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> Country Guitar Theory Guide, Scales, progressions, chords, backings, licks (etc)
The Professor
post Dec 6 2013, 01:09 PM
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Country Guitar Theory Guide


Welcome to the Country Guitar Theory Guide where you will find all the background information you need to bring that country twang to your solos, riffs, licks and chords as you dive into this fun and popular musical style in the practice room.

Learning how to play in the country style means learning how to use scales such as the major blues, major pentatonic, Mixolydian and Ionian in a comfortable and authentic fashion. As well, you will need to become comfortable with getting 7th and 9th arpeggios and chords under your fingers and onto the fretboard.

In order to ensure that you have a strong understanding of how these melodic and harmonic devices are built, how to play them and how to apply them to a Country song in both a solo and comping context, I have put together this Country Theory Guide so that you will have all the theoretical info you need to be confident and comfortable with this material.

So, if you are a fan of Albert Lee, Brent Mason, Brad Paisley, George Jones, or any of the great country guitarists, grab your axe, put on your favorite Stetson hat and let’s go country!

Country vs Blues


For those of you that have already checked out the Blues Guitar Theory Guide, you will notice that there are a lot of similarities between the Country and Blues genres. Both of these genres use similar chord progressions, scales and chord fingerings as they rely heavily on major and minor blues scales and Dominant 7th sound in their riff and chord construction.

Knowing this will allow you to take any material you’ve previously learned in the Blues genre and transplant it over to your Country guitar playing, including scale fingerings, chord-scale relationships and common chord progressions and musical forms. What will be the biggest difference between the two genres is going to be your rhythmic feel, both chords and soloing, as well as the tone you use on your guitar when moving between Blues and Country on the fretboard.

When playing in a Blues style, you are often using a “shuffle” groove in the rhythm section, which is based on a triplet feel and you will be laying your notes back on the beat a bit more than you would in the rock or country genres. In Country music, the rhythm is a bit more “driving” and “straight”, based on 8th notes and 16th notes played in a straight ahead fashion, rather than in the laid-back shuffle groove of the Blues.

As well, Blues players, and I’m generalizing here a bit, prefer the warmer tone of a Gibson Les Paul or Fender Start, or even a semi-hollow body guitar, as compared to the more biting and clean sound of a Telecaster that Country players look for in their guitar tone. That’s not to say you can’t use any guitar to play Blues or Country, but when playing the Blues a solid, warm tone is usually preferable, and for Country a more sharp, cutting tone is commonly used.

Both Blues and Country music share similar scales, chords and progressions, but it is the tone you use on your guitar, the rhythmic approach to take to the groove of a song as well as to the notes you play in your solos and comping that will help you use similar material to cover both of these fun to play musical genres.



1. Country Scale Theory and Application

When learning how to play country lead lines, riffs and licks, there are a number of important scales that you will have to get under your fingers, as well as understand how, when and where to use in order to get that proper country sound in your playing.

While country players don’t use as many scales and modes as their jazz guitar friends do, they do tend to play more modes and scales than most Blues players, especially the Mixolydian, major pentatonic and major blues scales, which are the staple diet of any lead country guitarist.

In this section of the country theory guide, I’ve laid out many of the popular scales used to solo in a country style. If you are new to soloing in a country style, start from the first scale and work your way down the list from there. But, if you are an experienced player, you can look through these scales and find one you don’t know or need a refresher on and start from there.

As well, make sure to practice soloing with these scales after you have one or two fingerings under your belt on the guitar. You can do this by applying them to the backing tracks provided at the end of this guide, just scroll down to find those audio files to practice with.

Keeping a balance between practicing scales from a technical standpoint and an improvisational view will ensure that you are able to play these important devices across the neck, as well as quickly and comfortably apply them to a lead guitar situation the next time you’re jamming on a country tune.


1.1 Minor Pentatonic Scales

Though you might think of this scale as being more in line with blues and rock music, you can find the minor pentatonic scale in the riffs and solos of many great country players.

Used to solo over 7th chords, major chords and minor chords, this scale is used less than the other modes in this section, but is still an important one to get under your fingerings when exploring the country genre on guitar nonetheless.

The minor pentatonic scale is built with the R, b3, 4, 5 and b7 intervals, and you can picture it as being the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 7th notes of the Aeolian Mode, which we’ll look at later in this guide, or an Aeolian Mode minus the 2nd and 6th notes.

Try putting on one of the backing tracks below, perhaps the blues is best to start, and then soloing over the blues using the tonic minor pentatonic scale, using C minor pentatonic over a C blues progression for example.

Once you've explored this scale, you'll be ready to dive into more complex melodic devices as you continue your country guitar journey on the fretboard.

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To learn more about Minor Pentatonic Scales, how they are built, when you can use them in your country guitar solos and how to finger them on guitar, check out What Are Minor Pentatonic Scales and the following video lessons : Southern Comfort, Trainbeat Acoustic Slide, Minor Pentatonic Scale.


