Country music is an important part of American culture with a long and storied history that’s as vibrant today as it has ever been. One of the defining techniques of country music is flatpicking, which involves using a plectrum to play fast, complex melodies on the guitar. While it takes dedication and practice to master, the results can be stunningly beautiful. That said, it can often be difficult to know where to begin when exploring flatpicking, especially given how many amazing songs exist in the genre. In this article, we’ll explore 10 famous flatpicking songs in country music that are sure to impress and inspire anyone looking to learn more about this unique and impressive style of guitar playing.
The Origins of Flatpicking
When it comes to country music, one of the most recognizable techniques on the guitar is flatpicking. This technique is all about using a flat pick to pluck out individual notes with clarity and precision. Flatpicking has a rich history that dates back to the early 20th century, and it has been popularized by many famous musicians over the years. In this section, we will explore the origins of flatpicking and take a closer look at some of the musicians who helped shape this unique playing style. To learn more about flatpicking techniques and exercises, check out our guide on flatpicking on electric guitar.
The Carter Family
During the early 20th century, the Carter Family revolutionized the country music industry with their unique blend of folk, blues and gospel music. They introduced the “Carter Scratch,” an important precursor to modern flatpicking. Maybelle Carter, one of the members of the family, popularized this technique by playing lead melody lines on her guitar while also maintaining a rhythmic groove.
The Carter Scratch technique involves:
|Using the thumb||on the bass strings|
|Alternating with the index finger||on the treble strings|
|Simultaneously muting the strings||that aren’t being played|
This helped create a distinctive sound that was both melodic and percussive. It also allowed for a greater range of expression and a stronger sense of rhythm, which became a hallmark of country music in the years that followed.
The Carter Family had a profound influence on musicians that followed, including Doc Watson, who was heavily inspired by their music and adapted their technique to suit his own unique style. Today, the Carter Scratch is considered an essential part of the flatpicking technique, and anyone who wants to master this style of guitar playing should study the ways in which the Carters used it to create some of the most enduring and beloved songs in country music.
If you want to learn more about the benefits of flatpicking in country music, check out our article “The Benefits of Flatpicking in Country Music: Why Every Guitarist Should Try It” or explore “Flatpicking Exercises for Electric Guitar: Improve Your Technique Today“.
Throughout the history of country music, Doc Watson has played a pivotal role in shaping the flatpicking style. He was a blind musician and masterful flatpicker who found great success within the country music genre. Watson’s style of flatpicking was unique in that he used a thumbpick in conjunction with his index finger, which allowed him to produce a crisp, clear sound that was both powerful and nuanced.
Doc Watson’s contribution to country music is immeasurable. He was an influential artist who paved the way for other musicians who followed in his footsteps. Not only did he excel in playing traditional flatpicking songs, but he also broke new ground in terms of blending different musical styles. Watson was known for transcending the limits of country music by integrating elements of blues, jazz, and even rock into his tracks.
Some of his most famous works include “Beaumont Rag” and “Black Mountain Rag”. These songs showcase the dexterity of his flatpicking skills and demonstrate why he is a revered figure in the country music world. Watson composed many of his own songs, such as “Deep River Blues” and “Tennessee Stud”.
If one is interested in learning more about flatpicking techniques, Watson’s style is a great place to start. His use of alternating bass notes and syncopated rhythms is a hallmark of his playing style that can be used to great effect in other flatpicking songs. Beginners can use resources like flatpicking tips or top flatpicking techniques for electric guitar to get started. More advanced players can work on improving their flatpicking speed and accuracy or incorporate some of Watson’s flatpicking licks and solos into their own playing.
Doc Watson’s influence on the country music genre and flatpicking cannot be overstated. He was a masterful musician who created a unique sound, and his style can still be heard in country and bluegrass music today.
The Most Famous Flatpicking Songs
As one of the most popular styles of guitar playing, flatpicking has produced some of the most beloved songs in country music history. In this section, we’ll explore 10 of the most famous flatpicking songs that have stood the test of time. From legendary artists such as Earl Scruggs and Doc Watson to traditional tunes, these songs have been played by countless musicians and continue to inspire guitar players around the world. So, whether you’re new to flatpicking or a seasoned pro, read on to discover some of the most iconic songs in country music history. And if you’re interested in learning more about the history and techniques behind flatpicking, be sure to check out our articles on flatpicking, bluegrass, and country music and flatpicking vs fingerpicking.
1. Foggy Mountain Breakdown – Earl Scruggs
One of the most famous and recognizable flatpicking songs in country music is “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” by Earl Scruggs. This iconic tune is a staple of bluegrass music and has been covered by countless artists over the years.
