Getting to the Roots of Americana – 5 Licks to Get Started

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As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine – Issue 7

Americana is a genre that wears many hats. It pulls influence from country, blues, folk, rock ‘n’ roll, gospel, and many more. It is considered a contemporary style of music that incorporates various elements of American rooted music. The genre revolves heavily around acoustic instruments, but electric elements are often present, too. In this lesson we will look at some lead lines you can put into your Americana style tracks. The licks are taken from a variety of musical genres and will surely take your tracks to a very vibrant place.

Lick 1

This lick is using an interval known as Major 6ths. This is in the key of A major and uses ascending notes from the A major scale on the E string (A B C# D E F# G#) along with a 6th below on the G. This interval is used a lot in blues and country style music and sounds great when used in an ascending or descending manner as this lick shows. The initial two-note dyad is split into separate notes, beginning with a slide from the 5th to the 6th fret of the G before playing the 5th fret on the E. This 5th fret is our A note. From here we climb the neck. You will notice the shape of the dyad changes between two forms. This is to ensure that the notes are always the same intervallic space apart:

Root:   A B C# D E F# G#

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6th:   C# D E F# G# A B

The lick starts on the “& a” of the fourth beat. “1, 2, 3, 4 & a”. Starting slightly ahead of the beat allows the lick to have a slight swing to it. This is true for the second bar also.

The third bar starts on the “&” of the first beat, meaning there is an eighth note gap before the dyad slide from the 16th to 14th frets before breaking up the next dyad into two notes with a slight swing feel. This then leads to a 4 dyad descending run back to the root of A. 

DYAD SCALE

This lick might look complex written down, but you are only playing around with two shapes. Familiarize yourself with the shapes as a scale pattern and then start to break it down into the melody. Some of the dyads are broken up with a slide into the lower note before hitting the higher note, but this won’t change how you should approach playing the shape.

Typically, these licks would be played with a hybrid picking style or totally fingerstyle. If you are trying it in a hybrid style, use your pick for the notes on the G string and your middle finger of your picking hand for the notes on the E. 

Lick 2

In country music, a staple of the genre is the sound of a pedal steel guitar. This is used a lot in Americana music, but there are ways to recreate this style without the use of a conventional pedal steel. This A minor lick starts with a full tone bend on the 7th fret of the G string. The next few notes can be tricky; you will be using your ring finger or little finger (depending on how you approach the bend) to bar the 8th fret of the E and B strings and play those strings in a descending manner. While you are playing these notes, the previous bend should be held in place, so it sustains across these notes. Once you have picked down the E and B strings on the 8th fret, pick the already bent 7th fret note on the G again and release it.

This lick can be played with regular picking or hybrid picking. If you want to hybrid pick this lick, you can use your third finger of your picking hand for the note on the E string and your middle finger for the note on the B.

Lick 3

This is also another pedal-steel style lick in A minor. The lick starts in a similar way to the previous lick, the 7th fret of the G is bent up a full tone and held in place. Underneath the held bend you will use your first finger to play the 5th and 6th frets of the B string. Removing your first finger from the bent string will mean more of the string tension will be focused on the two fingers that are supporting the bend. This might take some getting used to, especially the idea of keeping the bend totally still while moving your finger to play different notes. Take your time with this lick. Once you have played the two notes, pick the bend again and release it. When the bend it back to the 7th fret pitch, perform a pull off to the 5th fret. Allow this note to sustain as you play the 8th fret on the B string to wrap the lick up.

Hybrid picking can be used on this lick too. You can use your middle finger of your picking hand for the notes on the B string.

Lick 4

This lick is a descending lick combining double-stops and hammer-ons using the A Minor Pentatonic. This has a bluesy sound and is great as a complementary lick you might use in a call/response-type scenario with another instrument or vocals. It also works great as an ending lick to a song or a passage.

Start by playing the double-stop on the 8th fret of the E and B strings with your first finger; once you strike both strings, you are them hammering onto the 10th fret of the B and pulling off again while leaving the 8th fret of the E ring out. The initial hammer-on is performed as a 16th note, and the pull-off is an 8th note. This gives the lick a slight swing. There is a similar passage that follows, but the double-stop is now played on the 7th fret of the G and 8th fret of the B strings with the hammer-on hitting the 9th fret of the G. Once the pull-off is completed in this three-note pattern, slide the finger that is playing the 7th fret down to the 5th before reaching up to the octave note on the 8th fret of the E string.

Lick 5

This final example is a tricky one. It is more of a rhythm style but using a lot of pedal steel-type bends to create different chords. The initial chord shape is a tricky one, it is quite a stretch and relies on just your first finger to make the full step bend. The three notes are the notes of an Asus2 chord. Once you play those notes, you are then bending the 4th fret downwards, so the pitch raises a full step, turning this into an A Major chord. Then play the note again and release. The second bar contains a similar pattern except you already start fretting the major chord, the bend this time is up half a step turning this into an Asus4, as with before you play it again and release before strumming the Sus2 chord again. The bar then ends on a descending run through the Sus2 chord.

The second half of the lick is the same as the first without the final Sus2 run down at the end.

When performing these type of pedal steel bends, spend time ensuring you have a solid grip on the chord, when you bend the note (especially the one that you bend downwards a full tone) you do not want the chord to move.

Summary

Each of these Americana-style licks can be used in a variety of ways. They are very open-ended so can be used as part of a broader lead section to a song or as more of a background lead in a verse or chorus. The pedal steel licks are great for adding that instant country flavor to any track. Some of these licks are tricky and require a reasonable degree of finger strength so start slow and keep your focus when holding bends in place. You want the bends to remain as rigid as possible while you play notes around it. All the licks in this lesson are in the key of A and can be transposed simply by moving the shapes around. The licks that are noted as being in A minor can also be used in C Major (A is the relative minor of C). They can be placed into any major/minor key you want them to be placed into. 

To hear these licks, go to: https://soundcloud.com/leighfuge/sets/the-guitar-girl-magazine-americana-issue

 

 

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