1.2 Minor Blues Scales

In a similar vein to the minor pentatonic scale, the minor blues scale is used by Country guitarists to solo over 7th, major, and minor chords as they use this common scale to build their solos and riffs

Built in the exact same way as a minor pentatonic scale, you simply add in the b5(#4) blues note to complete this six-note scale, producing the intervals R, b3, 4, #4, 5, b7.

To begin your exploration with this scale, try soloing over a C blues progression and use this scale to create each of your improvised lines, basing your ideas off of the C minor blues scale.

From there, try playing one 12-bar chorus using the minor pentatonic scale, and one 12-bar chorus using the minor blues scale, in order to begin to hear the similarities and differences that these two scales make when you apply them to a soloing situation.

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To learn more about Minor Blues Scales, how they are different from Minor Pentatonic Scales, and how you can use them to enhance your country soloing chops, check out What Are Minor Blues Scales and the following video lessons: Beginner Country Solo, Hot Country, The Blues Scale.


1.3 Major Pentatonic Scales

Now that you’ve learned/reviewed the minor pentatonic and blues scales, let’s dig into their major sounding cousins, which are a staple of the country guitar soloing sound.

If the minor pentatonic scale is the go to scale for rock and blues players, defining the sounds of those genres, then the major pentatonic scale is the equivalent melodic device for country players.

Whereas minor pents can be used to solo over an entire chord progression as long as you're in a given key, such as using A minor pent over an A blues progression, the major pentatonic scale needs to be treated a bit differently.

When using this scale in your soloing, which is built with the intervals R, 2, 3, 5 and 6, you need to be careful that you change the key of the scale if/when the key of a song changes.

If the key remains in A major for example, then you can use the A major pentatonic scale throughout that progression. But, if you are playing over an A blues progression, then each chord needs to have it’s own major pentatonic scale, meaning you use A major pent over A7, D major pent over D7 and E major pent over E7 when soloing in this situation.

To begin, try working on applying a major pentatonic scale to the I IV V or I vi IV V backing tracks below, and then when you are comfortable using this scale in one key, try applying it to a blues progression where you have to move between keys every time the chord changes in the song.

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To learn more about Major Pentatonic Scales, how to play them on the fretboard, and when you can switch between Major and Minor Pents, check out What Are Major Pentatonic Scales and the following video lessons : Fast Country Lead, Country Voicing and Chickin' Pickin' Madness.


1.4 Major Blues Scales

Along with the minor pentatonic scale, a great way to bring a country vibe into your solos, or to authentically navigate any country chord progression when improvising, is to use the Major Blues Scale.

Built by adding one note to the major pentatonic scale, R, 2, b3, 3, 5 and 6, this scale instantly brings to mind the licks of great players such as Albert Lee and Brad Paisley when used over a country groove in your solos.

Once you have learned how to play the major blues scale, try soloing over a I IV V backing track, which you can find below in this guide, and switch between the major pentatonic scale and the major blues scale in order to hear how these two scales can produce similar, yet unique, sounds in your solos.

Again, as was the case with the major pentatonic scale, you need to switch the major blues scale every time the key changes in a song. So, if you are playing over an A blues progression, you need to play A major blues over A7, D major blues over D7, and E major blues over E7 in order to make sure you’re hitting all the right changes at the right time.

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To learn more about Major Blues Scales, how they are different from Major Pentatonic Scales, and how to use them to bring a swing, jump country sound to your soloing ideas, check out What Are Major Blues Scales.


1.5 Soloing With Pentatonic Scales

Now that you have the minor and major pentatonic scales under your fingers and in your ears, it’s time to work on applying them to your solos and riffs in a country style.

One exercise that you can do in order to learn how to solo with these common Country scales, is to learn licks and common phrases that use these scales and apply those to your soloing ideas.

Once you have a few of these licks down, maybe two to three minor pentatonic and two to three major pentatonic country licks, write out 4-5 of your own licks in a similar style in order to begin composing your own country lines using these two scales.

Here is an example of a mixed pentatonic country lick to get your started. Learn it as written, then take it to a number of different keys as you begin to explore this line around the fretboard.

In the lick below, you can see the note A being bent up to a Bb in the first bar, giving it a bluesy sound that comes from the Major Blues Scale. As well, beats two and three of the second bar move between G major and G minor pentatonic respectively, which is a common Country lick device that is worth exploring further in the woodshed.

Notice as well the use of 16th-notes during this lick. Learning how to solo with a steady, 16th-note pulse is an essential tool in the soloing kit of any Country guitarist, so keep working on these rhythms as you move forward with your country skills in the practice room.

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Once you can play this lick on its own, try soloing over a country chord progression, such as in the backing tracks below, and use these two lines during various sections of your solo.

When that is comfortable, and you’ve written out a few licks of your own, try and come up with your own minor and major pentatonic country licks on the spot as you are creating lines during an improvised solo.

