As a session guitarist I've had to spit out variety of styles on demand and as authentically as possible with the intent of keeping my clients as happy as possible. The most challenging and most fun addition to my keep the client happy bag of tricks (sometimes shortened to -- keep the client -- when dealing with producers with low budgets and tight schedules) is the blue-grass or country crosspicking style.
As a progressive, blues, rock, metal, fusion, pop, funk player, I had always found this sound fascinating but never really had the need to exploit it until I was asked to do a country session where the original demos were guitared by one of NYC's top session players. As great as I know this player to be, upon listening to this demo, I found that he had not captured the essence of that "country sound".
The first thing I did was to figure out what gives this "country sound" its signature sound. It is the crosspicked technique which employs the ringing drone of the open strings coupled with that clean Strat or Tele plugged into a Twin with about a 65 msec slapback delay or echo.
So with Strat in hand I worked this concept out by using the open string keys (E<A<D<G) in various scale forms ( major, minor, and their pentatonic scales) using this crosspicking technique. Note: A well placed capo will allow you to bring these ideas easily into the non open string keys.
I derived the crosspicked sound by taking some country sounding licks (you know the ones I mean -- those major pentatonic riffs) in an open key and replacing all the closed notes that happened to be open string notes with the open strings. This is gonna sound more country if you are not playing in the open/1st position because as you move up the neck you'll notice that the open notes will be ringing along with the next note in
the scale which will add a certain amount of tension to the riff. This is also why these riffs stand out more with a clean guitar sound, as these close intervals ringing at once tend to just get muddier and more indistinct
as you add more and more distortion.
A picture is worth a thousand words so here's a typical G major pentatonic lick with this open string technique applied. It starts on the root than goes thru the 2nd, m3rd, 3rd, 5th, 6th, octave. Typical country fare. Try playing it closed first (fig.1) to get the sound of the line then use the crosspicked fingering (fig.2) and listen to it come to life. Start on the 6th string but play the A open then play the m3rd to major 3rd as a hammer-on (blues style) on the 6th string. The 5th is D played open while the E is played on the 5th string and then resolve the riff to the octave open G.
Let's take a look at a lick in E that will use this same crosspicked style to travel down the scale instead of up.
When creating your own riffs keep in mind that a good starting pattern when you are moving down a scale or riff is to start closed on the highest string, play the next note closed on the next lower string, then go back
to the higher string open, all the while keeping the notes in your phrase going downward. Thus you are actually crosspicking to a higher string to play a lower note. Now go to the 2nd highest string
and repeat this pattern, again, all the while keep each successive note lower than the previous.
Here's one in A that includes the flatted 5th (Eb) in order to keep that 2 string down, one back up pattern intact. I came up with this one for the fusion rock tune, "Ray's Stew".
And lastly we have the closing riff from "Country Thang", a tune on my CD "Once More...With Feeling!!!" This riff won "Lick Of The Month" in Guitar Player magazine.
Note that all these riffs can be played with strict flatpicking, though most country pickers will actually use more of a banjo roll technique which incorporates your middle finger with your flat pick. With these concepts, your own creative energy, and a few hours of practice, hopefully you'll never have to shy away from
those country sessons again.
...And don't forget to do some grinnin' while you're a pickin'.
Ray DeTone is a professional guitarist featured in Guitar Player magazine (March 1998). Ray is an eclectic player, fusing the elements of rock, blues, progressive, country, metal, alternative and even bluegrass, creating a signature sound that stands out amidst todays' onslaught of redundancy.
His debut instrumental CD is entitled "Once More...With Feeling!!!".
Send comments or questions to: