Open String Country Licks are a staple of both simple and high-level country guitar playing. You’ll hear these exciting ideas from everyone from slow Chet Atkins licks, to rocket paced Brad Paisley ideas.
Unlike many of the licks you’ve probably learned so far in your playing life, the issue with open string licks is that they’re not easily transposable, meaning they only work in the keys they’re written in. When playing any fretted lick, it’s easy to take the whole idea and move it up or down the neck to different keys, but the same can’t be done with an open string.
The other tricky aspect of open string country licks is that you probably only have 6 strings on your guitar, and therefore you can only play 6 different open notes, and if you play in standard tuning, two of those notes are E, so that gives you just 5 different notes, and E, A, D, G, and B.
The issue here is that these open string notes only work in some keys. While they’re all in the key of C, G, and D, the key of A introduces a G#, so that’s one string out. The key of E adds a D#, so that’s another string out. So country players will tend to have a collection of licks for specific keys. You’ll find a lot in G, D, and A, but far fewer in Eb or Db.
First up is a simple descending A Mixolydian scale (A, B, C#, D, E, F#, G), first played all fretted, then again using open strings. You’ll notice that the open string variant is intended to ring out as long as possible.
Open String Country Licks Example 1
Here’s another open string country lick idea that’s a little bit more exciting, using notes from the A blues scale (A, C, D, Eb, E, G), and descending rolls across the neck to create a lick that can be played quite quickly with practice.
Open String Country Licks Example 2
Another way these open strings can be used is as a pedal point (a static repeating low note) used to help facilitate a position shift. In the following lick I’ve taken some diatonic 6ths on the A and G string, and used a pull-off on to the open G to help allow time to move the hand up the neck.
This open G works so well as it’s diatonic, being the b7 of the A7 chord.
Open String Country Licks Example 3
The final open string country lick loosens the theoretical reigns a bit, taking cues from Brad Paisley.
Brad’s country style exists in a post Van Halen world, and the megastar of country music hasn’t ever been afraid to wear some of his rockier influences on his sleeve.
This lick begins with a classic D major pentatonic scale idea (D, E, F#, A, B), but things get a little more chaotic when the lick hits the D and G strings, pulling off to the open G and then moving the idea down chromatically.
This really shouldn’t work on paper, but it’s played at such speed that the outside notes really end up creating more of an effect than a melody, and when the idea reaches the open position this tension is resolved to another diatonic descending idea in D major.
Brad Paisley Open String Country Licks Example 4
That last lick is actually one of the Brad Paisley examples from 100 Country Licks for Guitar, so if you want more, check that out!