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Jamie Humphries – The Rhythm Method Part 6: ‘Playing with Space’

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 7 **

Welcome to another instalment of the Rhythm Method. Over the past few rhythm guitar lessons we have looked at different feels, chord types, and approaches to playing rhythm guitar. In this issue we are going to look at sparse guitar chord voicings, and the use of space.

Often you’ll hear your favourite guitarist playing very minimal chord voicings, and often playing very little, and making use of space with in a track. One of the biggest mistakes that I have found over the years of teaching guitar is that the novice always feels the need to play, and often doesn’t realise that using space is much more effective than simply strumming all the way through a part. I always tell students to check out the rhythm playing of Steve Cropper on the Booker T and the MG’s track ‘Green Onions’ for a great example of using space, and keeping voicings sparse. Another reason why I urge students to practise rhythm parts like this is to also improve timing. You will find it much more difficult to keep things in time when there is more space between the times that you strike the chords, which will ultimately improve timing. To keep things in a familiar genre, this months track is still based around a blues style track, and borrows ideas from the classic BB King track ‘The Thrill Has Gone’.

The track is based around the key of B minor, and consists of an A and B section, with the form of the track being A,A,B,A. The feel of this month’s track is straight and the tempo is slow so be sure that you count in time when playing the stabs on the chords. Let’s now break the track down and kick things off with the A section. The progression is based around B minor 7th, E minor 7th, F# minor 7th, G major 7th, and F# altered. The rhythm part is based around these chords and relies more on partial chords or chord fragments to outline the progression. Also, as I have mentioned before, the rhythm for this track is very sparse with a single chord hit on beats two and four, where the snare drum falls. This makes a great excerise in counting, and some of you may find the long gaps between chords quite hard to count and get in time. On the 1st bar of the rhythm part our partial chord/triad is slid up by a tone, adding extra chordal and tonal colour.

Another technique to pay attention to here is how the chords are linked together, and this is demonstrated in the video lesson. The chords make use of common or shared tones, which is a compositional technique that tries where possible to leave static notes between chords when changing from one chord to the next. Another technique used here is close voice leading. Again this is a compositional technique that tries to shift notes as little as possible when changing from one chord to the next, give a smooth and musical change. You will notice with many classical composer and arrangers that the movement from one chord to the next is often very slight, moving notes from one chord the minimal amount to be able to change to the next chord in the progression. I have tried to employ this technique through out this piece, and I would urge you to expand on it when trying to come up with your own variations on the chords found in this study piece. The B section uses all of the chords already used, with a slight alteration in order, but also includes the D major chord. Once again the same techniques apply as in our previous section, with minimalistic rhythm approaches and small shifts between chords to keep the changes musical. To conclude this lesson, I want to close with this thought. Just because we have six strings - seven in some cases - on our guitar, it doesn’t mean that we have to use all of them at one time! To my ears, full barre chords that cover lots of string are both ugly and cluttered. I very rarely use these shapes, although I obviously know them, because to my ears they fill too much space. Remember the bassist will cover the low end, and we can have a much more musically satisfying performance by implying other types of chord extension and harmony with more minimal chords, that are much more musical and pro guitar sounding.

Listen to the rhythm chops on ‘Walking on the Moon’ by The Police. You don’t hear Andy Summers playing huge six string barre shapes. Instead he crafts his memorable rhythm part with chords that use just two or three strings. This month’s track is a pretty basic example of these techniques, but when practising strip this back and try playing the rhythm part against a metronome, to see if you are bang in time; I think some of you may be surprised! Practise this well, and you will improve your sense of rhythm and play much tighter rhythm parts!


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