What scales to use to sound "country"

Discussion in 'Tab, Tips, Theory and Technique' started by mkflo84, Mar 28, 2008.

  1. mkflo84

    mkflo84 TDPRI Member

    Mar 26, 2008
    It's a subject that has been covered many times, but I think I need to ask my own questions to be able to progess.

    I've been a rock player mostly for 8 years now. As I've said in a previous thread, I know how the major scale, the blues scale, mnior and major pentatonics are constructed. I've no problem at all to use them in a typical rock tune (pink floyd or dire straits) or blues tune (SRV, Clapton, all the basics).
    But I want to learn to play that exciting country guitar (hum, I should say, "to play the Telecaster" :D ), and it seems that all the things I have learnt just don't work when i want to solo on a country tune !

    Let's use an example, the very famous "Who's Cheatin' who" from our beloved Alan jackson.
    The grid is basically a Blues grid in G :
    G C G D
    G C G D G

    -So I'd say the tune is in G (G ionian). So first try with this scale : it seems I'm completely out of subject.
    -Next try, with a G minor pentatonic : better, but no quite what I'm looking
    -Last try, with G major pentatonic on G chord, C major pentatonic on C chord etc : it seems C major pent on C chord doesn't sound right.

    The best results seem to be achieved with the typical G minor blues scale used on the whole song.

    I've seen here people saying that country solos are constatly using minor and major pentatonics, and that it's common to change the scale over each chord change... I'm a bit confused as it's a whole new concept for me. Does anyone has some tips ?
  2. getbent

    getbent Telefied Ad Free Member

    Mar 2, 2006
    San Benito County, California
    you have the vocabulary... now it is just about learnin' to speak with an accent.

    Brent Mason whups booty on that song. Go through it and learn the licks in that song... write them out using either tab or notation and look at the notes and you'll see he mixes notes from both scales without regard for where the chord changes are. What makes Brent so incredible as a player (to me) is that he takes traditional country licks and cites them and then blows them up with really creative applications and additions that not only make them sound new, but it makes them stand out too and seem completely brand new. He is just so unique within a genre that is extemely well defined.

    The best thing you can do is play along with some country records that you like and cop the 'feel' of the sound, learn some of the licks, but get to where you sound like you could be in the band. At this point, if you command of the fretboard, now all you need to do is learn the feel and sound. No book gives you that, your ears, heart and fingers will discover that sound and make it. Off to the woodshed.
  3. SatelliteOrders

    SatelliteOrders Friend of Leo's

    Mar 3, 2008
    Lafayette, IN
    I think getbent has the right idea, but I have a hitch in that, one I haven't integrated into my playing yet, which is why I kinda sound country but don't yet play country.

    Country is like jazz. With both, you're playing licks around the chord, much more than playing the scale. So, with the "Who's Cheatin' Who" chords -- G C G D / G C G D G -- you have licks that work against G, against C and against D, mostly involving the notes in those chords. Then you have transitions between C and G and between D and G. Which means arpeggios, arpeggios, arpeggios. If you just play with the whole scale, you won't strongly connect to the chords, and you won't really be playing the changes and all the hot pickers will laugh at you.

    Like I said, I think I understand this, but I haven't integrated it into my playing. So I might have it really, truly wrong.
  4. jazztele

    jazztele Poster Extraordinaire

    Sep 19, 2006
    "sometimes i think country is just jazz on the back pickup"

    --brad paisley, in guitar player magazine
  5. klasaine

    klasaine Poster Extraordinaire

    Nov 28, 2006
    NELA, Ca
    That Paisley quote is great and pretty right on - I would 'slightly' amend it to say, "jazz up to 1955" ;) .

    As Getbent said, learn that solo. And, as Satellite said ... arpeggios . That'll get you further along than just about anything when you're just starting to dive into a new style.
    I will add this though ... over the G and C chords you can just stick to the G major pentatonic (G A B D E G). * If you're 'careful' you can throw an F or Bb in there too. You can of course also add a C on the C chord.* The "money" is going to be on the D chord. Make sure you play an F# at some point over that chord. Maybe bend an F up a 1/2 step to F#?

    One of the best reasons to learn (transcribe) that Brent Mason solo (and licks) is to see how a great player approaches it. Everybody 'breaks' rules in different ways.
  6. davidge1

    davidge1 Friend of Leo's

    Nov 13, 2006
    I think this is dead-on right. You almost always have to change scales when the chords change (and do it seamlessly), and use notes that suggest certain chords, like 7th tones, diminished, augmented, etc. Throwing in some minor pentatonic licks is good too in the right spot. Don Rich from the Buckeroos got by pretty well playing almost nothing but minor pentatonic licks.

    So for example, over the first eight bars of Who's Cheatin' Who, you could use the following:

    G major scale with a 7th tone | C major scale | G major scale | D major scale with a 7th tone | G major scale with augmented chord tones | C major scale with diminished tones | ...and a minor pentatonic lick over the last two bars

    That might be a bit much, but you get the idea
  7. emu!

    emu! Poster Extraordinaire

    Aug 6, 2007
    From here to obscurity
    I have played that song in cover bands more than I want to admit. The solos are real workouts. But then, anything by BM is a workout. Try using the Mixolydian scale (mode) on that tune. It is basically the major scale (ionian) with a dominant 7th. When playing the double-stops down the neck, don't think in terms of scales, but in terms of playing chromatic chord sequences albeit on only the b and g strings. BM uses this common double-stop passage alot on his solos...not always in the same order, but you can hear them alot in his solos.
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