** As featured in issue 6 **
For this instalment of The Rhythm Method guitar lesson, we're going to take a look at a rock/blues guitar shuffle. Although I've chosen ZZ Top as our source of inspiration this month, other such classic rock bands as Deep Purple and Whitesnake are also renowned for crossing over Blues into Rock in the form of a shuffle. I am not for one moment looking to make this column all about Blues guitar, and that’s why this month's track has a more Rock feel to it, but being able to play a shuffle well in any musical genre is a tricky thing and needs to be studied. Also the general rhythm guitar playing technique, controlling the picking hand, keeping the timing tight, and being accurate with the picking hand. Playing a lazy feeling shuffle can sometimes make your technique sloppy and we need to keep things clean and controlled, especially with this month's example piece.
To start with, let's look at the technical approaches used this month. First of all, how we construct the riff. This month's riff is based around the concept of playing notes of a pentatonic scale in pairs on adjacent strings. This concept should be familiar to most if not all guitarists, that is if you’ve ever played “Smoke on the Water” or “Burn”. We can expand on this idea and perform the entire scale across the entire fingerboard in diatonic 3rd’s and 4th’s. If you start to experiment with the scale in this way you will hear pretty quickly the melodic possibilities that open up to you, and you can also hear how relatively easy it is to come up with cool sounding riffs pretty quickly. You should instantly start to hear famous riffs under your fingers and for a demonstration of this check out the video lesson.
Now let's look at the shuffle technique and how it differs from normal straight rhythm. The idea of a shuffle, or a swung rhythm as it is sometimes called, is that the 1st half of the beat is slightly longer than the 2nd, giving it an uneven swing feel. A beat can be made to have an uneven feel that doesn’t swing, so it's important that when you practice playing a shuffle, you base it around a triplet feel, which means you count 1 2 3, on each beat. If we look at an eighth note triplet, you can see that it is made up from three eighth notes. Two eighth notes are the same as one quarter note, so if we replace the first two eighth notes of the triplet with a quarter note, we have one eighth note left, resulting in a quarter note/eighth note rhythm, or a broken triplet. This will give use our swing feel. Once again be sure to check this out in the video.
Now let's take a look at our piece, and the form of the track. The rack is made up of three different sections; A, B and C sections. The A section is our main riff and is based around a figure based around the G minor pentatonic performed on pairs of strings. The tricky thing about this riff is keeping the swing rhythm consistent as you swap between the doubled notes of the scale and the G root note performed on the 3rd fret of the 6th string. This section also includes the blues based chords of C5-C6, Eb5-Eb6 and Bb5-Bb6. The A section is repeated several times, but the final time I have included a couple of inversions, just to add variation, and also include an idea that we have seen in a previous lesson, to see how these ideas will continue to appear in your playing and not just in a lesson here!
The B section kicks off with the Eb5-Eb6 chords, plus a higher register Gm7, performed with a tight triplet rhythm palm muted root note. The section concludes with a heavily accented D7#9 that follows the bass and drums, before leading back into the A section.
The C section is something a little different and I wanted to demonstrate some movement with chords over a static root note. This idea is reminiscent of something the Ritchie Blackmore would have played. For this section I have chosen to treat our G tonal centre as a V chord, giving the track a bluesy dominant feel. As G is now a V chord for this section, it is being seen as the V chord of C major. With in any key there are three major chords, three minor chords and one diminished chord. The major chords are constructed on the I, IV and V of the scale, and in the key of C major these are C, F and G major respectively. It is possible to imply the sound of any mode by performing the I, VI and V triads over the top of the root of the chosen mode, in this instance we shall perform C, F and G major over the G root, resulting in C/G and F/G, and giving us a strong Mixolydian sound.
As you can see from the above, and also our video, this month’s track has quite a bit going on, but the end result should prove very rewarding. Be sure to pay attention to the tone suggestions in the video! Good luck!