The History of “Foggy Mountain Breakdown”
The song was originally written in 1949 by Scruggs and his bandmate, Lester Flatt, for their band the Foggy Mountain Boys. It was first recorded in December of that same year and was released in 1950. The song was an instant hit, and it helped to establish Scruggs as one of the best flatpickers in the world.
The Technique of “Foggy Mountain Breakdown”
The song is played in the key of G and features a fast, driving melody that showcases Scruggs’ incredible speed and precision on the guitar. The technique involved in playing this song is complex and requires a great deal of practice to master. It involves rapidly picking individual notes using a flatpick, often with a heavy emphasis on downstrokes.
The Legacy of “Foggy Mountain Breakdown”
“Foggy Mountain Breakdown” is a true classic in the world of country music and bluegrass. It has been covered by countless artists, from Dolly Parton to The White Stripes, and has been featured in numerous films and TV shows, including the 1967 film “Bonnie and Clyde” and the animated series “The Simpsons.” In 1968, Scruggs won a Grammy Award for Best Country Instrumental Performance for his recording of “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.”
In summary, “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” by Earl Scruggs is an iconic flatpicking song that has become a beloved classic in the world of country music. Its driving melody and complex technique have inspired countless musicians over the years, and its legacy continues to live on today.
2. Beaumont Rag – Doc Watson
“Beaumont Rag” is a classic flatpicking song that was made famous by the legendary musician Doc Watson. This song combines elements of traditional bluegrass, swing and country music that make it a true masterpiece of its genre.
The song features a catchy melody that is instantly recognizable, and its upbeat tempo and intricate guitar picking make it a popular choice among guitar players of all skill levels. One of the most remarkable things about this tune is the way that Doc Watson showcases his incredible finger-picking skills, which have inspired countless musicians over the years.
The following are some of the key elements that make “Beaumont Rag” such a special song:
- Catchy Melody: The melody of “Beaumont Rag” is both catchy and memorable, making it a timeless classic that has endured for generations. This tune is perfect for rhythm guitar players, as it features a simple chord progression that is easy to follow, but also leaves plenty of room for improvisation.
- Upbeat Tempo: “Beaumont Rag” is a fast-paced song that is sure to get any crowd moving. Its upbeat tempo is perfect for dancing or simply tapping your foot along with the rhythm, and its infectious energy is impossible to ignore.
- Intricate Guitar Picking: One of the standout features of “Beaumont Rag” is the intricate guitar picking that Doc Watson employs throughout the song. From the opening notes to the final flourish, his finger-picking skills are on full display, showcasing his mastery of the flatpicking technique.
- Bluegrass, Swing and Country Influences: “Beaumont Rag” is a unique blend of different musical styles, incorporating elements of bluegrass, swing, and country music into one cohesive and memorable tune. This versatility is one of the things that makes the song so special, as it appeals to a wide range of musical tastes.
Overall, “Beaumont Rag” is a true classic that showcases the best of flatpicking guitar. With its catchy melody, upbeat tempo, and intricate picking, this song has earned its place as one of the most famous flatpicking tunes in country music history.
3. Black Mountain Rag – Doc Watson
“Black Mountain Rag” is a classic bluegrass tune that has been covered by many artists over the years, but perhaps none have done it better than the renowned guitarist Doc Watson. His version is a masterclass in flatpicking technique and a testament to his musical ability.
In the song, Watson uses his thumb and first two fingers to pick the strings of his guitar in a rapid and intricate pattern. His precise picking style allows him to play the melody and harmony simultaneously, creating a fuller sound that is both dynamic and engaging.
Some notable elements of Watson’s take on “Black Mountain Rag” include his use of syncopation and improvisation. He brings his unique flair to the song by mixing up the timing of certain notes and adding in his own licks and runs. This jazz-like approach gives the tune an added dimension of complexity and excitement.
For those looking to learn flatpicking guitar, studying Watson’s rendition of “Black Mountain Rag” is a must. Pay attention to his picking hand and how he uses it to create the melody and harmony at the same time. Note how he mixes up the timing and adds in his own flourishes to make the tune his own.
Overall, “Black Mountain Rag” as played by Doc Watson is a shining example of flatpicking prowess and a testament to the enduring legacy of this classic genre.
4. Salt Creek – Bill Monroe
One of the most beloved and challenging flatpicking songs in the world of country music is “Salt Creek”. The song was originally composed by Bill Monroe and became an instant classic, played by countless artists in the years since its release.
The secret to “Salt Creek” lies in its intricate and complex guitar playing, requiring a mastery of fingerpicking and a strong sense of timing. The song features a driving and energetic beat, with quick transitions between chords and intricate patterns of arpeggios and runs.