To learn more about soloing with major and minor pentatonics scales, how they sound similar and different to blues scales, and how to use these scales to outline different country genres in your lines and phrases, check out Minor vs. Major Pentatonic Soloing Application, Solo Challenge - Major vs. Minor Pentatonic Scales and the following video lessons : Fast Country Solo, Country Licks, Hot Country Licks in G.


1.6 Mixolydian Pentatonic Scales

One of the most commonly used sounds besides pentatonic and blues when soloing in a country style is the Mixolydian mode.

While you can learn the Mixolydian mode, a 7-note scale, you can also begin your exploration of this sound by checking out a 5-note version of this melodic device, the Mixolydian Pentatonic Scale.

Containing the intervals R, 2, 3, 5, b7, the Mixolydian pentatonic scale will allow you to produce a Mixolydian sound over any chord progression you are soloing over, while keeping things simple on the fretboard at the same time.

When soloing with the Mixolydian pentatonic scale, you will need to treat it as a major pentatonic scale as far as changing scales when the key changes. This means that if you are playing over an A or A7 chord, you can use the A Mixolydian pentatonic scale in your solos. Then, if you move to a D or D7 chord, you will need to switch to a D Mixolydian pentatonic scale over those chords.

Once you have this scale under your fingers, try switching between the minor, major and mixolydian pentatonic scales in order to begin hearing how each of these 5-note scales function over different chords and chord progressions in the country genre.

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To learn more about Mixolydian Pentatonic Scales, how these scales differ from major and minor pentatonic scales, which fingerings are best for guitar and how to add them to your country soloing chops, check out What Are Mixolydian Pentatonic Scales and Mixolydian Pentatonic Scale video lesson.


1.7 Mixolydian Scales

After you have checked out the Mixolydian Pentatonic Scale, you are now ready to dive into it’s 7-note cousin as you begin to learn how to build, play and apply the Mixolydian Mode to your country guitar riffs and solos.

The fifth mode of the major scale, the Mixolydian Mode can be thought of as a major scale from the 5th to the 5th notes, such as G mixo being the C major scale from G to G, or you can build it with the following interval pattern, R, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, b7.

Since this mode has the Root, 3rd, 5th and b7th built into it, you can use it to solo over 7th chords, as well as major triads, when you begin to bring a country vibe to your lines using this particular mode.

As was the case with the Mixolydian pentatonic scale, you will need to move from chord to chord as you apply this mode to tunes that have multiple keys, such as a blues chord progression. So, when soloing over a blues in A for example, you will need to play A mixo over A7, D mixo over D7 and E mixo over E7 in order to properly outline the chord changes.

Once you have a few fingerings for this commonly used country guitar mode under your fingers, try applying it to any of the backing tracks below as you begin to explore applying this sound to your country guitar licks and solos.

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To learn more about Mixolydian Scales, how these 7-note scales differ from pentatonic scales, which fingerings sit best on the fretboard and how to add them to your country guitar solos, check out What is the Mixolydian Mode, Mixolydian Soloing Concepts for Guitar and the following video lessons: Country Chops & Double Stops, Country Picking, Hybrid Rhythm, Stylish Country, Rockabilly Rhythm, Introduction to the Mixolydian Mode.


1.8 Ionian Scales

If the Mixolydian scale is the go to Country mode for outlining 7th chords, then the Ionian mode is one of the most common ways to outline major and maj7 chords in a country guitar setting.

Otherwise known as the Major Scale, the Ionian Mode is built with the intervals R, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7, providing a direct outline of major triads and major 7th chords when applying this mode to your country guitar riffs, licks and solos.

To get an idea of how this mode sounds and works in a soloing situation, try putting on a single-chord vamp, such as just an A chord, and practice soloing over that chord with the A Ionian and A Mixolydian Modes.

You will hear how both of the modes sound correct over this chord, but that you can get a more “melodic” and smooth sound out of the Ionian Mode, while the Mixolydian Mode has more of a bite to it, with a bit more edge to your lines using that mode.

As well, since the Ionian Mode outlines the key center of a major key chord progression, you can put on a I-IV-V or I-vi-IV-V backing track and solo over all of these chords using the tonic Major Scale from that key.

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To learn more about Ionian Scales, how this mode differs from pentatonic scales, which fingerings are best on the guitar and how to add them to your country guitar solos, check out What is the Ionian Mode, Ionian Soloing Concepts for Guitar and the following video lessons: Ballad Country Solo, Modern Country, Single String Ionian Workout.


1.9 Aeolian Scales

Again, as the Mixo mode was your go to country sound over 7th chords, and the Ionian mode was your go to for major chords and maj7th chord, the Aeolian Mode is your first choice when using a mode over minor and m7 chords in a country guitar style.

Also known as the Natural Minor Scale, this is the 6th mode of the major scale system, so it’s like a C major scale from A to A, and it contains the intervals R, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, and b7. As you can see, the notes of the minor triad, 1, b3 and 5, as well as the m7th chord, 1, b3, 5 and b7, are all built into this mode, which is why it works so well over these chord changes.

