Understand everything you need to know about how to use the "country chromatic scale" and create some of the most finger-busting licks this side of Brent Mason.

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Beginner
Lesson Overview:
• Understand how chromatics can make your lines more interesting.
• Learn the ins and outs of the “country chromatic scale.”
• Develop phrases that outline the chord changes.

Click here to download MP3s and a printable PDF of this lesson's notation.

Have you ever tasted red-hot, super-spicy buffalo wings that make your lips feel like they’re on fire? The chromatic licks in this month’s lesson are the guitar equivalent to those sweat-inducing bits of poultry. These are so hot your fingers will feel like they’re on fire when you play them. Listen to guys like Steve Morse, Brent Mason, and Albert Lee play over a super-fast, train-beat groove—it’s mind-blowing. They know how to use chromatic passing notes to fill in the gaps between scale tones to make licks sound like they just don’t end, and that’s what we’ll explore in this lesson.

But first, let’s back up a second. The chromatic scale is simple—it’s all 12 notes that we use in Western music. In our quest to outline the chords we’re playing over, we’ll fudge this chromatic scale a little. We’ll just outline the most important scale tones and leave a few passing tones out that don’t sound as good as the others.

This style is reminiscent of bebop and swing jazz in the sense that you are addressing each chord as it goes by, instead of playing one scale over the entire progression. That said, we need to choose the notes that best outline the chords and make sure these notes fall on important beats in the measure. The most important notes in a dominant 7 tonality are the root, 3, 5 and b7. As you’ll notice, these are all chord tones. In Fig. 1, you can see an example of what I’ll call the “country chromatic scale.” The formula for this scale is 1–2–b3–3–4–#4–5–6–b7.

The lick in Fig. 2 really outlines the 3 by including the chromatic note below it and above it in three octaves. This type of lick lies really well under your fingers, which makes it easier to play at quick tempos. It’s very important to have a handful of licks that can get you through in a pinch when the drummer kicks off a smokin’ fast train beat.

Sometimes it’s fun to take a simple lick and add to it. Fig. 3 is an extension of that lick with a few more chromatic passing tones that outline both the 3 and the 5. Treat all these licks as templates. The purpose here is to show you ways to incorporate chromaticism into your licks. Take these ideas and add to them or invert them. Or take part of the lick and go in a different direction.

In Fig. 4, we start on the b7 and end on the root below it. Again, this lick is built for speed. The chromaticism leads from the 5 to b5 to 4, and then to the b3. This is very prevalent in blues licks. When the lick gets down to the low register, it slips back into a country sound with the b3-to-3 move. First play through it as written, then take it to the stratosphere.

This ascending lick (Fig. 5) starts out like an arpeggio and then incorporates some chromatic passing tones to spice it up a little. The chromaticism starts towards the back side of the lick, moving from the 2 up to the 4. Then it descends chromatically in thirds.

Here’s another idea (Fig. 6) that starts out like an arpeggio and blends in some cool chromaticism to really grab your attention. The chromatics occur halfway through the lick, starting on the 2 and going up to the 5 and b7. Next, we descend chromatically from the 5 to really let the listener know you are resolving it here. Then it skips the major 3 and comes from a half-step below up to the major 3 before resolving to the root.

Our next lick in Fig. 7 goes all chromatic at the top and keeps winding back through the same chromatic passing notes in different ways to bend your ears. That b3-to-3 move that resolves to the root at the end brings it all back home. This type of lick sounds like it could be played on a big ol’ flattop in a kick-ass bluegrass group blistering through a fiddle tune at breakneck tempos. That’s the great thing about this approach—chromatic licks translate so well to bluegrass. With all the chromaticism we are incorporating, you could easily play this in a jazz-fusion setting or even if you wanted to take a blues tune into a completely different direction. Imagine the savage power you will wield in a rock context playing a Les Paul through a dimed Marshall half stack. Hearing players like Steve Morse playing bluegrass through a cranked up overdriven amp is what turned me on to country guitar in the first place.

Now, let’s take a progression and weave some of these lines together so they outline the chords. Again, when you lead your lines into the next chord you can really hear the chord changes going by—even without having anyone play rhythm for you. Remember, the most important chord tones land on the first beat of the measure. You can keep either a straight-eighths or 16ths rhythm (depending on how fast your tempo is) and seamlessly weave through the chords. Always be thinking about the chord that is coming up and how you’re going to introduce it within your lines.

