Country Guitar Scales
There is really no such thing as a country guitar scale. Country music uses the exact same scales as many other musical forms it's just that they are played against a different musical back drop which in turn creates the illusion that some kind of different scale is being used.
There are however, scales which are very commonly employed in country music...
- The major pentatonic (with some chromatic tones thrown in)
- The minor pentatonic (which is the same as the major pentatonic just viewed from a different angle)
- The major scale
There are two important steps which you'll need to master in order to get some serious country twang happening in your lead guitar work. Firstly you should learn the basic scale shapes and by learning them I mean to the point where you could practically play them in your sleep. Secondly you need to understand how to include chromatic tones within the scale and where it would be appropriate to do so considering the country chords you're playing over. This second step requires some experience and musical taste to develop.
Chromatic tones do not strictly belong to the key of the song (or the scale) and are considered 'wrong' notes however if they are used correctly and in the right context they sound fabulous and will lift your soloing to a higher level. Due to the fact that many country chord progressions frequently feature dominant 7 chords the door is wide open to employ chromatic or 'passing' tones in solos. Many great players take full advantage of this musical possibility and over the years it has come to define the sound of country lead guitar.
The Major Pentatonic Scale
The major pentatonic consists of 5 notes however by including one extra note known as the flat 5 (or b5) you'll instantly give the scale and extra bit of "country kick". Once you spend some time learning the scale you need to employ a practice routine whereby the scale is broken up in different sequences and patterns. Doing this will force your brain to stop viewing the site in a strictly linear way and instead you'll start to internalize the scale.
It's only when a scale is internalized to the point where it becomes second-nature that you'll be able freely express your musical ideas through it.
Secondly it's highly recommended that you use a metronome so that you can control the speed of your practice and keep an exact record of your progress. Working with a metronome will help you to develop speed by also something else which many guitarists overlook - control. In the main course I run over my personal approach to practicing scales for country guitar and give you a very solid way to internalize them. The exercises are written out in TAB as well as being demonstrated in the video lessons.
The Minor Pentatonic Scale
This scale is probably the most used in all modern music. Everything from blues to rock to jazz to country to pop... it's universally just a great scale to master. The major and minor pentatonic scales are really the same thing just looked at from a different angle!
To demonstrate this we call put the notes of a major and minor pentatonic scale in a side by side comparison...
E minor pentatonic
E G A B D
G major pentatonic
G A B D E
You can see that they are essentially the same scale - they contain the same notes. It's just that the major scale starts and ends on a G note, while the minor starts and ends on an E note. Play through them on your guitar and you'll be able to clearly hear that the major sounds brighter and more optimistic while the minor is more serious and darker in it's nature.
Both scales can contain chromatic passing tones but effect that create is different for each one.
The Major Scale
This scale forms the foundation of practically all western music and country music makes extensive use of it. In fact, both the major and minor pentatonic scales come from the major scale. In all there are 7 notes in a major scale, as opposed to just 5 notes in a pen atonic scale - "Penta" means 5. Below I've written out a example of a major scale in G however in the main course we cover them in all of the 5 most important keys for country guitar - C, G, D, A and E.
Many of the notes in a major scale can be altered, that is to say, sharpened or flattened, depending upon the chord you're playing over and the particular notes it contains. The ability to do this requires either a naturally good musical ear or a thorough understanding of musical scales and how they relate to chordal harmony.