To test this scale out in a country context, try soloing over an Am chord vamp, or a minor chord progression such as Am-G-F, where the key center is based on a minor sound.

Knowing the Aeolian mode, how to build it, apply it and play it on the guitar, will allow you to delve into a 7-note scale when soloing over a minor key country tune, which will help expand your solos beyond the typical minor pentatonic and minor blues sounds that we often fall back upon in our country guitar playing.

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To learn more about the Aeolian Mode, how it is different from other 7-note modes, which fingerings sit best on the fretboard and how to add them to your country guitar solos, check out What is the Aeolian Mode, Aeolian Soloing Concepts for Guitar.


1.10 Scale Soloing Examples

To help get you started on applying these scales to a Country soloing situation, here are two licks to check out in the practice room as you explore the Mixolydian scale in a soloing context.

This first lick uses the A Mixolydian Scale to bring a Country vibe to an A triad. Notice the use of open strings, something that you’ll see in many great Country licks, and the use of 16th-notes, which as we saw earlier is a staple rhythm for the Country guitarist.

There are no notes being used outside the A Mixolydian Scale in this lick, but the use of repeated patterns, in this case three-note pull-offs to open strings, creates a syncopated feel that really drives this lick forward when used in a soloing situation.

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The next Country Mixolydian lick uses a few chromatic licks as this phrase climbs up and down the fretboard over a G7 chord. Notice the use of F# and C# in the first bar, which are used to lead into the root and 5th of G7, G and D, respectively.

As well, there is a C# passing tone in bar 3 that is used to bring a blues vibe to that part of the line, as C# is the #4 of G7, often called the “blues note.” Finally, there is another blues note, A#(Bb) in the last bar of the phrase that helps end the line with a bluesy touch.

I have written this lick in 8th notes to make it easier to read, and for beginner players to work at that tempo. The lick can also be played in 16th notes to provide a goal to work towards, and for the advanced players to check out as well.

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After you have worked out these two lines in the given keys, practice taking them to all 12 keys across the fretboard, as well as begin to add them to your Country soloing solos and riffs. When you’re ready, try writing out 3-5 licks in this same style of your own as you take these ideas further in the woodshed.


1.11 Country Double Stops

One of the must-know scale techniques when learning how to play country guitar is the double stop. A double stop is when you play two notes at the same time, mostly 3rds and 6ths, to create a sound that is somewhere between a single-note and a full chord.

To help you get this cool country sound into your playing, here are a few sample exercises that you can do in order to explore double stops in the practice room, and begin to take these ideas out into your lines and improvised solos over Country grooves and tunes.

Double Stop 3rds

First, let’s look at playing 3rds through a G Mixolydian Scale. These double stops can be applied to any scale, but since the Mixolydian sound is so prevalent in Country, let’s start with that scale and move on from there.

When playing 3rds, this means that you play one note, such as the G on the first beat of bar one, and then a second note that is a diatonic third higher. The easiest way to think of this is that you skip a note in the scale, so G-B means you start on G, skip A, and add B, a diatonic 3rd above G.

There are two main ways to play double stops on the guitar, horizontally and vertically. Here is an example of both to get started. Try them out and see which one suits your hands and playing better, then expand upon that fingering in the practice room from there.

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Double Stop 6ths

You can also use 6ths to create double stops on the guitar in a Country style. To do this, you play one note from the scale, such as G, and then a note that is 6 higher from that scale, so in this case it would be the note E, producing a double stop 6th.

Again, here are two examples of how to play 6ths through the G Mixolydian scale both across the neck horizontally and up the neck vertically. Try both out and see how these sit under your fingers and on the fretboard.

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Double Stop Lick

To help get you started, here is a double stop lick that mixes up 3rds and 6ths over a G Mixolydian Scale. In bar two, I have used 6ths but broken them up so that they are picked separately, this is a common variation of Country double stops, picking one note and then the next, and is something you can explore further in the woodshed as well.

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To learn more about double stops, 3rd and 6th intervals, and how to use them in your country playing, check out How to Build Major Intervals and How to Build Minor Intervals.



2. Country Arpeggio and Chord Theory

Now that you have learned how to build, apply and finger common Country scales on your fretboard, it’s time to dive into the harmonic side of the Country genre.

As you saw with the scale section of this guide, learning how to play Country music means moving from chord to chord when soloing and riffing, so that you outline the individual chords as much as you outline the key center as a whole.

For this reason, learning how to play arpeggios and chord shapes for 7th and m7th, as an example, will go a long way in helping you outline each chord in any progression as both of these devices contain only the notes of the chords you are on, rather than having chord tone and color tones as scale shapes do on the guitar.

So, check out these arpeggios and chord shapes, apply them to the backing tracks below, and begin to explore the chord tone side of the Country guitarist.


2.1 Dominant 7th Arpeggios

Since the blues form, Dominant chords and Mixolydian sounds are very important when learning how to play Country guitar, the first arpeggio we’ll look at is the 7th arpeggio.

