Country music is a uniquely american genre of music that can trace its roots back to earlier european folk songs that the arriving immigrants brought with them. It developed in the Appalachians and surrounding states; changing the forms and sounds of the earlier folk songs until the music reflected the conditions that these early american settlers experienced. The music itself has never stopped absorbing elements from other genres such as blues, ragtime, jazz, rock and contemporary folk. It is this vitality that has kept country music at the heart of american culture.
Country music, like most early folk music, was passed down orally from generation to generation; with each adding to the existing tradition. The guitar, being cheap and portable, was ideal for country musicians and from the earliest days has been associated with the music.
It was the invention of the phonograph and radio that led to the creation of the first national country stars The Carter Family. The Carter Family also sung gospel, Victorian ballads and vaudeville songs. The guitar solo in their song "Wildwood Flower" is an early example of characteristics that are still to be found in country lead breaks.
Country guitarists also absorbed elements from the blues and slide guitar started to be featured shortly after the success of the Carter Family. Jimmie Rodgers (1897-1933) was the first solo star of country music and his guitar style is a mixture of country alternating bass and the blues form.
Country music took on some on the elements of the big band era of the 1930s. The growth of bigger bands that included instruments such as drums and saxophones led to the creation of Western Swing. Whereas the music of the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers had retained some of the earlier folk ballad qualities; Western Swing was primarily for dancing.
Acoustic guitars have been a firm favourite for country musicians since the 1920s. The "open" resonating sound of these guitars suit the country and western chordal style. The Gibson L-5 was popular (the instrument played by Maybelle Carter) as were Martin guitars. It musn't be overlooked that Gibsons and Martins are professional marque guitars and that many players would have started on cheaper models by other manufacturers.
The Dobro Resonator guitar was also used from the 1930s onwards. Its unique timbre appealed to country guitarists and its volume allowed it to be heard amongst the expanding line-up of instruments.
Other instruments that are commonly used in country music are the fiddle and banjo.
This exercise uses these chords:
This is an exercise for alternating the bass. It is recommended that this exercise be played without a plectrum. Use the thumb of your right hand to play the alternating bass notes. The right hand fingers must also form a "claw" and be placed on the three treble strings to start this exercise. The ring finger of the right hand always takes the highest note. After playing the bass note with your thumb; slightly lift your right hand fingers to sound the treble strings. Don't pluck or pull away your right hand. A slight lift of your right hand index, middle and ring finger is enough to sound the chord and then return your hand back for the next lift. Practice this exercise slowly for accuracy especially placing the claw correctly and ensuring that after the lift the fingers are only millimeters away and ready to be placed again. There should be no movement of the forearm or wrist; all the work is done by the fingers. The left hand holds down the chords as shown above. Most tab exercises will have chord diagrams that show the chords to be used.
Essential Country Guitarists and RecordingsEdit
- The Carter Family - a long career has led to many Carter Family recordings but the early recordings between 1927 and 1941 on the Victor label are considered to be the best of the original Carter family line-up. Some of the Carter Family's radio performances are in the public domain and can be found on-line for listening or download.
- Jimmie Rodgers - his first hit record was "Blue Yodel (T for Texas)". The first country solo artist to achieve national fame in the US.
- Hank Williams - the writer of "Your Cheating Heart" and "Hey, Good Lookin"
- Willie Nelson - the country performer and song-writer who wrote "Crazy" (Patsy Cline).
- Chet Atkins - one of the architects of the "Nashville" sound. A guitarist of wide skills who has performed on the records of Elvis Presely and the Everley Brothers; as well as issuing his own solo releases and duos with the guitarist Jimmy Reed.
- Leon McAuliff - one of the great Western Swing steel guitarists. Played with Bob Wills' Texas Playboys.