Rhythm Workshop: Sliding Fourths

Crucial to the R&B sounds of Curtis Mayfield, Tamla-Motown and Hendrix ballads, these one-bar modules are essential when it comes to creating slinky, sexy, and soulful vibes.
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By now, you've probably realized that while Jimi Hendrix made ample use of all of the one-bar modules we’ve learned in the first three parts of this series, they have always been tools of the trade for a host of rhythm-and-blues originators that preceded him. In fact, this column could be accurately retitled “What would Curtis, Ike, Jimi, and a Slew of Tamla-Motown Guitarists Do?”

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One technique in our ongoing breakdown of Hendrix-style R&B rhythm guitar that we’ve neglected thus far is the sliding fourth interval. Equally crucial to the rhythm-and-blues of Curtis Mayfield, the Tamla-Motown sound in general, and Hendrix ballads, these one-bar modules are essential when it comes to creating slinky, sexy, and soulful vibes, from Mayfield’s “I’m So Proud,” and “Superbad,” to Jimi’s “Remember,” “One Rainy Wish,” and “(Have You Ever Been to) Electric Ladyland.”

Ex. 1 sets the template, mapping out seven distinct eighth-position phrasing possibilities in the key of C/Am on the first and second strings—a simple grace-note slide (bar 1); a grace slide and return (bar 2); a single sixteenth-note slide (bar 3); a sixteenth-note slide and return (bar 4); a pair of articulated ascending and descending sixteenth-note slides (bar 5); the same slides using ringing single notes (bar 6); and the same slide moves in reverse (bar 7). I know we’re talking slides here, but as a bonus, the last three bars show how most of these moves can also be hammered on and pulled off. Ex. 2 follows suit on the second and third strings and offers optional third-position fingerings on the first and second strings, while Examples 3 and 4 do the same on each lower pair of adjacent strings.

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The next four examples illustrate how to ride sets of sliding fourths down the same string set. Begin by sounding the C chord in Ex. 5a and playing the descending fourths, and then hit Am to confirm how the moves work for both chords. Follow suit for Examples 5b through 5d and memorize how the shapes and positions relate to eighth- and third-position C chords, as well as the fifth-position Am(7) shape.

Ex. 6a shows how to play similar moves on four different string sets. Try applying the moves from the previous examples in the same manner. Finally, Ex. 6b shows what happens when we transpose our fourths to the key of G, introduce a single third interval to the mix, and play it over a IVmaj7-IIIm7 progression, as in Curtis Mayfield’s classic soul ballad, “I’m So Proud.” (Fact: I use this fill on every Todd Rundgren tour that features the song.)

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Of course, you’ll want to transpose these moves to all keys, but you can also have a go at applying them modally to any of the remaining five chords diatonic to the key of C—Dm(7) for Dorian, Em(7) for Phrygian, F(maj7) for Lydian, G(7) for Mixolydian, and Bdim(Bm7b5) for Locrian sounds. A new world awaits!