“Old Town Road” from Lil Nas X was probably the biggest song of the summer in 2019.
For that reason, there’s no question that a lot of people out there want to learn how to play it.
“Old Town Road” is a trap song that adds some country elements, notably, the four chords in it strummed on the banjo and then the vocals of Billy Ray Cyrus.
Whether or not you think it’s a country or trap, I’m going to show you how to play this super simple song today, and I’ll also show you how to improvise over it as well.
by the way, if you’re trying to get a better grasp of guitar chords, scales, tunings, and techniques in the most efficient, practical, and convenient way possible, I couldn’t recommend Guitar Tricks enough. It’s the learning platform I use and you can sign up here for free.
Ultimate-Guitar’s tab of the song, which you can check out on their website, has the song in the Key Of Ab Major and with a capo on the fourth fret, however, this seems like an overly complicated way of playing the tune.
If you’re anything like me, you don’t like to use a capo.
Let’s jump into how to play the song and jam over it without using a capo.
How To Play Lil Nas X’s track, “Old Town Road.
The foundational chords of Lil Nas X’s song, “Old Town Road,” are the following:
G# Minor, B Major, F# Major, and Open E Major.
However, the chords aren’t played the way they normally are, instead, they’re played in such a way where the distance between the notes is much larger.
In other words, the tablature/sheet music of the track looks a lot like what you can see in the image below:
Just learn how to play those four chords and that’s all you have to know to understand the entire song.
The song repeats those four chords over and over again, so it’s not hard to get the rhythm down.
How To Improvise Over “Old Town Road” from Lil Nas X
The key signature of the song is G# Minor.
“Old Town Road” isn’t harmonically complex on account of the fact there are only four chords in the entire track. It’s a great song to jam over because of this.
While there are many, many different scales and arpeggios to play over a piece of music, I’ll show you around 5-7 different licks, that way you have a nice jumping-off point.
The first one, of course, is the trusty G# Minor Blues Scale, which looks like this:
I would recommend becoming familiar with this scale first, if you aren’t already, because it’s the easiest to play, and most people recognize the sound of the blues scale.
Explained in another way, most people like to hear sounds and progressions they’ve already heard before, so if you want something easy to play that sounds good, the blues scale is always a good choice.
So, if you want to impress all of your non-musician friends, jamming out on the blues scale is enough.
Musicians will be less impressed, however.
Of course, this shape is movable, so you can play it on the 16th Fret G# as well, which looks like what’s shown in the image below:
A good thing to do is to start jamming in G# Minor using the blues scale and then slide up to the 16th fret and play it up there as well. It’s super easy to do and it sounds great.
You could easily just play that over and over again and most people would dig it.
Another thing that you can play is the following G# Minor arpeggio, which looks a lot like this:
This is a tricky arpeggio for beginners to learn how to play, however, with some practice, you’ll be able to get it down in no time.
You can also play the same G# Minor arpeggio on the 16th fret.
Or you can play it another way such as this:
When it comes to minor arpeggios, you can also play the Minor 7th arpeggio as well whenever a song utilizes a minor chord or is in a minor key.
A G# Minor 7th arpeggio is just a regular minor arpeggio along with an additional note on it, the 7th.
The Minor 7th arpeggio looks like what you can see in the image below:
Here’s how that looks starting on the 16th Fret:
Perhaps my favorite arpeggio to jam with is the Major 7th arpeggio.
I use this a lot to start a jam session because it sounds super cool and I like the way it feels on my fingers.
The E Major 7th Arpeggio looks like this:
This next arpeggio is the Bbm7b5 arpeggio, which has a Diminished 5th interval that might sound a bit odd to the average listener’s ear.
However, if you learn how to play it fast, you can start with it and then quickly transition into another scale which sounds dope.
The trick with certain musical phrases is to understand that it doesn’t have to be technically “correct,” to sound good.
The Bbm7b5 Arpeggio looks like what’s shown in the image below:
Another scale or shape that you can play over this song is the following scale shape, the B Major Scale. It looks like this:
Technically, you could also play the B Major 7th Arpeggio with it as well and it would also sound pretty cool.
Another thing that you can play over this song is the G# Harmonic Minor scale, which is quite similar to the G# Natural Minor scale, however, it has a sharped 7th degree, which gives it that “exotic” feel.
People often refer to the Harmonic Minor scale as having a “Spanish” sound to it.
It’s important to note that this isn’t technically “correct,” so if you play something like this with the song, understand that some people aren’t going to like it that much.
If you’re the type of person who has a particular taste for this scale, you might like it.
When it comes to playing notes that aren’t actually in key with the song, and technically don’t “work,” It’s best to use them as fast passing tones, where you don’t dwell on the note.
One thing you can do is land on the improper note and quickly bend up to the next note which is actually in the song’s key.
This is a common tactic that all kinds of players in all kinds of genres employ, however, I got the idea from Emil Werstler, the lead guitar player for the death metal band, Daath.
So here is what that scale looks like:
You can see that I highlighted the sharped seventh-degree with the red arrow. That’s the note that gives it its special flavor and sound. Remember what I said above, it’s a note that you throw in there for fun, and you don’t dwell on it for a long time.
Anyway, I would say that this was enough for you to play with this song, so have fun and practice everything until you’re fully comfortable with it.
If you’re trying to learn how to play over songs, I recommend checking out this article here.
Check out the YouTube video tutorial as well, so you can get a feel for the song and get an extra perspective or anything that I missed in the written tutorial.
YouTube Video Tutorial
That’s all for this tutorial today. I hope this was helpful to you. I’d appreciate it a lot if you shared this on your social media so I can get those extra views and shares.