Here is an approach in Fig. 8 that you can try that outlines the I, IV, and V chords. This progression, or a few variations of it, is in literally thousands of songs. Learn the notes and fingerings at a slow tempo at first, then gradually speed it up and play it as fast as you can play it cleanly. Don’t try to go faster than you can play it without making mistakes or glitches.

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What in the heck is “hybrid picking” and why should you care? Learn how to unleash some picking-hand tricks, create open-string phrases and pedal-steel licks.

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Beginner
Lesson Overview:
• Learn how to incorporate your middle and ring fingers into your picking attack.
• Create flowing, open-string phrases full of harp-like dissonance.
• Develop pedal steel-style licks with oblique bends.

Click here to download MP3s and a printable PDF of this lesson's notation.

What in the heck is “hybrid picking” and why should you care? Hybrid picking is a technique that involves holding your pick as you normally would with your thumb and index finger, but also using your middle and ring fingers (and sometimes even your pinky) to attack the strings.

So what’s the payoff? There’s a different sound you can get from your fingers that you can’t get from a pick. The attack lets you get very sensitive, bluesy tones (think Robben Ford, Mark Knopfler, and Jeff Beck). Robben Ford tends to use a pick for rhythm and switches to bare fingers when he’s getting more aggressive, but playing at lower volumes. He moves to a different texture to highlight big changes in dynamic levels.

Also, when you’re using your fingers you’ll phrase differently because it is harder to play fast—it almost forces you to play more melodically. Check out Figs. 1 and 2. Play them first with your pick, and then try playing them with the hybrid technique.

For these examples, we are using the classical p–i–m–a system for right-hand notation, where m indicates your middle finger and a indicates your ring finger. All notes played with a pick will be marked with a downstroke symbol.

Hybrid picking is also great for playing arpeggios. Many times in slower songs the intro and verse have more arpeggiated sections and the choruses get big—you’ll need to strum and rock out a little more on those. After some practice, you’ll be able to hold your pick just like you always do and go back and forth between pick and hybrid techniques without thinking about it. It just becomes part of the fingerpicking process. In Figs. 3 and 4, you can see how we could apply this technique to a chord progression to not only create space, but also some interesting harmonies with ringing notes.

If you want to cop some of that straight-up chicken pickin’ madness on a Tele, hybrid picking is essential. Snapping the notes with your fingers is a big part of the sound—something that can’t be achieved with a pick. Figs. 5 and 6 are some double-stop chicken pickin’ licks that use the pick along with middle and ring fingers to snap the double-stops.

Also, the attack is instantaneous when you pick two notes at the same time, as opposed to a pick scraping against two notes one at a time. Even though the pick attack is quick, it still sounds different. Figs. 7 and 8 are some steel guitar licks that really jump out when you use a hybrid technique, as opposed to just the pick.

Cascading open-string licks are really effective for reaching a completely different place when you’re soloing, especially playing quick “train beat” country rhythms. The notes ring out against each other and flow more easily when you use the hybrid technique. If you were to just use a pick, it wouldn’t give you the same sound (or speed) as hybrid picking. The effect is like playing a scale on a piano and holding down the sustain pedal.

When creating these types of runs, look for ways to lay out phrases on the fretboard so you can get at least two or three notes ringing together at any given time. That means you want to be scouting for diatonic notes on adjacent or nearby strings. Fig. 9 is a G Major scale (G–A–B–C–D–E–F#) that incorporates open strings.

The next step is to create licks with these cascading patterns. I like the Mixolydian mode—used for Fig. 10—with some chromatic passing tones like the b3 and b5. When I get the opportunity, I’ll combine the rub of the b3-to-3 move with the b7 to emphasize important chord tones in a phrase. Try the cascading lick in Fig. 11 that starts on the b7, weaves from 5 to b5, and has the b3-to-3 move.

Now, let's try a couple of repeating patterns. These can make great warm-up exercises, and they’re also good for breaking up a line or building intensity in a solo. Fig. 12 uses hybrid picking for the double-stops, as well as hammer-ons and pull-offs for the other part of the lick. Practice these slowly at first with the metronome and gradually build up speed as you feel comfortable playing each tempo.

