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Cowboy Guitar

by league

28 Jul 2009
Views: 45088

Cowboy Guitar

Hello everyone. I am not one for giving lessons because I hate to tab out the guitar examples. However, there is a new Mp3 feature that I think complements the tab perfectly, therefore, I deem the site worthy of this lesson. This lesson is an intro to the roots of American pastoral music or "Cowboy Music."

First of all let's give little history lesson I will enjoy(and hope you will too) since I am studying to be a history major.

When European settlers arrived in the continent of America, they brought with them their musical culture and instruments, among other things. Guitars were not at all popular instruments in English speaking countries at the time, (c.1780) especially since the instrument was primarily developed in Spain and Italy. The piano was the popular choice of instrument in most of Europe. Meanwhile, the Banjo, Mandolin, and Fiddle were gaining popularity in the U.S.A.

At relatively the same period of colonial history, Spain and Portugal were sending a Crusade of Europeans to what is now Latin America. Consequentially, the Modern Guitar or Spanish Guitar (Guitarra Latina) was introduced to the natives as well as to other European settlers who engaged in trade.

The ensuing musical styles varied from Argentina to Mexico to the Southwest U.S.A. Although all styles were unique they were relatively similar according to area or region. For example the Baguala, a form of pastoral music, is shared between Argentina and Uruguay. This was of course due to the fact that borders were not defined, as a result people identified themselves by regional culture. Another example is the Ranchera, which I will also be introducing in this lesson due to it's influence on Southwest American music.

The Ranchera is a wide style of Spanish and European influenced music that is particular to Mexico and the Southwest U.S.A.

The Ranchera operates on the premise that it is simple and it is played on guitar(This would eventually variate). The guitar is almost always accompanied by singing or group chanting and subject matter include ranching lifestyle,romance,politics and sometimes war or conflict.

Meanwhile a similar approach to music was adopted in the Western Frontier of the U.S.A. Eventually both styles met and were mutually influenced.

After the annexation of the Mexican session the Ranchero or Vaquero influence changed into the "Cowboy" Music was no exception. The style similarities are evident in Country in the U.S.A. and Nortenas(Of the North) in Mexico and other folk music. TEX-MEX is a good example of this fusion/cross-influence.

Musical Structure

I had stated that this music was developed on the premise of simplicity.
Most "Cowboy" songs are in 4/4 time and 3/4 time and typically employ 3, 4, or 5 chords which are usually all major, minor and sevenths.

The most important thing to remember is that every beat is meant to be played, whether it be as a pedal note, bass note, or strum on the guitar.

Remember Simplicity

The chords most employed are E, A, B, D, and G. Other chords typically employed are all the open major, minor, and Dominant 7 chords. Since the songs and knowledge were passed on by word of mouth and hands on instruction, the aforementioned chords were probably the only ones the musicians knew. Regardless of whether this is true, the song structures remained similar in any part of the region.
The chord structure is typically a Major Triad

V-I-ii or E, A, B.

This style is still prominent in Country and Blues.

The Form of Execution

The Structure is Verse-Chorus-Verse with the same chords in the chorus, the progression never changes until the end when a quick B-E or ii-v ends the song in resolution.

The bass strings which are the low E and A strings are essential to the strumming pattens.

I will use the chords E A B for this example on 4/4 time.

The technique involves using the thumb to pluck the low E(except when playing a B chord)on the first beat of the bar. The second beat involves strumming the beat using all fingers of the strumming hand in unison as a downward motion. The third beat will involve plucking the A string with the thumb then strumming out the chord on the downbeat or fourth beat Each chord will only cover one bar.


That is one bar.
The strumming pattern is the same throughout except when playing a chord that usually excludes the low E string, like B which in it's case the pattern will switch down one whole string starting on the A string.

That is found throughout the region and has influenced Country and Blues.

A Mexican Ranchera song typically referred to as Mariachi would be almost entirely the same except the B would be a Dominant Seventh. The Dominant Seventh is essential to this type of music and is used to resolve to a major or minor chord on a chorus. The singing style is usually a rolling of notes similar to a string bend or a Blue note. Each chord carries the voice and many times the singing will be monotonous until the chord change. Sometimes Chromaticism is used to switch between diatonic chords.


Sometimes the differences are only strumming patterns but take a listen at Metallica's Nothing Else Matters and you'll here this being employed.
Minor to Seventh

Seventh to Major

Seventh to Minor

Another type of song is the Mexican "Corrido" which uses the same execution as the previous song in terms of strumming but the song structure is less traditional in terms with European song structure. It includes a 7th chord in a bridge to resolve to the major chord of the next verse. This type of song does not have a chorus it is simply verse after verse telling some sort of story usually about Vaqueros(Cowboys). Essentially it is a ballad. The ballad styles in the Southern U.S. are very similar except they exclude the seventh chords and tend to use Major instead into a chorus.

Typical Mexican Resolution

Typical Country Resolution



NarcoCorrido NarcoCorrido


haha Los Tucanes de Tijuana!


Great lesson League! Thanks for posting it, I really like the typical blues/country styles of playing more then other genre personally, so as you can imagine I found this helpful. For me, even the history lesson was fun!

If I hadn't already given you a karma for 'PETOG' I would have done for you creating this lesson :]


Epic effort m8. Really helpful for composing. Major and minor to seventh and seventh to minor are pure favorites. I think I study that little more... Thanks again, great lesson.



oh, and btw. I really enjoyed that history stuff. One of my favorite guitarists moved to singapore and live there for 7 or was it 8 years just to understand where that "regional" rhythm is based.

"The most important thing to remember is that every beat is meant to be played, whether it be as a pedal note, bass note, or strum on the guitar"

Good point of view to think start of composing..

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