Category: Intermediate

Mix Chords, Licks and Melody

Mix Chords, Licks and Melody

Last Updated on June 24, 2022 by Klaus Crow Playing a chords, chord developments and tunes is enjoyable, but incorporating chords with tune by including licks to the table is even more fun. This style of playing includes gorgeous colors to the rhythm that makes the whole point truly fascinating to the audiences ear. Today […]

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Open-String Madness!

Open-String Madness!

Most guitarists learn the basic scales, patterns, and lines up and down the neck when starting to visualize the fretboard. Working open strings into the mix made my head spin and forced me think of note selection differently. It taught me how to manipulate lines that I’d played for years and breathed new life into those lines simply by adding one key element.


I’m not talking about playing in open position, but rather substituting and adding the flavor of open notes whenever possible into your lines. It creates extra tension and a cascading legato feel that’s so important to my style that I can’t play without it. It has become a pillar of my country guitar technique.

All you need to do is listen to the way Chet Atkins approaches this technique in his music like the ending to his version of “Blue Angel” (or better yet “Cascade”). Once I heard this technique, I had to understand it better. Other artists that come to mind that regularly use open-string licks are Danny Gatton, Merle Travis, Redd Volkaert, Jimmy Olander, and many others.

CHET ATKINS – Cascade 1977

Careless Love I Jimmy Olander

In this lesson I’ll get you going with some simple, and not so simple, ways to incorporate this technique and get you playing over major, minor, and dominant 7 chords. These are the three most common chords you’ll see in country and pop music so hopefully they’ll have an instant payoff. When I first started working on this it was painstakingly slow. So be patient, buckle up, and let’s dive in.

In Ex. 1 is a reimagined G major scale (G–A–B–C–D–E–F#). The intervals between the fretted and open notes will determine how much tension there is in your line. Minor and major seconds will typically have heavy tension, which is fine. Remember, tension is great in music and eventually wants to be resolved. You can use the pick for every note or use hybrid picking. Experiment and find what works for you. Using a pick will give more attack to the note but using the flesh or fingernail will give you more warmth and might be slightly easier at faster tempos.

Let the open notes and fretted notes “bleed” into one another as much as possible. This is how you get the cascading legato effect. Listen closely to the audio examples to match to phrasing and length of each note. Hold onto each note as long as possible to let the notes ring into each other.

Ex. 1

We reimagine a descending line for a D major scale (D–E–F#–G–A–B–C#) in Ex. 2. The larger the string skip, the more that interval creates contrast. Notice you are literally playing a descending scale with displaced intervals and substituting open strings whenever possible. This lick ends with some chords voiced with open strings as well.

Ex. 2

In Ex. 3 we move to the key of E major, which is great for open strings since you have two open-string root notes. This is a descending line that hits all the notes of the E major scale (E–F#–G#–A–B–C#–D#). You will need some good independence on your pinky finger to hold down certain notes but with practice, that should come. It’s all part of the technique.

Ex. 3

I like using open string licks for dominant 7 chords and Ex. 4 works great over an A7. We’ve moved from playing up and down the scale to working with chord tones and blue notes like the b5 found on the 4th fret of the 2nd string. The first three groupings are all triplets which works great on adjacent strings. I resolved this lick sliding up into nicely outlining the A7 ending in an open string. Use your ring finger to bend the note on the 3rd string and slide up with your index for maximum left-hand efficiency.

Ex. 4

In this bluesy lick over an Am chord (Ex. 5), you work your way down the neck all the while incorporating open strings. Use your pinky on the 10th fret of the 4th string and to end the lick on the 3rd fret of the 5th string. A quick and effective lick for playing over a minor tonality.

Ex. 5

Ex. 6 is a tricky lick over an F#m7 chord with some slides. Your index finger will slide first, then the ring finger on the left hand. It’s important to use those fingerings as they set up the ascending part of this lick. String skipping towards the back end of the lick is vital to really outline the open 1st and 2nd strings. Let all the open strings ring as long as you can without it sounding sloppy. Listen closely to the audio example for this one.

Ex. 6

I like this ascending lick (Ex. 7) over a G7 chord. Note that you’re playing only on the top four strings for this lick starting with two quick arpeggiated lines connected with some open strings. The back half of this lick is one of my favorite ways to do quick runs using open strings.

Ex. 7

You can also incorporate a chromatic approach to your lines while using open strings. In Ex. 8, which is over an E chord, I sneak in a few passing tones to add extra tension and create some ear-twisting fun.

Ex. 8

That’s but a brief snapshot of some ways to add open strings to create cool cascading musical lines. It can be a bit tricky to initially wrap your head around thinking this way, but once you do, the sky is the limit. I like incorporating open string licks for texture and then start to intertwine them with other techniques like double-stops, pedal bends, and chord voicings. Until next time, take care!!

