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I've been playing the guitar for about 3 years. I would like to play more country and bluegrass. What is the best way to pick up new techniques and learn how to play anything besides basic guitar chords. Also, how is the best way to increase my skill at bar chords?

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That's really two questions but here goes:

Barre Chords: Barre chords can cause problems if you haven't been exercising your left hand (if you're a righty) in that particular way. There are all sorts of ways to ease into them. Here are a few:

  • Use a capo at the first fret and then play barre chords up 1/2 step. You're not trying to play in tune -- just to get exercise making the chord shapes. The reason this often works is it effectively lowers the nut, making the action a tad faster where most people play barre chords. After you've done this for a while, take off the capo and play some more. It's like getting callouses -- the only way is repetition.

  • Use lighter strings. If you aren't getting a clear sound without a capo, consider switching to lighter strings until you're strong enough to manage heavier ones. I know bluegrass and country both sound better on heavy strings but if you aren't getting a clear sound you may have no choice.

New Techniques and Stuff: Bluegrass and country are full of major pentatonic runs. They also utilize a ton of first-position chords (at least traditional country -- when you get to more progressive styles guitar players are all over the fretboard). Where this all came from was connecting chords together with short runs or putting some little lick between verses. If you're into Bluegrass, listen to "Uncle Pen" and you'll get the lick thing right away. You can capo on 2nd fret and played out of a G shape. Don't be surprised when you find out that country pickers are among the most dextrous in the guitar world. Keith Urban is a madman, and if you're looking back on Bluegrass guitar, Doc Watson was humbling so say the least. But take a few notes from each and try to get them into your playing.

All this stuff wraps around basic guitar chords so you are on the right track. Just find some songs you like and noodle around with them until you can make them feel like yours.

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Thanks very much! This was very helpful. I'm really glad I discovered this site - I love country and bluegrass! –  nick Jan 18 '13 at 2:35
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An old mate of mine, Keith Porter, from the 'the TIME THIEVES', gave me great advice about how to stretch out your playing if you want to progress beyond the basic chords. His advice was - play a chord - and then observe what notes you are actually playing. This will give you a foundation of notes to start a 'riff' off of that chord. Play around with just the notes of that chord. Play the chord again, and then explore playing the chord notes. Play notes from that chord as a lead up to the next chord and then reverse it. Pretty soon you will start picking up all the Arpeggios and sundry other melodic and 'riff' style runs to use between your chords. When you get used to it don't play the full chord at the start of you riff, just the root. Then try getting to the first note of the 'riff' where you would normally play that chord. I play Bar chords up the neck as a means of putting myself in the ready position on the neck to start my 'run' or 'riff'. Mix Bar chords and 'Banana' chords together in your playing to create a change in sound with verses and chorus, or bridge. Makes for more versatility, and people will see what a great guitar player you are. Chords are only notes played together. Stretch them out and explore the potential to create !!!!

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