Put More Funk in Your Rhythm Playing

Jesse Gress teaches you how to inject a bit more funk into your rhythm playing.
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ARE YOU READY FOR A REAL WORKOUT? Our last stop on the soul train focused on single, double, and triple sixteenth-note motifs, and utilized static dominant-seventh- based chords (which, of course, can be applied to any of the following examples) to form some funky I- and IV-chord vamps. This month we’ll travel into deeper rhythmic and harmonic territories. So let’s get to it.


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The collection of grids in Fig. 1 groups five different two-chord diatonic and modal chord progressions covering major, minor, and dominant tonalities (Imaj7-IIm7, IVmaj7- IIIm7, Im7-Im6 [IV9], I7sus4-I7, and IIm7- V7), into sets of threes, with each pair of chords voiced on different strings. The first row transfers a Imaj7-IIm7 progression across three string sets (up in fourths), and the second row follows suit, but recasts the chords as a descending IVmaj7-IIIm7 progression. The third and fourth rows feature all the grips you’ll need to set up a slew of funky Im7-Im6 (or Im7-IV9) and I7sus4-I7 grooves. Finally, we add one extra set of voicings to the IIm7(9)-V7(13) progressions in row five. Get comfy with each pair individually, and then play through all of them back-to-back for one bar each to form a pretty cool 32-bar progression. (Recognize any songs in there?)


Here’s the drill: Choose a two-chord progression from Fig. 1, establish a tempo, and apply both to any of the sixteenth-based rhythms in Examples 1a through 1i to establish a two-chord vamp. The idea here is to play the first chord on the first pass and the second chord on the repeat of each measure. You can vamp indefinitely, or move on to each subsequent example and/or chord set. We begin with two full sets of sixteenth-notes played on beats one and two (Ex. 1a), and then progressively displace the second set one sixteenth at a time until we hit the bar line in Ex. 1i. Be sure to observe the picking notation, and follow through on any rest with inaudible pick strokes or muted “chicks.” For extra credit, play all examples with a swing-sixteenth feel, and try embellishing the first chord in each measure with a grace-note slide from a half-step lower.


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Got the idea? Now let’s mix it up. You can get a lot of mileage out of any one-bar rhythmic motif simply by adding, deleting, or moving notes. For instance, Ex. 2a features a propulsive, three-note rhythm suitable for a wide range of tempos (Tip: Try starting it on beat two), while Ex. 2b adds a pair of syncopated hits to the second half of the measure. And check out how the nine hits in Ex. 2c are stripped down to six in Ex. 2d. Ex. 3a delays the third hit from Ex. 2a by one eighth-note and extends it by two beats, while Ex. 3b adds the same pair of syncopations from Ex. 2b. The variation of Ex. 1e in Ex. 3c’s “Shaft”- like vamp (Tip: Try it with IVmaj7-IIIm7) displaces the first four-note grouping by a half beat, and Ex. 3d reverses the two-beat motifs from Ex. 2b. Finally, each motif in Examples 4a through 4d begins on beat two as we gradually reduce the amount hits per bar from seven to four.

For a serious rhythmic and harmonic workout, select any one of the previous rhythms and use it to vamp on each pair of chords from Fig. 1 in sequence over the course of 32 bars. Bored with that? Record it all and practice soloing over it! And remember, if you’re not walkin’ in rhythm, you’re just walking!