Easy Classical Guitar Etude

Easy Classical Guitar Etude

Last Updated on June 15, 2022 by Klaus Crow Today I have a nice short, mid-easy classical guitar etude for you with some beautiful sounding chords and a Klaus twist. I studied classical guitar from a private teacher for a couple of years and I learned a lot from that. These days I focus more […]

Chord Melody Guitar

Chord Melody Guitar

Last Updated on June 12, 2022 by Klaus Crow Hi Folks, I hope you’re in for a nice chord melody. Take your guitar out of the stand, grab a pick and get ready for a beautiful treat. Video Lesson Chord Melody Guitar | C F G Am Dm | In today’s lesson we are using […]

Combine Chords with Melody

Combine Chords with Melody

Last Updated on June 11, 2022 by Klaus Crow Today we’re going to combine chords and melody using a G – C – D ( I – IV – V ) chord progression. This is a fun one that you’ll enjoy practicing. See the video lesson and Tabs below. Video Lesson Combining Chords with Melody You can […]

Get In Shape: A Guide to Breaking Out of Scales

Get In Shape: A Guide to Breaking Out of Scales

Shapes can be unique and interesting, but the most common one that we run into as guitar players is that of a plateau. While growth and learning are exponential in the early days of discovering guitar, the true struggle for most players seems to be when they reach the middle to upper intermediate phase. Certain habits, muscle memory, go-to licks, and even practice routines
become second nature. This is what I refer to as “the big rut.” Every player has been at this point, where they’ve been spinning their wheels in the same tracks for so long that now they are simply stuck. Nowhere to go and nowhere to grow, seemingly. This is also the point where guitarists tend to start rapidly accumulating gear in hopes that something new will spark inspiration. (Not that you or I would ever do such a thing, right?)


Maybe a change in approach is just the thing that can break not only the rut, but other creative lulls in our collective journey to improve and feel more connected with six strings and 20-something frets. I’ve found that switching my focus from that of note choice and scales to simple shapes and patterns can unlock my playing when I feel stuck and uninspired. Not only do these licks help you change your visualization of the fretboard, they work fantastically as outside-sounding tension builders.

While I would use the rut buster in Ex. 1 in the key of A, I’m hardly worried about the note selection. The focus is that I’m taking an ascending three-note pattern beginning on the 6th string and simply moving it across the fretboard until I land on a resolution point–in this case on the 1st string. This lick doesn’t require a ton of dexterity. The first finger frets the lowest of the three-note shape, the second finger frets the middle note, and the third finger frets the top note of the shape. With this shape having a one-fret stagger between each note, it’s easy to quickly get comfortable with the rolling motion of the lick.

Ex. 1

Ex. 2 is the exact mirror image of Ex. 1, and we’re still in the key of A. Rather than starting on the 6th string and working our way to the 1st with ascending notes, we work backwards. Still, the shape is a three-note stagger. Again, we work one grouping of strings at a time until we hit a resolution point on the root.

Ex. 2

In Ex. 3 we’re using a different three-note staggered shape. This time there is a two-fret span between the notes staggered across three strings with exception of the last grouping, which moves the first note to the 8th fret to accommodate the third between the G and B strings. The fingering is led by the fourth finger with the second finger fretting the second note and the first finger fretting the third note of each grouping.

For simplicity, we’re still in the key of A. I’ve included a pickup note so you can get a feel for how this pattern lays in relation to its root.

Ex. 3

If we take Ex. 3 and put it in reverse, we switch to having the first finger lead the descending grouping starting from the first string. Ex. 4 shows again how we changed what is now the first grouping to accommodate for the guitar not being tuned in fourths.

Ex. 4

To tie it all together in Ex. 5, we combine part of an A minor pentatonic scale (A–C–D–E–G) with the lick from Ex. 4 to create a fun sounding fusion lick. The whole idea is to show how you can use one of these rut busters to create something unexpected and likely outside of your typical bag of tricks.

Ex. 5

Using shapes and patterns to break out of playing ruts has been a tried-and-true method for me, and I’m sure it can work wonders for you as well. Every single one of these licks and ideas works in any key and location on the fretboard, so they can be extremely useful even in a mid-solo scenario when you want to add some outside flavor and tingle some ears. Be warned, however, not to let your rut busters become your next plateau–experiment with different groupings, shapes, and rhythms to fire up your creativity and bust out of that rut!

Blues Lick Across the Neck – Key of E

Blues Lick Across the Neck – Key of E

Last Updated on May 23, 2022 by Klaus Crow Blues licks across the neck gives you the freedom to play in wider area on the fretboard and gives you the feeling you are really soloing. It’s also one great lick that can be divided into smaller blues licks that can lead to new fresh ideas […]

Blues From the Woods | Cool Nifty 12 Bar Blues

Blues From the Woods | Cool Nifty 12 Bar Blues

Last Updated on May 3, 2022 by Klaus Crow Hi Folks, today we have some Blues From the Woods. A while ago I was on holiday with my family and we went the to Veluwe National Park. It’s the largest forest area in The Netherlands. While I was enjoying my coffee, relaxing on the couch […]

Bending Steel with Your Bare Hands: A Pedal-Steel Primer

Let’s face it folks, pedal-steel is a pillar of the country music sound. It’s one of my favorite instruments—not just in country, but all music genres. The ability to play complex chords, the range of the instrument, the way you can manipulate bends (with knee levers and pedals), and the lyrical quality and tone add so much to the country sound. The textures and chord voicings can really beef up a rhythmic part, but also can make you cry in your beer with a single-note line that includes so much articulation and manipulation it can make your head spin. We are going to mainly focus on a one element that really makes the pedal-steel guitar special and very difficult to emulate on guitar: bending notes.