Built with the Root, 3rd, 5th and b7th of the underlying chord, this arpeggio perfectly outlines the chord tones in any 7th chord, and therefore will help you outline each chord in a 12-bar blues progression, as well as any V7 chord you encounter on your favorite Country tunes.

As well, you can use this arpeggio to color any V chord, such as the V in the I IV V progression in the backing track section below. When you reach the V chord, you can add the 7th to create a bit more tension, which is then resolved to the next chord in the progression.

So, start by learning a few fingerings for 7th Arpeggios on the guitar, and then apply them to the V chord in a I IV V, or I vi IV V progression, as well as to each chord in a 12-bar blues progression, since all three of those chords are Dominant 7ths.

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To learn more about Dom 7th Arpeggios, how these shapes differ from scales, which fingerings are best for various octave shapes, and how to mix them with your blues scale ideas when soloing, check out How to Build Dominant 7th Arpeggios and Double Stop Lick video lesson.


2.2 Dominant 9th Arpeggios

Now that you have looked at a four-note outline for a Dominant chord, you can now add a bit of color by including the 9th in your fingerings and soloing ideas over any Country tune you are playing.

To bring in the 9th, you simply add one note to the Dominant 7th shape you learned in the previous example, to form the Root, 3rd, 5th, b7 and 9th interval pattern.

Once you have a few fingerings down for these 9th chords, try soloing over a one-chord vamp to begin, say G7, and move between using the G7 arpeggio and the G9 arpeggio so that you begin to hear how these two sounds are similar and different when applied to a soloing situation.

From there, try applying the 9th arpeggios to a 12-bar blues progression as well as to the V chord in a I IV V and I vi IV V chord progression.

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To learn more about Dom 9th Arpeggios, how these shapes differ from 7th arpeggios, which fingerings are best for these arpeggios on the fingerboard, and how to mix them with your scale ideas when soloing, check out How to Build Dominant 9th Arpeggios.


2.3 Dominant Arpeggio Soloing Example

Here is a G7 arpeggio lick to help you bring these technical items into your soloing chops as you explore Country improvisation further in the practice room. The lick is fairly straight-forward from a note choice perspective, it uses only the notes from the G7 arpeggio, G-B-D-F.

But, the key to this lick is the steady 8th-note pulse that the line generates, as well as the use of single and double pull-offs to open strings, something that is found in countless Country guitar licks and phrases.

I have written this lick in 8th notes to make it easier to read, and for beginner players to work at that tempo. The lick can be played in 16th notes to provide a goal to work towards, and for the advanced players to check out as well.

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Once you have this lick under your fingers over G7, try taking it to the other 11 keys, using barred notes instead of open notes as you bring this idea around the neck. As well, try writing out 4-5 similar licks of your own in order to get a feel for creating 7th arpeggio licks in a Country style.


2.4 Minor 7th Arpeggios

The next arpeggio that we’ll explore is used to outline m7 chords, or to add color to any minor chord when soloing in a Country style.

Built with the interval pattern Root, b3, 5 and b7, this arpeggio can be used to create single lines over any minor triad or minor 7th chord when soloing over a Country chord progression.

An example of this, and a good place to begin with this shape, is the vi chord in a I vi IV V chord progression. Try putting on the backing track in the last section of this guide, and use a m7 arpeggio so create your solo lines over the vi chord in that progression in order to hear how this shape sounds in a practical, musical situation.

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To learn more about m7th Arpeggios, how these shapes differ from 7th arpeggios, how to play them on guitar, and how to apply them to your solos, check out How to Build m7th Arpeggios.


2.5 Minor 9th Arpeggios

As was the case with the 7th chords, you can add a bit of color to your m7th arpeggios by bringing in the 9th on top of the chord.

Again, you can simply take a m7th arpeggio and add one note on top of that shape to create a m9th fingering that you can then use in the same way as a m7th arpeggio in your Country soloing ideas.

This fingerings, using the intervals Root, b3, 5, b7 and 9, can be used over both m7 and m9 chords in a progression, as well as to add color to any minor chord you are soloing over.

So, try soloing over a I vi IV V progression and use a m9th arpeggio to solo over the vi chord in that series of changes in order to hear how this arpeggio sounds over a harmonic progression in the Country style.

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To learn more about m9th Arpeggios, how these shapes differ from m7th arpeggios, which fingerings are best for these arpeggios on the fingerboard, and how to use them in your blues soloing ideas, check out How to Build m9th Arpeggios.


2.6 Minor Arpeggio Soloing Example

This Em7 arpeggio lick in a Country style uses pull-offs to open strings, as well as pull-offs to fretted notes as it climbs up the fingerboard. When playing a lick such as this one, make sure to keep the rhythm steady as that is the key to making a lick like this work out in your Country solos and riffs.

