This week’s lesson is about blues rhythm guitar over a standard twelve bar blues form in A. One of the great things about blues music is the seemingly unlimited ways you can approach playing over such a simple progression. In this lesson I chose to focus on a more comping based approach to rhythm guitar. This approach is commonly heard by jazz influenced blues guitar players like Robben Ford and Larry Carlton. They use a lot more space and rhythmic accents and the voice leading is much more focused on melody than traditional blues rhythm guitar styles. This style of rhythm guitar is very fun and interesting to play because it blurs the lines between lead and rhythm guitar and gives the freedom to interact with what the other musicians are playing.
The first lick uses a few different rhythm guitar concepts. The pickup measure slides between two triads over A. These triads are the v- and vi- chords in the key of A (Em and F#m). This is an extremely common sound in many different genres like country and R&B. In blues music, the voicing used in this lick is the most common, but try playing the other close position triad voicings across the fretboard and through different keys. The next idea begins with a suspended dominant sound that grows into one of my favorite dominant chords.
The end of the lick shows a few more triad substitution options you have for dominant chords. It begins with a bIII major chord (Bb) which when played alone sounds pretty jarring over the A root, but works when put into the context of a line. It provides tension and a lot of drive back towards the tonic. The next triads are a bVII (G), iiidim (C# dim, a rootless A7), IV (D), and vi (Em). These all work because they contain chord tones from A7 and its extensions (9, 11, 13).
The second lick is an idea featuring the use of sixths intervals. Much like in my lesson on soul music, 6ths are a very commonly used rhythm guitar device. In this idea the sixths help highlight the change from A to D by accenting the change from C# (3rd of A) to C (7th of D). The lick ends with a chromatic walk up to a 9th voicing.
The third idea is another example of using triads in your rhythm playing. This idea uses the bIII (Bb) sound again as well as using the ii- (Bm) over the I chord (A).
The fourth lick is another example of how to use sixths. This time it is over the moving change between the V (E) and IV (D).
The final lick is a bluesy ending phrase that uses double stops. This is a good example of an idea that can fit over many different styles of music. With a more aggressive picking hand it would easily work as a country guitar ending! I find the ending chromatic walk down in thirds to be a particularly useful bit of vocabulary because it is an easy way to his all of the main chord tones of a dominant chord (1, 3, b7, 9).
That’s it for this lesson! Definitely check out some Robben Ford and Larry Carlton this week. Especially the way they play behind vocalists and other soloists! They are both great at playing for the song and helping highlight whatever the soloist is playing.