Rhythm Workshop: Rhythmic Equality for All

Take a single rhythmic motif and apply it at various tempos to both chords and single-notes in a half-dozen different musical genres.
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FOR THE PAST TWO MONTHS, WE’VE concentrated on applying sixteenth-note rhythms to funk and soul vamps. But guess what? All of these rhythms are applicable to any style of music. This month, we take a single rhythmic motif—including its cutshort and full-duration versions (and combinations of both)—and apply it at various tempos to both chords and single-notes in a half-dozen different musical genres. 

Ex. 1a presents the staccato version—a sixteenth-to-eighth-to-sixteenth motif on beat one, a sixteenth-rest-to-sixteenth-plus eighth on beat two, and a single eighth-note hit on the downbeat of beat three. Ex. 1b shows the full-length version, which sustains each hit for its fullest value, sans rests, while Ex. 1c combines elements of both variations.

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The two-bar, IIm7-Imaj7 figure illustrated in Ex. 2 utilizes Ex. 1a and echoes our previous funk and soul apps, but its slower tempo lends itself well to pop and R&B ballads. Repeat as shown, and then add one bar each of Ebmaj7, Dm7, Cm7, Bbmaj7, Abmaj7, and Bb6 to create a slow and sultry version of Todd Rundgren’s “Hello It’s Me.” (Tip: Try playing this and all of the following examples with both straight and swing sixteenth-note feels.)


In Ex. 3, we graft single-notes and an oblique bend (all derived from the C pentatonic major scale) to the full- length version of our versatile Ex. 1b motif, and out comes a cool, two-bar country lick. Hold the bend and barred pinky notes on beat three of bar 1—note how this creates a first-inversion C triad—and let everything ring as you cross into bar 2, arpeggiate the notes in reverse, and release the bend.


Ex. 4’s jazzy chord-melody snippet features a different chord on every hit, and works well to approach the IV chord in a jazz/ blues setting in the key of A. (Tip: Starting the phrase on beat three allows you to hit the D9 chord on the downbeat of the next measure. Drop this version into bar 4 of a 12-bar blues progression.) Here, we’re II-V-ing into the IV chord (D9) with an Em7-A13 progression embellished with two chromatic passing chords, Bb13 and Eb9, the latter of which is the enharmonic equivalent of A7#5.

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Ex. 5 recasts the rhythm from Ex. 1a as a one-bar Latin-flavored ostinato, perfect for backing up a fiery percussion solo. We begin with a descending F major arpeggio on beat one, reverse it during beat two, and add thirds harmony to imply C and G chords on the last two hits.


Ex. 6 takes three notes from the fifth-position A blues box—the b7 (G), the root (A), and the b3/#9 (C)—and bends and shapes them into a gnarly Jeff Beck-style blues-rock lick. Observe the held bend, staccato G, and pre-bent A as you dig in hard.


What happens when you assign a descending open-position E pentatonic minor scale to the motif in Ex. 1c and play it with a gigantor attitude? Ex. 7, that’s what. Bar 2 of this Zeppelin-worthy riff is identical, except for a full-step gradual bend to A on the and of beat two, and the A5 chord on beat three.


Ex. 8 takes more of a straight-ahead blues approach to Ex. 1b, with a pair of grace-note slides and a grace-hammer-on applied to a classic, open-position John Lee Hooker lick in E. This is one that definitely plays well with others.


So there you have it: One basic rhythm applied to six different musical styles. We’ll sign off with Ex. 9, which reveals my source for this month’s rhythm. That’s right, it’s a Charleston-era tag ending! Feel free to insert any sound or sound effect on beat four. (Tip: I like to drag the B string around the back of the neck a la Steve Vai, but a nice razz-berry works just as well.) Now go back and view the last two episodes of Rhythm Workshop from a brand new perspective.