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Slo Blues: Rhythm
from David Hamburger’s Blues Alchemy
Any player who has sat in with a band knows the importance of good rhythm accompaniment – however, many players spend their time working on lightning-fast licks instead. This month’s blues lesson, powered by David Hamburger’s Blues Alchemy TrueFire course, will help transform your thinking and playing, turning those leaden, everyday blues licks and chord progressions into tasty and intriguing improvisational gold.
Good blues technique is about learning to play the changes, but not in the sense that jazz musicians do – it isn’t about learning every arpeggio and mode under the sun. Instead, David Hamburger will teach you how to transform your blues bag into gold by learning how to target tones and “play the changes.”
Playing The Style
The slo blues is a blues in the style of B.B. King, with elements of early Buddy Guy and Albert King thrown in. It will be a straight 12-bar blues with I, IV, and V all being dominant chords.
As far as the idea behind it, if you imagine that you’re soloing on the quiet part of the slo blues, if there wasn’t a guitar player behind you, there might be a Hammond organ – a really high and thin, empty sound where the chords just sit there.
When playing backup on the slo blues, it’s best to start as simply as possible. You’ll just be using three chords – a version of C9 on the middle 4 strings, an F9 chord with the root on the 5th string and a G9 chord with a root on the 5th string. You Should try to keep things kind of quiet, moving your picking hand back a bit towards the bridge to keep things sounding clear. You might also want to give it a bit of a percussive approach, which is accomplished by allowing the chords to ring and letting your fingers relax off the fingerboard, but still touching the strings.
You may have noticed that more complex voicings like 9th chords sound better clean than distorted. If you don’t want to be dancing around on a bunch of stompboxes when you play, try this: run through a distortion pedal like the Ibanez Tube Screamer with the overdrive dialed all the way down, and leave it kicked in all the time. With your guitar’s volume and tone on 10, you’ll have all the bite you need for soloing, and when you roll the volume back to about 7, you’ll have a good level for rhythm playing and the sound will clean up just enough to let those 9th chords ring out.
To add some flavor to your slo blues, you can add some fast, tremolo-style strumming; for further examples, check out the title cut from the Buddy’s Guy album Stone Crazy (with brother Phil Guy on rhythm guitar), or Stevie Ray Vaughan’s playing on the song “Tin Pan Alley.” For that matter, Vaughan turns in a classic sliding-ninths performance on his B.B. King-inspired shuffle “Empty Arms.”
Most of the tremelo action happens on the 9th chords. It sounds smoother if, as you’re playing, you pull the pick in a bit, so you get mostly skin instead of pick. So instead of getting a brittle and harder-to-manage sound at high speed with the pick alone, holding the pick in a little bit and playing with the skin of your thumb or finger will sound much softer. You might want to accent a bit on the downbeats, and on the 4th beat.
That about does it for this month; next month we’ll keep with the blues rhythm theme, and look at some faster styles, like the Texas Shuffle.
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