I have written this lick in 8th notes to make it easier to read, and for beginner players to work at that tempo. The lick can be played in 16th notes to provide a goal to work towards, and for the advanced players to check out as well.

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After you have worked out this minor arpeggio lick in Em, try playing it in all 12 keys across the neck, bringing in fretted notes when needed instead of open strings, and then write out 4-5 similar licks of your own in order to take it further in the practice room.


2.7 Dominant 7th Chords

With the common Country arpeggios under your fingers, let’s look at some common Country chords to add to your repertoire of harmonic vocabulary.

The first shape we’ll look at is the Dominant 7th chord. Often used for all three chords in a 12-bar blues progression, as well as the V chord in a I IV V or I vi IV V chord progression, 7th chords can be found in countless Country classics over the years, and therefore are an important tool when learning how to play this style of music.

In the same way that the 7th arpeggios were built, 7th chords use the notes Root, 3rd, 5th and b7 in their construction, and you can think of them as being “block” versions of 7th arpeggios, meaning all of the notes are played at once.

To help you get started with these important Country guitar chords, here are a few 7th shapes on the fretboard to check out in your practicing, country chord work and songwriting in the practice room.

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To learn more about Dom 7th Chords, how they differ from Dom 7 arpeggios on the fretboard, what chord inversions are, and how to mix them with your triads when comping, check out How to build 7th Chords for Guitar and the following video lessons: Country Rhythm in A, 7th Chords.


2.8 Dominant 9th Chords

You can now bring in a color tone to the 7th chords you just learned by adding in the 9th to each of these shapes. Now that you have 5 notes to choose from, Root-3-5-b7-9, you can’t always have every possible note in your 9th chord shapes.

Because of this, we will begin to eliminate some notes from these five choices when constructing 9th chords on the fretboard, as you can see in the examples below.

When doing so, the first note to leave out, usually, is the 5th, followed by the root of the chord. Because the 5th isn't that important to defining the sound of this chord, whereas the 3rd and 7th are, it is usually the first to go.

As well, since the bass player is covering the root note of the chord, you can take that note out most of the time and replace it with the 9th, providing you with a new color as the bass player holds down the root of the underlying chord for you.

Here are a number of common ways to play 9th chords that you can then add to your Country rhythm playing, using them anytime you have a V7, V9 or V chord and you want to bring an extra layer of color to your harmonic output.

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To learn more about Dom 9th Chords, how they differ from 7th chords on the fretboard, how to play them on guitar, and how to apply them to a jazz blues context, check out How to build 9th Chords for Guitar.


2.9 7#9 Chords

As is the case in Blues guitar comping, Country players will use the 7#9 chord to spice up their Dominant sounds when songwriting or playing through changes. Built in the same way as a 9th chord, only with a raised 9th, Root-3-5-b7-#9, these chords have the same issue as the previous ones you learned, in that they have 5 notes so sometimes one must be left out when played on the guitar.

Here are some common 7#9 fingerings to check out in the practice room. When you have a few of them down, try applying them to your V and V7 chords when playing country chord progressions in order to hear how they sound in the context of a song.

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To learn more about 7#9 Chords, how to use them in your blues playing, where they fit best in a blues form and how to finger these chords on guitar, check out How to build 7#9 Chords for Guitar.


2.10 Minor 7 Chords

When looking to add some color to minor chords, Country players will sneak in m7 chords as their first choice in this situation. Built with the intervals Root, b3, 5, and b7, these chords can sound great in a Country ballad situation, or whenever you want to try adding a different shade to your minor sounds.

After you have checked out the fingering examples below, put on a I vi IV V backing track and add in the m7 to the vi chord in order to hear how these shapes sound in the context of a chord progression.

Though not used every time, the m7 chord can be an important sound for any Country guitarist looking to expand beyond the basic minor triad in their playing.

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To learn more about m7th Chords, how these shapes differ from 7th chords, which fingerings are best for these chords on guitar, and how to apply them to chord progressions, check out How to Build m7th Chords.


2.11 Minor 9 Chords

The final Country guitar chord that we'll look at is the m9th, which is used to add color to your minor and m7th chord ideas. Again, it is built by adding a 9th to the basic m7 chord, Root-b3-5-b7-9, and can be used whenever you have a minor or m7 chord in the progression.

Try playing through a I vi IV V progression, such as the ones in the examples later in this guide, and alternate between a vi, vim7 and vim9 in order to hear how these three similar chords can bring new and exciting colors to your chord work.

To help you get started, here are a number of examples of m9 chords to check out in the practice room.

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To learn more about m9th Chords, how these shapes differ from m7th chords, which fingerings are best for these chords on the fingerboard, and how to mix them with m7th chords over a minor blues, check out How to Build m9th Chords.



3. Country Chord Progressions

As well as being able to solo over chords and chord progressions, learning how these famous Country progressions are built, how you can transpose them to other keys, and how they can fit on the fretboard, are all essential steps in the learning process for any Country guitarist.

