Watch the Open String Licks in A online guitar lesson by Johnny Hiland from Ten Gallon Guitar
Now it’s time for open licks in A. This is always the most fun key for country players. Open A licks are just as fun. There are two-three main A licks that I use in an open way. The first one is almost like what we did in E, but just a little different. We are doing a pick pick pull pattern again. Remember, you pick down with pick, down with the pick on the next string and then pull with your fingernail on the third string. We will be doing with in a flowing motion to get a cascading open sound. Let’s start with the 2nd finger on the 5th fret, A note on the low E string and the 1st finger on the 4th fret on the A string (which is a C# note). We will do that with a pick pick pull pattern with an open D underneath that, which is really cool for rock music too. Let’s start with that and do pick pick pull. Now let’s move down to a position you are used to; play the 3rd finger on the 4th fret (A string), our 1st finger on the 2nd string (D string) with an open G. We will do the same thing again, except the 3rd finger on the 4th fret (D string) with the 1st finger on the 2nd fret (G string) with an open B. Let’s play up until that point.
Now, we will do the same thing again going to our high E string on the bottom. The 3rd finger will be on the 4th fret (now G string), 1st finger on the 2nd fret (B string) with an open E. Droning on the bottom. Once we actually hit the open E, we will chromatically walk up from the 2nd fret to the 5th fret on the B string while that E is droning. We can walk back down and what I do from there is a steel bend. You can do this in a lot of ways depending on how you want to finish out the scale. What I like to do it add a bend, by barring on the A chord and grabbing the G string with my 3rd finger and bending it down almost a whole tone and all you can hear is the low E note, which is the D note 2nd fret on the bottom while I bend that G up. Then hit the A note, 2nd fret G string, do a pull-off on the 4th fret D string and then end with the A chord. Let’s play the whole thing together.
I just played it just the way I taught you, but you can add another lick to the bottom of that if you like and make it your own. Let’s play this a couple of times slow and then speed it up. Cleanliness is really important here. That time you didn’t see me use the full A chord, I just bend the G string on the 4th fret a bit and then proceeded back to the A chord. It really depends on how you are feeling. I like to use emotion when I play. If I am ripping this in a fast country song I won’t have time to grab the full A chord on the bottom. So it depends on how you want to play this lick. The most important thing is to keep is cascading on the open A lick going down and when you finish the chromatic run on the bottom you can take it to whatever way you like. Once we get into some picking with tracks with licks you see this quite a bit.
The other one I love to use in A sounds has a little bit of a B bender to it. I’m not using any B benders on this guitar, in fact, I’ve got a floating tremolo and I’m surprised I am able to bend at all. This lick is a lot of fun. There is another way to play this, experimentation is key. You can travel these licks and play it anyway you want to go. What I am doing is starting on the 5th and 4th fret of the low E and A string. Play the 2nd finger on the E and 1st finger on the A, 4th fret. And we are doing the pick pick pull pattern again. I like to slide my 3rd finger from the 5th to the 7th fret on the A string and then grabbing with the 1st finger (the D note) on the 5th fret, while playing the G note on the bottom open. It kinda sounds weird since we are hitting the G note with our 1st finger D string. Then we slide the 6th fret into the 7th fret on the D string with the 2nd finger and then the 1st finger is grabbing the G string on the 6th fret and droning the open B on the bottom. Now, we end up with the 2nd finger on the 6th fret on the G string, the 1st finger on the 5th fret of the B string. There are a couple of ways I like to play this end part. I either slide in with a double-stop to where I am just barring with my 1st finger on the 4th fret and then sliding that into the 5th fret, then I reach up with my 4th finger (I like to slide with my 3rd) up to the 9th fret of the high E string and grab the B string with both fingers so we can do a long bend here. Anytime you do bends you have all the power behind it that you can. The bend is done with the 2nd finger on the 8th fret B string and we are going up a whole tone to the A note. If you need to add your 1st finger for string, do that, it won’t affect the tone of the note. When put together it sounds great. You can slide this down however you want, let it drone or sweep it back into another lick.
When we play this lick instead of using the actual double-stops, sometimes I like to play the notes individually. Instead of the full double-stop, the open part on the 6th and 5th fret, I’ll just play the A triad. Using my 2nd finger on the G string, 6th fret and instead of hitting them as double-stops on the bottom, sometimes I’ll just play the full A triad and then slide up with the 3rd finger and capture that bend. The reason I’m showing you both ways is because it depends on how fast the song is played as to which you can use. Let’s play with fast and then slowed down a few times.
When played fast, I went to miss the bend on the first time through, so I hammered it off with the b7 note. It allows you to have more time to reach and grab for the bend. As we play this slow, you can see how we incorporate the b7 note before we do the major 3rd bend.
Let’s break down this last section one more time. When I play the actual A triad, I reach down and put the hammer-on now and grab the 7th of the scale, which is actually working on climbing from the 5th of the scale, the E note, up to a G and then bouncing that off the root note. Then we reach for the bend, I’m using my 3rd finger, but you can use the 4th if you prefer. I use my 3rd because I like to use my 1st and 2nd finger to grab the bend.
There are lots of options, but those are two of my favorite open string licks in A. Let’s look at one more that most people don’t normally learn. It’s from a popular country song called Orange Blossom Special. This is a fun tiny lick that you cannot miss. We are playing an A sus ii, using two fingers, the 2nd finger on the A note, the D string 7th fret, and the 1st finger has the Major iii note, which is a C# note, 6th fret G string. This is not a pick pick pull pattern. We are going to use the A note with the pick and then the finger is grabbing the B string open, the pick is grabbing the G string on the 6th fret and then we are going to drop the 3rd finger to the 7th fret. Next our ring finger will grab the E. Then we reverse it. Let’s play that together very slow and then speed it up. The reason I want to show you this is because you can move that bottom A note down which would lead you into that focal scale I showed you earlier.