** As featured in issue 9 **
Welcome to this instalment of the rhythm method. In this rhythm guitar lesson I'm going to start a new series of lessons that look at funk guitar rhythm techniques. Funk playing crosses over many styles and genres and such guitarists as Nuno Bettencourt, Tom Morello, John Frusciante, Jimi Hendrix, Brian May and David Gilmour, to name but a few, have all crossed over into the territory. But let's not forget key artists in the genre, The Meters, James Brown, Michael Jackson, Chic, The Average White Band; all of whom have some classic and inspiring funk rhythm guitar parts to study.
To many inexperienced students, the idea of playing funk guitar means just full blown five and six string minor 7th chord voicings, often performed with lots of mutes and very un-dynamic in their effect. This isn’t me being disrespectful, it's just that in many years of teaching guitar I see the same issues arise again and again. There is a lot more to funk than that! When performing funk we often use simple partial chords that don’t take up too much of the mix, and also use a much lighter and more subtle rhythm technique. To get you into the idea I am going to present you with a series of practice rhythms that use different combinations of 16th notes, as well as some cool funk strum patter examples for you to practice.
First let's discuss the principle behind 1/16 note rhythms; there are four 1/16th notes to a ¼ note beat, meaning our beat is divided into 16 equal sub-divisions. These should be called 1e&a, 2e&a, 3e&a, 4e&a, as I always think it is important to be able to verbally say what you are playing. Something else you should understand is that the 1/16th notes can also be replaced with 1/16th note rests. Remember; you can rest or pause any subdivision you can play. Often when 1/16 note rests are used, and the strums fall on the off, or up beat, it’s called a syncopated rhythm, which is common practise in funk. Something else that I should point out before we look at the examples is that you need to understand basic strum directions, meaning what direction strum falls on the 1/16 note, or other divisions used within the strum pattern, so be sure you pay attention to those on the exercises.
Ex1 is just our basic 1/16th note rhythm, which I have explained the counting for. Try and keep the picking hand light and don’t dig the pick too far into the strings.
Ex2 is a very common pattern, with the first two 1/16 notes being replaced with an eighth note. Make sure you pay attention to the counting in the video and also the strum directions.
Ex3 is another common rhythm with the last two 1/16th notes being replaced with an 1/8th note.
Ex4 is a very tricky rhythm the 2nd and 3rd 1/16th notes being replaced with an 1/8 notes, giving us 1/16th, 1/8th, 1/16th. Again, pay attention to the strum directions as they will take a bit of getting use to.
Ex5 demonstrates two 1/16th notes performed on the first half of the beat, with the second half of the beat being replaced with an 1/8th note rest. This exercise is pretty straightforward, just be sure to cut off the final strum.
Ex6 is the reverse of the previous exercise, with the 1/8th note rest appearing on the first half of the beat. This type of rhythm is often associated with reggae as well as funk.
Ex7 is a very tricky rhythm, as we have replaced the 2nd and 3rd 1/16th notes with an 1/18 note rest, so you have to really pay attention to the rest, and muting so that we get a definite break between the rhythms.
Ex8 is a variation on Ex3, with this exercise including a 1/16th note rest for a very tight syncopated sound.
Ex9 is our first stylistic rhythm, where once again it is vital that you pay attention to the strum directions, as well as the rests.
Ex10 is another tricky rhythm that makes use of lots of rests, for a very syncopated feel. Once again pay attention to the different strum directions being used, and make sure that you really mute the strings where the rests appear.
Ex11 is our most syncopated idea yet, with lots of rests throughout. Beat one also includes a dotted rhythm. When a dot is added next to a rhythm it adds half the value on again. If we dot our 1/18 note it will last for three 1/16th notes.
Ex12 is our final exercise and although it doesn’t use rests, this one makes use of another technique call a tie. The tie literally joins the rhythms together.
So there we have our introduction to 1/16th note rhythms. These combinations of rhythms are pretty hard, and are made harder with the rests. Also as I have already mentioned, make sure you pay attention to the strum direction, and study them on the video.