To give an idea of the complexities involved in mastering “Salt Creek”, here’s a table outlining the basic structure of the song:
|Intro||G D G D||Alternate picking|
|Verse 1||G Em C G||Arpeggios, hammer-ons, pull-offs|
|Chorus||D G Em C G D||Strumming, syncopation|
|Verse 2||G Em C G||Arpeggios, slides, bends|
|Chorus||D G Em C G D||Strumming, syncopation|
|Bridge||Am D G Em Am D G||Chord progression, cross-picking|
|Chorus||D G Em C G D||Strumming, syncopation|
|Outro||G D G D||Alternate picking|
As you can see, “Salt Creek” is a complex piece that requires a deep knowledge of flatpicking techniques. But for those willing to put in the time and effort to master it, the rewards are immense – few things are as satisfying as flawlessly executing this classic country guitar piece.
5. Billy in the Lowground – Traditional
One of the most beloved and well-known flatpicking songs in the realm of country music is the traditional tune, “Billy in the Lowground.” This uptempo and lively song is a popular choice for many guitar enthusiasts looking to test their flatpicking skills.
The song’s structure is relatively simple, utilizing a basic chord progression that is easy to remember, but is also impressive in its speed and precision when executed properly. It’s no wonder that “Billy in the Lowground” remains a crowd-pleaser at festivals, concerts and music showcases across the world.
The song is also known for its intricate and playful melody that is both captivating and challenging for any flatpicker. The use of embellishments such as slides, bends, and hammer-ons is common in this tune, adding a layer of complexity that is truly exciting to listen to.
To give you a taste of this classic tune, here is a short list of some of the key elements that make “Billy in the Lowground” stand out:
1. Chord Progression: The song utilizes a simple yet effective chord progression, with the main chords being G, C, and D. This creates a bright and energetic feel that perfectly matches the upbeat tempo.
2. Speed and Precision: The song demands a high level of precision and speed from the player, with a consistent eighth-note rhythm throughout. Playing this song at its intended tempo requires a lot of practice and dexterity.
3. Emphasis on Right Hand Technique: Flatpicking requires a certain level of proficiency in the right hand, and “Billy in the Lowground” is no exception. The melody is picked out using the flatpick, with a focus on accurate string crossing and alternate picking.
4. Use of Embellishments: As mentioned earlier, the song features various embellishments such as slides, bends, and hammer-ons. These techniques add a level of complexity that elevates the song beyond a simple melody.
Overall, “Billy in the Lowground” is a true classic in the world of flatpicking and country music, a song that is a joy to listen to and a pleasure to play. Its fast-paced melodies, intricate embellishments, and subtle chord variations make it a must-learn song for any aspiring flatpicker looking to hone their skills.
6. Old Joe Clark – Traditional
“Old Joe Clark” is a traditional American folk song that has become a favorite among flatpicking guitarists. It is a lively and energetic tune that is typically played at a fast pace. The song tells the story of a man named Joe Clark who is known for his hard work and perseverance.
To play “Old Joe Clark” on the guitar, the flatpicker must use a variety of techniques, including alternate picking, hammer-ons, and pull-offs. It is played in the key of A and features a number of challenging chord changes.
|“Farewell, Old Joe Clark, farewell, I say.”||A|
|“Farewell, Old Joe Clark, farewell, I say.”||D|
|“Farewell, Old Joe Clark, farewell, I say.”||A|
|“He’s gone to the last round-up, he’s gone to stay.”||E7|
|“Old Joe Clark, the preacher’s son,”||A|
|“Preached all over the plain.”||D|
|“The only text he ever knew,”||A|
|“Was ‘High, low, jack, and the game,’||E7|
|“Old Joe Clark had a yellow cat,”||A|
|“She would neither sing nor pray.”||D|
|“Stuck her head in a barrel of lard,”||A|
|“And washed her sins away.”||E7|
The song has been covered by a number of famous country musicians, including Ricky Skaggs and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Flatpicking guitarists may also choose to incorporate their own improvisations and variations into the song, making each rendition unique. “Old Joe Clark” is a classic example of the traditional American folk music that has inspired generations of musicians.
7. Jerusalem Ridge – Bill Monroe
“Jerusalem Ridge” is a famous flatpicking tune created by Bill Monroe, the Father of Bluegrass. This song is named after a ridge in Kentucky where he grew up. It has a lively tempo that showcases the skills of the flatpicker with intricate melodies and fast picking.