In the following lessons, you’ll learn three of the most commonly used Country progressions so that you will be able to understand, analyze, and quickly learn any Country tune that is based on these chords, or any variations of these progressions.


3.1 Major Blues Progressions

One of the most common chord progressions, the Major 12-Bar Chord Progression is a staple of the Country guitarist’s diet, just as it is for any player exploring Rock, Blues or Jazz styles.

Composed of the I7, IV7 and V7 chords, the 12-Bar Blues can pose a bit of a challenge for Country guitarist’s as they prefer to outline each chord in the phrase, rather than use just one minor blues scale for the whole progression.

This means that when you solo over a blues form as a Country guitarist, you will need to use major pentatonic, arpeggios, major blues and Mixolydian sounds as you move from one chord to the next in the progression.

For this reason, the blues is a good place to start when exploring Country forms for those players that have experience with soloing in key centers, and that are looking to expand their soloing chops to specific chord outlines and licks.

Attached File  Blues_in_G_Backing_Track.mp3 ( 4.56MB ) Number of downloads: 2955


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The next blues progression that you can practice when working on country soloing and comping is in the key of C

Attached File  Blues_in_C_Backing_Track.mp3 ( 4.55MB ) Number of downloads: 1928


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The last blues backing track that we’ll use for practice purposes when exploring country soloing and chord work is in the key of A

Attached File  Blues_in_A_Backing_Track.mp3 ( 4.56MB ) Number of downloads: 1880


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To learn more about Major Blues Chord Progressions, what Roman Numerals are, and how to transpose these important chords to different keys, check out Major Blues Chord Progression Theory and the following video lessons : Blues Shuffle, Blues Rhythm Guitar.


3.2 I IV V Progressions

Another classic progression that can be found in may Country songs, just as it can be found in countless Rock and Pop songs, in the I-IV-V progression.

Containing only major chords, this progression can be used in both 8 and 16 bar compositions, as well as the often-used 4-bar phrase.

Here are a few examples of common chord progressions using I-IV-V chords in a country style. There are backing tracks for both of these chord progressions in the next section of this Country Guitar Theory Guide.

The first progression, written over 8 bars, is in the key of D and features a commonly used layout for the I, IV and V chords over an 8 bar phrase.

Attached File  I_IV_V_In_D_Backing_Track.mp3 ( 4.56MB ) Number of downloads: 2381


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The next progression, in the key of G, is written out over 16 bars and, again, uses a common sequence of the I, IV and V chords in the Country style.

Attached File  I_IV_V_in_G_Backing_Track.mp3 ( 4.86MB ) Number of downloads: 2145


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Once you have these chords under your fingers and the progressions in your heads and ears, try writing your own progressions based on these three classic-sounding chords.

To learn more about the I IV V Chord Progression, how it is constructed and how you can add these changes to your playing, and learn to solo over this series of chords, please visit the What is a I IV V Chord Progression lesson page, Johnny Cash Style video lesson, and cool variatons of this progression with the Bon Jovi Country Lesson and Travis Picking Lesson.


3.3 I vi IV V Progressions

The last progression we’ll look at is also found in many genres of popular music, and of course is often used in the Country genre to write memorable songs and chord riffs, the I vi IV V progression.

Adding a minor chord, the vi, to the I IV V chords we explored in the previous example, you can hear how that one new sound breaks things up and provides you with a new avenue of exploration when writing and soloing over these common chords.

Here is an example of this progression in the key of A, with the backing track included below.

Attached File  A_Turnaround_Backing_Track.mp3 ( 4.55MB ) Number of downloads: 1998


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Finally, here is a short turnaround track in E for you to work on in the practice room. The chords are as follows.

Attached File  E_Turnaround_Backing_Track.mp3 ( 4.55MB ) Number of downloads: 1655


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Once you have this progression under your fingers, try writing a song or chord progression using both the I, IV, V and the I, vi, IV, V chord progressions as they are two of the most commonly used in the Country genre, and having a good handle on them as a soloist, comper and songwriter will go a long way in mastering the genre on guitar.

To learn more about the I vi IV V Chord Progression, how it is built and how you can solo over this series of chords, please visit the What is a I vi IV V Chord Progression lesson page, as well as a cool variation of this progression with the Country Rhythm Lesson.


3.4 Cut Time Groove

As well as learning how to play common Country chord progressions, there are a few odd time signatures that you should have under your fingers when jamming over various Country tunes.

The first one that we’ll look at is called Cut Time, or 2/4, as it uses half as many beats as the 4/4 bar. When playing in this time signature, feeling the groove move from 1 to 2 in each bar will help you stay locked in and comfortable, even at faster tempos, which is often the case with 2/4 time.

Here is a sample chord progression and backing track to get you started with playing cut time in a Country music style.

Attached File  Country_Cut_Time_Backing_Track.mp3 ( 4.71MB ) Number of downloads: 2311


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3.5 Country 6/8 Groove

You can also do a “shuffle” version of cut time, where instead of playing 12/8 as you would in a blues shuffle, you play 6/8, so half as many beats but the idea remains the same.