Most guitar players typically will bend with their ring finger. In some of these examples you will be bending with your index and middle as well—in a very foreign fashion. Think of it like lifting weights and adding more independence to each individual finger. It’s not easy and will take time if you’re not used to this technique. Keep in mind, you do not need any bender built into your guitar. Your fingers will do all the work. I also didn’t include any licks using a volume pedal although you could incorporate one if you desire

Now let’s break down these licks!

The first two examples will give you a good idea of how to start thinking like a pedal-steel player. Ex. 1 is a simple A major scale (A–B–C#–D–E–F#–G#) but certain notes are bent instead of fretted. Note the half-step bend on the 3 (bend that with your middle finger) and the full-step bend on the 7th fret of the 2nd string, as well as the half-step bend to get back to the A. Mastering playing in tune is vital to having that pedal-steel effect on guitar. I would also let the first note played in this example ring until you’ve reached the 2nd string. This will give the line a cascading effect. Listen to the audio example and try to match the phrasing and articulation of the line. For all examples a healthy dose of reverb helps notes “sing” more.

Ex. 1

Ex. 2 is a descending line that starts with a pre-bend. You will see this technique a lot. It’s a key component in getting the sound. Ring finger does all the bends on this lick.

Ex. 2

While there is only one bend in this example, you’ll need to hold the bend on the 12th fret of the 3rd string while moving your pinky from the 13th fret down to the 12th fret on the 1st string. This is a pretty standard type of steel lick that I always use in my playing. It works great over a C chord.

Ex. 3

The tricky part about Ex. 4 is connecting the two separate bends. You do this by releasing the bend at the 11th fret on the 3rd string and sliding down to the 9th fret then bending up again. It should be seamless and immediate to get the phrasing correct. All bends are done with your ring finger. This is just a great lick to play over an E chord.

Ex. 4

In Ex. 5 we add an element of chicken picking with a “cluck” or dead note before the first three bends. We work down the neck with a series of pre-bent double-stops. It’s a standard but effective pedal-steel technique, but it’s tricky. The first bend in measure 1 bends the 1st string up a half-step while the 2nd string goes up a whole-step. It sounds complicated, but because of the differing string gauges, it actually works pretty naturally. Just go for it. The next double-stop bend requires both the 3rd and 2nd strings to go up a whole-step. Attitude is more important than intonation, so do it with no fear. For the final Gsus2 to G bend, barre your pinky on the top two strings and use your middle finger to bend up a whole-step.

Ex. 5

Ex. 6 works well if you’d like pedal-steel bends over minor chords. This lick uses some open strings, which creates a nice tension that emphasizes the 9 (B) against the Am chord. As you work your way down the neck, you’ll need to bend with the middle finger on the 7th fret of the 3rd string. More notes in this lick but well worth the work.

Ex. 6

Ex. 7 is another pre-bend lick that uses unison notes, which is common for steel players. In this turnaround lick, use your in index to bend down on the 2nd fret of the 3rd string. You could think of this as an end of a tune lick so using rubato or a free feel is cool.

Ex. 7

Here (Ex. 8) we move into a repetitive lick with a triple-stop slide at the end barred with the index finger. Notice we start in a simple D minor shape. Adding a bend gives it lots of texture and once bent, the chord functions nicely as a G7. The middle finger is busy on this lick, bending up a whole-step on the 14th fret of the 3rd string.

Ex. 8

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed some of these licks. They aren’t easy but they add some cool textures, tension, and resolution to your guitar lines. Make sure to really try to nail the part as close to the recording as you can. It’s taken me years of practice and thousands of gigs to really have some of these ideas and licks under my fingers. This is just a small microcosm of the possibilities of these kinds of licks. Let them inspire you to try to write your own or fit them into a tune you already play.

I like incorporating pedal-steel bends into my playing because it makes me think about different musical elements. Experiment with half- and whole-step bends, as well as pre-bends, and learn to phrase more like a pedal-steel player. It’s fun and challenging and will add tons of color and options when creating musical lines.


Marvelous Major Pentatonic Blues Country Lick

Marvelous Major Pentatonic Blues Country Lick

Last Updated on April 26, 2022 by Klaus Crow A Marvelous Major Pentatonic Blues Country Lick is heading your way. This blues country, country blues guitar lick is a great one for intermediate and beginner players, because you can split it up into 2 licks and play it slow and fast. Either way it sounds […]