The song’s structure consists of four parts: the A, B, C, and D sections. Each section carries its own musical theme and has its own unique challenge for the flatpicker. In the A section, the player must navigate a series of arpeggios with swift downstrokes. The B section is characterized by unusual chord progressions and rapid chord changes. The C section is a melody-driven solo that requires quick transitions between different frets. Lastly, the D section requires the flatpicker to play a series of arpeggios with fast alternating picking.
In this tune, Bill Monroe created a unique blend of blues and bluegrass that captures the essence of traditional American folk music. What’s more, impressive is that “Jerusalem Ridge” has been covered by several musicians and has gained a lot of popularity.
To break it down, here is a list of the sections in “Jerusalem Ridge”:
- A section: Swift downstrokes through arpeggios.
- B section: Rapid chord changes and unusual chord progressions.
- C section: Melody-driven solo that requires quick transitions between different frets.
- D section: Arpeggios played with fast alternating picking.
Overall, “Jerusalem Ridge” is a fantastic example of Bill Monroe’s skill in composing and flatpicking. It highlights the unique blend of blues and bluegrass and is a must-learn for any flatpicker looking to improve their skills.
8. Whiskey Before Breakfast – Traditional
“Whiskey Before Breakfast” is another famous flatpicking tune in country music. This traditional song is known for its lively tempo and catchy melody, making it a favorite among both musicians and audiences. The song’s origins are unclear, but it is believed to have originated in the Appalachian region of the United States.
The song can be played in different keys and has a repetitive chord structure that allows for improvisation and variations. The melody is played in a quick and bouncy manner, making it a perfect tune to showcase the technical skills of a flatpicker.
Here are the main elements that make up “Whiskey Before Breakfast”:
- The song is typically played in the key of D and has a 4/4 time signature.
- The chord progression follows a pattern of D-G-D-A7, which repeats throughout the song.
- The melody is played using a combination of single notes and double stops, which are two notes played simultaneously on adjacent strings.
- The song also includes several hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides, which add to its lively and upbeat feel.
The name “Whiskey Before Breakfast” is said to have come from the tradition of drinking whiskey early in the morning before starting the day’s work. While the song’s origins are unclear, it has become a mainstay in the flatpicking repertoire and is often played at jam sessions and guitar circles around the country.
Whether you’re a seasoned flatpicker or just getting started, “Whiskey Before Breakfast” is a fun and challenging tune to learn. Its fast-paced melody and technical elements make it a great song for improving your flatpicking skills and impressing your friends and fellow musicians.
9. Big Sciota – Traditional
Moving onto our ninth song on the list, we have the traditional flatpicking favorite known as Big Sciota. This classic tune is beloved by bluegrass enthusiasts for its catchy melody and intricate fingerpicking pattern.
Big Sciota has its roots firmly planted in the Appalachian Mountains, where it first emerged as a fiddle tune in the 19th century. The song has since been adopted by flatpickers around the world and is considered a must-know tune for any serious picker.
In terms of chord progression, Big Sciota follows a fairly simple structure with chords such as G, C, and D being predominant. However, what sets this tune apart from others is the intricate fingerpicking pattern that forms the backbone of the song.
Below is a table outlining the basic tablature for the main riff of Big Sciota:
While this is a simplified version of the tablature, it gives a good idea of the fingerpicking pattern that is essential to playing Big Sciota. The song also includes several variations of this main riff, which can be quite challenging to master.
Big Sciota is a great example of the intricate fingerpicking patterns and catchy melodies that are characteristic of flatpicking. It remains a favorite among traditional bluegrass enthusiasts and continues to inspire young pickers today.
10. Red Haired Boy – Traditional
“Red Haired Boy” is a traditional tune that has been played in various genres, including bluegrass and Old Time music. It is a popular song for flatpickers due to its memorable melody and driving rhythm. Let’s take a closer look at this famous tune’s structure and history.
The song consists of two main sections, each played twice. The A part is in the key of D, and the B part is in the key of G. The tune begins with an energetic intro, which sets the tone for the rest of the song. The melody is then played twice, followed by a section of improvisation. The improvisation section is an opportunity for the flatpicker to showcase their skills and creativity.
One of the most notable features of “Red Haired Boy” is its use of crosspicking. This technique involves continually changing the direction of the pick while playing the strings to create a cascading effect. It adds a unique texture to the tune and makes it an impressive showcase for flatpicking skills.
Despite being a traditional tune, “Red Haired Boy” has been covered by many famous musicians, including Doc Watson and Tony Rice. Its popularity has made it a staple at bluegrass and folk jam sessions.