This groove can be tough to get down, so try out the progression below and work it with the backing track so that you begin to hear and feel how this time signature effects the way you think and hear the chord progression.

Attached File  Country_6_8_Backing_Track.mp3 ( 4.26MB ) Number of downloads: 2240


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4. Country Guitar Solo

To sum up this Country Guitar Theory Guide, here is a 12-bar solo based on a I IV V chord progression in the key of G. The solo is the same progression as a Blues in G, though here there are no 7th chords, just triads, as that is also something you will hear and find in the Country guitar genre.

This solo uses scales, arpeggios and licks that you have previously learned in this guide, but now they are all together in one musical collection so you can hear and learn how these concepts sound in a practical situation.

Here is a breakdown of the different scales and arpeggios used in this solo so you can see what is going on while you listen to the example track, as well as take it to the fretboard and get your fingers around this cool-sounding Country solo.

Bars 1 and 2 – Here, the line is based on a G minor pentatonic scale, with the very last beat of the second bar bending up to the major 3rd, which when coupled with the note D, the 5th of G, implies a G arpeggio.

Bars 3 and 4 – This faster run focuses on a steady 16th note pattern, and is based on the mixed scale lick you learned previously in this guide, only now applied to a full solo situation. The first two beats of bar 3 are major blues sounds, beat 3 is a minor blues, followed by more major blues sounds to complete that two-bar phrase.

Bars 5 and 6 – This riff over a C chord, the IV chord in this key, comes from the Mixolydian Scale and uses double stops, double stop bends and contains a strong focus on the 6th note of the scale, all major components of the Country soloing vocabulary.

Bars 7 and 8 – Here, bar 7 starts with four notes from the G minor blues scale, followed by two beads from the major pentatonic scale, again mixing these two common sounds in one phrase. Bar 8 starts with two beats on the major blues scale, and then finished with a G Mixolydian run. So, this lick covers three major Country sounds all within 8 beats of the solo, well worth checking out further in the practice room.

Bars 9 and 10 – This lick is based on another important Country concept, the use of open strings when playing scale licks. The line is based on the G major scale, with a few blues notes, Bb, thrown in for good measure. The crux of these two bars is that whenever you have a note that can use an open string, you use that open string. This means that G, B, D and E are all played on open strings to create a cool banjo-like sound on the guitar.

Bars 11 and 12 – The last lick in this solo is based on the minor pentatonic scale, with a B natural, the 3rd of G, thrown in to tie this lick to the opening phrase of the solo, which was based on the same concept.

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Do you have a question about these country guitar theory lessons, or a suggestion for a future addition to this theory guide? Share your thoughts in the comments

This post has been edited by The Professor: Feb 4 2014, 11:28 AM


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dreadlocks
post Dec 9 2013, 10:13 AM
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This post is realy underestimated! how come nobody comment this yet?
I am dying to dive into it! But its about time i will memorize the fretboard.. so i am focusing on that at the moment.
But i cant wait!

What genre in next? MeTaL?! o_O

Thanks again proff! (More theory stuff please happy.gif)
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The Professor
post Dec 9 2013, 12:03 PM
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QUOTE (dreadlocks @ Dec 9 2013, 09:13 AM) *
This post is realy underestimated! how come nobody comment this yet?
I am dying to dive into it! But its about time i will memorize the fretboard.. so i am focusing on that at the moment.
But i cant wait!

What genre in next? MeTaL?! o_O

Thanks again proff! (More theory stuff please happy.gif)



Thanks man, glad you dug the guide! Yep moving on to Rock and Metal next!!


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PosterBoy
post Dec 10 2013, 01:51 PM
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We're still working through it!!!

I've been watching a lot of Doug 7 lessons and he and I'm sure a lot of other country guitarists rely heavily on the CAGED system when locating their riffs and licks.

Also I've noticed in their mixolydian playing they move to the mixolydian scale of the chord they are playing over a lot.

There is so much to learn in terms of approaches let alone technique with Country guitar


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The Professor
post Dec 10 2013, 02:01 PM
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QUOTE (PosterBoy @ Dec 10 2013, 12:51 PM) *
We're still working through it!!!

I've been watching a lot of Doug 7 lessons and he and I'm sure a lot of other country guitarists rely heavily on the CAGED system when locating their riffs and licks.

Also I've noticed in their mixolydian playing they move to the mixolydian scale of the chord they are playing over a lot.

There is so much to learn in terms of approaches let alone technique with Country guitar


Cool, yeah CAGED is big, as well as scales that use open strings, so out of box shapes are worth looking at as well. Lots to explore, keep it up!


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SeeJay
post May 14 2014, 10:45 PM
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Going to dive deep into this next week!

What about some chicken pickin?

oh, I just saw a link in the lesson. Stoked.


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Romko
post May 22 2014, 05:06 PM
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Thank you! I've been looking for something like that!!!! )
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