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Pickin' a la Country Roads - A fingerpicking guitar lesson

Guitar Lesson by Kirk Lorange
Difficulty Rating: Intermediate


Pickin' a la Country Roads - The lesson explained.

Here is the picking for that wonderful John Denver tune about heading home to West Virginia. I had a look a couple of videos and he does it in the key of A. I found it quite clumsy, myself, moving to the second chord (the F#m) which is a barre chord, so I moved it down a whole tone to G and it all flows much better. If you want to bring it back up to A, just whack a capo on the second fret and you're done.

For a detailed breakdown of this kind of picking, which is sort of the default 'standard' guitar finger picking pattern, have a look at the other part of this lesson here. Once you get those fingers able to roll across the strings over one chord, which is more of a 'feel' thing than anything, come back to this lesson and see how it applies to a real chord progression.

You'll find that this is not quite the well known tune I mentioned before, there are a couple of bars missing from it, but I'm sure that if you do want to sing along you'll quickly be able to add them in ... G chords.

This is a classic 'in key' progression which uses the three major chords ( the I, IV and V chords) and the relative minor (the vi chord). Those are the most important chords in any major key and you can hear, if you really listen, how they work together.

I won't go into great detail here about the right hand picking because I've done a whole separate lesson on it here, but you will notice that the thumb needs to alter its pattern over those bass strings depending on which chord is in play. Usually we like to hear the pattern begin on the root each time and then move between the 5 and 3, but you'll notice in this arrangement that 'rule' is broken over the D chord in the chorus section; instead of beginning on the 1 (the root) I start on the 3, which is a F# note. I like that bass line better in that section. You'll also notice that each time the D chord comes up, I curl my thumb over the edge of the fretboard to grab that F# note. I have done this before in other lessons. If you find that too uncomfortable or painful (I find it quite painful myself, a sharp pain in the knuckle) then you can use your index finger and bring the ring finger into play for the two other notes from the D chord you need.

There's one little tricky bit at the end of bar 16 that you can either learn or leave out ... the flow breaks for a split second there to introduce the chorus, but it's not necessary to play it.

I suggest you start with the bass line. It's always a good idea to start from the bottom up in all things musical, whether you're learning a new tune or figuring out chord progressions, because that's really how music works ... bass notes are far more important than treble notes so train your ears to listen from the bass notes up. In this piece the bass notes are those played on the three thickest strings which I've given a yellowish color in the tab. They're all played with the thumb. Get a nice flowing feel for that first, then start adding the treble notes with your middle and ring finger. The first two bars of the tab shows which right-hand fingers do what. T=Thumb, I=Index, M=Middle. The pattern never changes, which I why I spared myself the tedious task of doing the other 30 bars.

You'll also hear and see in the tab that I leave the odd treble note out. I tend to avoid machine-like repetition when I play, I prefer a less regular feel to this kind of picking ... it keeps the ear interested, I find, to leave to the odd note out of a pattern like this. It's not a conscious thing and I didn't really notice until I started tabbing it all out. You can either keep it absolutely regular or do as I do, but don't feel you need to do exactly as I do. The little discrepancies show up in the tab as the rest symbols (rest symbol) that are scattered throughout.

In bar 22 I play a D note in the Em chord, turning it into a Em7. Again, no need for it, do it or don't ... it's a tiny detail.

Have fun with this, remember that if you're finding the picking difficult, you can go to this lesson where I break it right down for you over just one chord.


Most of my lessons, including this one, are now free. Please consider making a donation so I can keep these free lessons coming. -- To donate, simply click the green donate button below and you will be taken to a PayPal page where you can enter the amount you would like to donate. No amount is too small ... or big!

A big thanks in advance, Kirk Lorange