3 Famous Country Guitar Riffs You Should Know

It’s September 2022 and we, at JamPlay, are putting a special emphasis on learning country music. One of the most fun ways to start learning country guitar is to focus on the most recognizable melodies, rhythms, and chord progressions from the songs we love. This is why learning guitar riffs can feel so rewarding!

In this blog, we’ll be taking a look at songs from three famous country music artists, and the famous riffs that accompany them. Saddle up, and let’s ride!

1. “El Paso” by Marty Robbins – Country Guitar Riff

Marty Robbins
NBC Television, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Marty Robbins‘ 1959 hit, “El Paso” is a true ode to the Wild West. The song’s lyrics are from the perspective of a cowboy in El Paso, Texas. The young man finds love, faces betrayal, challenges his foes to gunfights, and rides away on a stolen horse. It doesn’t get too much more “Wild West” than that! The song as a whole was critically acclaimed; just two years after its release, it won the GRAMMY Award for Best Country & Western Recording.

There’s no doubt that the arrangement of this song aided in its widespread success. One of the most recognizable features of its arrangement, amongst many others, is a steel string acoustic country guitar riff that masterfully compliments Marty Robbins’ wistful vocal melodies. In Tyler Grant’s full JamPlay song lesson, you’ll learn how to play all of the guitar parts on “El Paso” exactly how you hear them on the record. What are you waiting for? Check out this country guitar lesson!


2. “It’s Time You Learned About Good-bye” by Alan Jackson – Country Guitar Riff

Alan Jackson
Cindy Funk, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Though it may not be as popular as “It’s Five ‘O Clock Somewhere,” Alan Jackson’sIt’s Time You Learned About Good-bye” is the perfect vessel for some good ‘ole country guitar lead playing. Lyrically, the song follows a male protagonist whose love interest has been fair-weather at best. The protagonist expresses his disembarking from the relationship, and thus his former lover must “learn about good-bye.”

Compositionally, the lead electric guitar parts return to similar melodic themes throughout the song, but none of the lines are technically the same. So, it may be more fair to classify these lead guitar parts as licks and solos. However, they do occupy space into which a catchy riff could easily be worked. JamPlay educator, David Wallimann gives us a demo and an overview of the song in this video. But, you can learn all of the guitar parts verbatim (including the guitar solo) in his full “It’s Time You Learned About Good-bye” song lesson.

3. “Mama Tried” by Merle Haggard – Country Guitar Riff

Merle Haggard
Country Music Association, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Merle Haggard is one of country music’s all-time best contributors. He boasted 38 number-one hits between 1960 and 1980, and was awarded some of the highest musical honors one can receive (a GRAMMY Award being amongst them). His 1968 song, “Mama Tried” was amongst his greatest hits, peaking at number one on the US country music charts. This song was also awarded the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1999, and has been professionally covered by dozens of other popular artists. The song tells the tale of the widowed mother of the song’s protagonist. Despite the protagonist’s mother’s efforts to raise him “right,” he ultimately ends up turning to a life of crime and becoming incarcerated. These lyrics are supposedly loosely based on Merle’s own experience; he had a troubled childhood following his father’s death and spent some time in prison as an adult.

Compositionally, this track features a couple guitar riffs that are essential to the song’s recognizability. An acoustic guitar arpeggiates the song’s chord progression, while an electric guitar wails the song’s main riff. In his full “Mama Tried” country guitar lesson, D.J. Phillips breaks down all of the important guitar parts in this song. Check it out here!

Want to learn more songs on guitar? Check out JamPlay.com! JamPlay has over 450 guitar courses from 120+ instructors, and online guitar lessons tailored to every skill level, music genre, and playing style. Click here to learn more.

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