Here is a table that outlines the main characteristics of “Red Haired Boy”:
|Key||D (A part), G (B part)|
|Notable Cover Artists||Doc Watson, Tony Rice, Norman Blake|
In conclusion, “Red Haired Boy” is a classic flatpicking tune that has withstood the test of time. Its memorable melody, use of crosspicking, and impressive display of improvisation make it a favorite among flatpickers and fans of bluegrass and folk music alike.
The Technique Involved in Flatpicking
Flatpicking is a guitar playing technique that has been used extensively in country music. It involves using a plectrum or guitar pick to strike the strings in a rapid, alternating motion. This technique creates a distinctive sound that is characterized by its crispness and clarity.
To master flatpicking, one must first develop a strong sense of rhythm. This involves practicing basic fingerpicking patterns and strumming techniques. Once the player has a good grasp of rhythm, they can begin to work on their right-hand technique, which is essential for flatpicking.
One of the keys to successful flatpicking is using the correct amount of pressure when holding the pick. It should be held firmly, but not so tightly that it hinders the player’s ability to move it fluidly across the strings. The pick should also be held at a slight angle to the strings, as this will help it to glide smoothly across them.
Another important aspect of flatpicking is the use of downstrokes and upstrokes. This technique involves striking the strings with the pick in a downward motion, and then quickly reversing direction and striking them in an upward motion. This creates a rapid, fluid motion that is essential for successful flatpicking.
In addition to the downstroke and upstroke technique, flatpicking also involves the use of alternate picking. This technique involves alternating between downstrokes and upstrokes in a rhythmic pattern. It can be a challenging technique to master, but it is essential for creating the distinctive sound of flatpicking.
Finally, flatpicking requires a good sense of timing and control. Players must be able to execute rapid movements with precision and accuracy, while maintaining a steady rhythm. This requires a great deal of practice and discipline, but it is well worth the effort for those who want to master this unique and rewarding technique.
Flatpicking is a guitar playing technique that is an essential part of many country music songs. To master flatpicking, players must develop a strong sense of rhythm, use the correct amount of pressure when holding the pick, and master downstrokes, upstrokes, alternate picking, timing, and control. With practice and dedication, anyone can become a skilled flatpicker and create the distinct sound that has become synonymous with country music.
As we conclude our journey through the world of flatpicking in country music, it is clear that this intricate guitar technique has had a profound impact on the genre. From the early roots laid down by The Carter Family to the complex solos played by modern day masters, flatpicking has been an integral part of country music for decades.
Through the works of legends such as Earl Scruggs and Doc Watson, we have explored the most famous flatpicking songs in the genre. These songs have stood the test of time and continue to inspire generations of musicians to pick up their guitar and play.
But beyond just the songs and artists, we have also delved into the technique itself. From the way the pick strikes the strings to the intricate finger movements, flatpicking is a technique that requires both skill and dedication to master.
Whether you’re a seasoned player looking to expand your horizons or a beginner just starting out, there’s no denying the impact that flatpicking has had on country music. So take some time to explore the songs and techniques discussed here, and join the rich tradition of flatpicking in country music.
Remember, it’s not just about playing the notes, it’s about capturing the soul and spirit of the music through your playing. With enough practice, dedication, and passion, anyone can become a great flatpicker and make their mark on the world of country music.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is flatpicking?
Flatpicking is a guitar-playing technique that involves using a flat pick to strum and pick the strings.
Who are some famous flatpicking guitarists?
Some notable flatpicking guitarists include Doc Watson, Tony Rice, and Bryan Sutton.
What are some common flatpicking techniques?
Common techniques include alternate picking, crosspicking, and sweep picking.
What kind of guitar is best for flatpicking?
A steel-string acoustic guitar is the most commonly used for flatpicking, but electric guitars can also be used with appropriate amplification.
What are high-volume keywords for flatpicking?
Some high-volume keywords for flatpicking include “flatpicking guitar,” “fingerstyle guitar,” and “bluegrass guitar.”
Do I need to know music theory to learn flatpicking?
While knowing music theory can be helpful, it is not necessary to learn flatpicking. Many successful flatpickers are self-taught.
Can I use fingerpicks for flatpicking?
While fingerpicks are not commonly used for flatpicking, some guitarists do use them in combination with a flat pick for a unique sound.
What is crosspicking?
Crosspicking is a flatpicking technique that involves playing a series of notes using a rolling pattern with the pick.
What is sweep picking?
Sweep picking is a flatpicking technique that involves using a smooth, sweeping motion to play a series of notes quickly and smoothly.
Can flatpicking be used in other genres besides country music?
Although flatpicking is most commonly associated with country music and bluegrass, it can be used in a variety of genres, including rock, folk, and jazz.