Kaki King On Blending Rhythmic and Melodic Ideas

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ALTHOUGH KAKI KING’S LATESTRELEASE, Junior [Rounder], finds her largely exploring the rock band format, when playing unaccompanied on her Ovation Adamas 1581-KK Signature Model, she’s still one of the most compelling acoustic instrumental guitarists in the world. Part of King’s solo mojo is her ability to seamlessly blend distinct rhythmic and melodic ideas into a unified whole—or to put it in layman’s terms, she often sounds like she’s playing two guitars at the same time.


In order to explore the dual nature of Kaki’s magic King-dom, first cop one of her favorite tunings by dropping the low E and A strings of your guitar down to C and G respectively (C, G, D, G, B, E, low to high).

“I often rely on left-hand legato techniques to articulate melodies,” says King, while riffing on cascading major pentatonic phrases similar to Ex. 1. “Any time I have a ringing note, a hammer-on is pretty much a sure thing.” When practicing this, aim to sound all of the notes with lefthand hammer-ons as cleanly as possible. You can also try picking only the first note of the series with one of your right-hand fingers, as King sometimes does.


Ex. 2 is a Kingly two-bar accompaniment pattern that again relies on left-hand pull-offs. Notice how the right hand is playing on the fourth beat of the 2nd measure only. During these long periods of rests, King often taps the heel of her palm just above the sound hole for a percussive effect. In this case, the thumping is on beats two and four of the 1st measure and beat two of the 2nd measure.


As if the first two exercises weren’t challenging enough, Ex. 3 presents them both being played simultaneously—a daunting, but not impossible task if taken one step at a time. Start with the left-hand hammer on the two lowest strings, then quickly follow with a right-hand strum on the open high strings and a pull-off of what was just hammered with your left hand. Now switch gears slightly and use your left hand to articulate the melody notes with hammer-ons, while the right hand taps out the steady backbeat on the face of the guitar. Repeated slowly and regularly, these seemingly distinct musical phrases will soon begin to coalesce into a cohesive entity.