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When learning how to play electric guitar in the classic country style, it’s important to focus on and incorporate several critical techniques into your playing to truly capture the aesthetic and authentic sound of the genre. There are four approaches, in particular, that should be utilized. They are hybrid picking, alternate picking, pedal-steel-inspired bends, and double-stops.

 

In the performance video below, ArtistWorks electric country guitar instructor and one of Nashville’s most sought-after session musicians, Guthrie Trapp, showcases all four of these essential methods as he improvises over a country shuffle in the key of C.

 

LEARN MORE: Want to learn how to play country guitar from a master musician like Guthrie Trapp? Try some free online guitar lessons now!

 

Guthrie Trapp—Improvisation over a Country Shuffle in C:

 

 

Hybrid Picking:

As the name implies, hybrid picking is a picking technique that hybridizes classic flatpicking and fingerstyle approaches. As you would with traditional flatpicking, hybrid picking utilizes a plectrum (or pick) that is placed between the thumb and index finger of the player’s picking hand. What sets the technique apart, however, is that the picking hand’s middle, ring, and pinky fingers are also engaged in plucking the strings as well, much like in traditional fingerstyle playing. The use of the pick in combination with the middle, ring, and pinky fingers in the picking hand creates the iconic clucking sound that defines and style of traditional country guitar playing, often referred to as “chicken pickin’.”

 

It’s also important to use hybrid picking techniques to properly execute some of the other critical country guitar techniques including double-stops and pedal-steel-inspired bends. Guthrie can be seen using hybrid picking techniques throughout the improvisation video above, but a particularly clear example can be seen at 0:42-0:52.

 

Alternate Picking:

Alternate picking is an approach used in a wide variety of styles and is a necessity in country guitar playing. Essentially, alternate picking requires the player to alternate between downward and upward strokes when plucking the string with their pick. By alternating between downward and upward strokes, players are able to perform faster melody lines much more cleanly, clearly, and evenly. It’s critical to use alternate picking in combination with hybrid picking techniques to perform faster “chicken pickin’” runs.

 

You’ll see Guthrie use alternate picking techniques through his country shuffle solo above. However, he doesn’t always stick to this approach. Occasionally, he’ll tastefully veer away from alternate picking, but you’ll notice that he consistently returns to it for the faster eighth-note triplet and sixteenth-note runs.

 

Pedal-Steel-Inspired Bends:

The sound of the pedal-steel guitar is ubiquitous in traditional country music. It’s so important to the aesthetic of the genre that electric guitar players will imitate the unmistakable sound of pedal-steel guitar bends in their own playing.

 

What makes a pedal-steel guitar bend sound so unique is that one string is generally changing in pitch (either up or down) while another string remains constant. Pedal-steel players are able to easily and very smoothly alter the pitch of a string using pedals beneath their feet, hence the instrument’s name. So, keeping one string constant in pitch while altering that of another is tremendously simple on the pedal-steel. Electric guitarists are able to imitate this with their fingers, keeping a note constant on one string while simultaneously bending a note on another. However, it is absolutely essential that the finger bends be executed very evenly and cleanly. If the bend is choppy, the player will not properly capture the pedal-steel’s sonic character.

 

Much like the previous two techniques, Guthrie frequently utilizes pedal-steel-inspired bends in his improvised performance above. A few particularly clear examples can be seen at 0:27-0:32 and 0:48-0:51.

 

Double-Stops:

Using double-stops is mandatory in order to capture the classic country guitar aesthetic. They’re so critical, in fact, that Guthrie begins his performance in this video using the technique.

 

In simplest terms, a double-stop is the act of playing two notes simultaneously on a stringed instrument. In fact, this technique can be used on instruments ranging from guitar to bass, mandolin, banjo, violin, viola, cello, and beyond.

 

In country music and country guitar playing, double-stops are omnipresent. However, the intervals of the two-note pairings that are most commonly heard are major and minor thirds and major and minor sixths. When crafting your own solos and melodies in the country style, focus on incorporating double-stops that feature those intervals in particular.

 

LEARN MORE:

Have you always wanted to learn how to play country guitar? Through our comprehensive guitar lessons online and Video Exchange Learning platform here at ArtistWorks, you can learn from internationally renowned players, like Guthrie Trapp, and get personal feedback on your playing.

 

Guthrie’s course starts with the basics and teaches everything from beginner guitar to advanced performance techniques, classic country tunes, improvisation methods, and beyond. So, whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or advanced player, all levels are welcome and all students will grow and improve their skills as guitarists and musicians.

 

Sample some free music lessons here and see what makes ArtistWorks courses some of the best online music lessons around!

 

READ MORE:

ArtistWorks Summer Series—Week 7: Guthrie Trapp

Going Live with Bryan Sutton, Sierra Hull, & Guthrie Trapp

New Bundled Music Courses Now Available

 

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