Watch the Western Swing Technique online guitar lesson by Johnny Hiland from Ten Gallon Guitar
One of the things that I love to use within my chicken pickin’ method of teaching is when it comes to jazz and western swing. Western swing is a huge addition to country music and we have Bob Bills and the Texas playboys to thank for that. From that point, there was a lot of great many swing western bands that have come from that whole style and genre. Even though swing comes from the jazz people, the passion music family has definitely embraced it and we love to dance and pick to it. I'm holding a beautiful Bill Cummings jazz box here, and I'd like to talk to you how you can mix country guitar and western swing. Playing a big old jazz box like this it makes you think differently when you play because you want to play more scales, more scalar things, but you also want to gravitate towards the more chromatic side of things, where you're going to play more chromaticisms and scale- like things.
For example, I know in section 1 I talked to you about the focus scale, like in D, well now you can use that in western swing as well but let's take that a step further and play it in the key of D which is the five to G so we're going to go. Then you chromatically walk to the third of G and then to the C. I'm using 6,9 and augmented and diminished chord. Like after a C chord. Even the chords that I use, the choice is a lot different but you'll hear me utilize these same things in my chicken pickin’ realm and I just love this style. It's so big and beautiful sounding. There's a lot more to it than what meets the eye. I don't want you to feel afraid to try this style of music. Some of it can be very fast and invigorating and take you into more of a scalar approach and you have cool licks. For example, one of my biggest western swing heroes, Jimmy Bryant, and even Danny Gatton who is my biggest hero of all time- he was quite an awesome jazz player. I love the western swing element of jazz and I'm still diving deeper into the jazz realm. There were some cool licks from back in the early 50s from western swing and Jimmy Bryant such as a G lick that sounded like this. In the 12th fret, you'd have a lick that sounded like this. On the bottom, we're going from the five to the flat five, and then back it. Then you hit the root note, you can play all around the major scale of that. 1,2,3,4,flat 5, 5, 6, major 7, and the root. That's really fun to add. You can use this lick anywhere on the fret board. I'll play this lick with you a couple of times real slow. Now, if you want to play this in a couple of different ways, you can take this same thing and play it like the focus scale. I played this real fast and I didn't add the bottom E string part of it. For example, there's an old western swing song called Rolly Polly. Another one I like to use is this one, and I play it as a triplet and you can let it go to the flatted third which will put it in the C chord. All I'm doing is walking from the five note of the scale which is a D and hammer on to the 6th note, 14th fret D string, and then I hit the root note which is G to the A and then to the third note of the major scale which is a B. You can bar on the 12th fret if you'd like and bounce your finger off. I like to lift my fingers because it makes it more clean and precise. Can you play that in other places in the fret board? Yes you can. You can play the Jimmy lick or you can play it any which way you want to and that's what makes it so fun. That gives you a couple of different licks. To get back to the western swing element I want to talk to you about the swing rhythm because the rhythmic values in swing are so cool. I'm going to turn this jazz box down a little, just so you can barely hear it but you can hear this rhythm and I'll explain what I'm doing to you. I'll just play this and you can take a listen and I hope you dig it. When you think about playing this rhythm, you have to think about what the bass player would be doing. The bass player would be walking. Now what you want to do is you want to play the same kind of thing. But you want to take your right hand and be percussive with it . I'm just bouncing my hand across the strings.
So now essentially, what I'm doing here is I'm using chords. Where I'm playing an A minor but I'm not really playing the full chord I'm just using two notes of it. The chords themselves are not full blown huge chords, they're actually quite easy to play-they're two fingered chords. E7,A. We have a D6 9, and an augmented chord. All I'm playing here is a third finger on the D note, A string 5th fret, and my second finger on the 4th fret D string, and then I'm barring on the 3rd fret on the G and B, and then you can drop your pinky down. I'm just walking down and I'm doing a lead-in, or what I would call, a passing tone that would allow me to get into a C chord. I'm taking this chord, which is like a G7, and then I'm using a B note as a passing tone to get into my C7, or 6,9. You have some diminished chords there. Now this brings me up to a really cool lick. When you play at a C, just playing an arpeggio, just playing a 1-3-5. Don't be afraid when you're learning this stuff to sing-along. Then you play a diminished thing. I've discovered this by accident- I'm playing off the flat five note because here's the five, so I'm playing off that and I'm going from the fourth to the second fret on A and D and sliding up to the 5th of the 3rd fret on the D string, and then the fifth to the third fret on the D and G string. Then we're sliding up now to the 6th fret with our second finger and you can slide in if you want but you end up with your second finger on the 6th fret G string and your first finger on the 5th fret B string. Then I slide that into the major 7th of the actual G scale and then you can bend into the root. Chromaticism is a huge thing in playing western swing. Now, let me get you into the understanding of how chicken pickin’ plays into this. Essentially, you can lick that you've learned in section 1 and you can mix it with the western swing element. For example, I did a steel bend and I went root five, flat 7 one, then I go into my C position which is similar to the way we approached the actual focus scale, only I'm in a C position. I'm on the G note of that position where I'm just barring and then I just move chromatically up. From the actual G note to the A note to the B flat note. Then I'm back into my G again, and all I did there was go from the first note to the third note o the major scale, sliding up, and I have my fifth and sixth, seventh note, root, two, three, four, five. It all connects based on just scales. Where you can add any of the lelemts you want. For example, say I wanted to start out with that lick I showed you. Then play the open string A lick that you learned. I ended that A scale, connected to the D open scale, and chromatically from the open D I walked it right back to the G using chromatics. If you think of this in a simple approach and add the chicken pickin’ stuff to the western swing element, you're going to have a great time and you're going to be able to do a lot of things. I don't want you to be afraid to try it; I want you to have fun with it. I'll play just a little bit right now, without a track, just to show you how I'd mix a few things. There you have it folks! That's a good example of mixing western swing and chicken pickin’, and I hope you'll find a big jazz box like this Cummings I'm playing because it's a fun guitar to play with. This is an awesome style of music, and I'm just blessed it's in the country realm. I get to wear my cowboy hat and delve into the jazz world, It's such as awesome fun time and I'm proud and happy I was able to bring this to you. Have fun experimenting with your western swing jazz elements. I wish you all the best of luck in the world.