early 80s called Live in London.
There are tons of great country guitar/chicken pickin’ moments on this album. The country guitar lick played is over a G chord. The main idea here is moving down the G mixolydian scale, using the flatted third (Bb in this case).
This first version uses pull-offs on the G and D strings to get both the mixolydian scale and the flat third.
The Country Guitar Lick – Version 2
This version comes from Brent Mason on an Alan Jackson song. Mason uses pull-offs from the 6th of the key to the open string here. He also chromatically leads into the 3rd at the end.
Check out how he surrounds the B in the last beat of the bar. He plays the C, one half step above the note. Then chromatically leads into the B from the Bb. This is similar to the way jazz players highlight a key note.
The Country Guitar Lick – Version 3
Our final version of the country guitar lick is from a Danny Gatton solo. Gatton was an incredibly fast player and would frequently span all of the American genres in one solo. He starts with a bend from the 5th of the chord here, then moves to bending the 2nd of the chord up to the 3rd. He surrounds the low 3rd of the chord similar to Brent Mason, but resolves it up to the open G instead of down to the low G.
Learning country guitar licks like these is very similar to learning different ways to use a word while speaking.
In fact much of playing a style of music is similar to learning to speak. Check out more of these country guitar licks and the idea of contextual playing in my book Chicken Pickin’ – The Vocabulary of the Country Guitar Masters.
A reference of 100 country guitar licks with audio examples, written in standard notation and tab.