You can also work these licks through a I–IV–V progression by changing only a few notes while staying in the same position. Check out Fig. 13. These licks are great for smokin’ fast tempos because they are very percussive and really outline the chords as they fly past.

Try changing where the double-stops and pull-offs fall rhythmically to keep things interesting—especially if you decide to keep this lick going for a while. Fig. 14 shows how you can go back and forth from one rhythmic lick to the next. This helps hold the attention of your audience and keeps you on your toes.

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Combine hybrid picking, open strings, and some Nashville "snap" to get the most out of your double-stop licks.

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Beginner
Lesson Overview:
• Learn how to use hybrid picking to create a more percussive attack.
• Combine double-stops with open strings.
• Create phrases that outline the I, IV, and V chords.

Click here to download a printable PDF of this lesson's notation.

By definition, a double-stop lick is when you play a lick with two notes at the same time. Why would you want to play licks with two notes at a time you might ask? Double-stops can take your solos to another place that sometimes sounds like two people playing at the same time. There are many different ways to approach playing double-stop solos. You can harmonize in third, fourth, fifth, or sixth intervals.

If you don't know what intervals are, it’s the distance from one note to another. For example, in the major scale if we were to play the first note of the scale at the same time as the third note of the scale, that would be a third interval. In the key of C it would be C and E.

Fig. 1 is an example of a lick that uses thirds the way Vince Gill approached the intro of his hit “Don’t Let Our Love Start Slipping Away.”

If you want to get into the chicken pickin' double-stops like Jerry Reed, Brent Mason, Albert Lee, and others, a good place to start is outlining chord tones. Chord tones are the notes that make up the chords you are playing. It’s super important when playing this type of country guitar that you follow the chords with your solos. In other words, playing a blues scale over the whole progression is not going to get you that sound. It will sound like you are playing a blues solo over a country tune, which is fine if that is what you are going for, but if you are trying to sound a little more country, then you need to approach it a little differently. The most important chord tones that you will want to nail are the 3rd and b7. Let's try a little repeating lick that nails those tones and has some cool voice-leading.

We could play this first lick in the root position up and down the neck and the notes would be “right,” but would it sound cool? Not really. So, for the sake of sounding cool, let's try to stay in the same five-fret region and get all the chords. Check it out in Fig. 2.

One of the five coolest sounds you can make on the guitar is a cranked up Tele, digging in with your picking hand middle and ring fingers on the low strings and snapping the strings against the fretboard on some double-stop rhythmic pattern. The pattern in Fig. 3 goes over the I, IV, and V in the key of G—which would be G, C, and D, respectively. This would be used in more of a rhythm guitar setting, but it is hooky enough to be a signature lick as well. With your picking hand, you will snap the 4th and 5th strings with your middle and ring fingers, and attack the 6th string with your flatpick. As you move through the progression to the IV chord, just move everything down a string so your middle and ring fingers will be snapping the 3rd and 4th strings.

Double-stop licks can also be used in “train beat” or country tunes with faster tempos too. Having some of these licks in your arsenal can be helpful when you really want something percussive that nails the changes. Also, if you want something that sounds a lot bigger than single-note solos, Fig. 4 works perfectly as well. The notes on the 2nd and 3rd strings will be picked with your middle and ring fingers. On your fretting hand, your first finger will lie across the 2nd and 3rd strings at the 7th fret, and you’ll do the pull-off with your first finger. Notice these licks nail the I (D), IV (G), and V (A) in the key of D. You’re nailing chord tones and the pull-offs help make it easier to play at quick tempos. Try to make them sound percussive. Make sure to start practicing this with a metronome at a slow tempo, then gradually increase to warp speed.

Fig. 5 is another variation on the previous lick. This time, we are concentrating on the first three strings. Again, we’re outlining the I, IV, and, V chords. For the V chord, just slide up two frets and play the same lick and then move back to the I chord. Make sure to get that 2nd string to pull off with your second finger. Again, play this with a metronome. Start out slow and gradually increase your tempo. Push it just a little faster than what you are comfortable with and make it your goal to get it clean at that tempo before you move on.

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