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Funky Child Rhythm
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from Jeff McErlain’s Blues Rock: Evolution
This month we’re going to approach rhythm playing from a funk perspective, as opposed to a bluesy one. “Funky Child” is a fast-paced song that channels a little bit of Jimi in its low-end groove and sparse chording ala “Voodoo Child.” As we explore this song, we’ll have the chance to work on our right hand rhythms and timing.
One of the first things you’ll notice is the bass-heavy nature of the first few bars – we do this for several reasons. The first is essentially a vibe thing. Imagine playing this low, quick line perfectly in step with a bassist; it gives the song a real sense of groove and propulsion. Of course, it will take a lot of practice to lock in that kind of feel with another musician, but once you get it, you’ll be hooked.
Playing down low also gives us a lot of opportunities to expand later on – it lays a good, simple base to build upon when you’re ready to start expanding it into a solo, or even just more complex rhythm lines. The third reason we start off “Funky Child” with this kind of undercover line is that it stays out of the way of the singer or soloist. As they build up, you can build with them by moving to a higher register, for example. This build-up may not happen until the end of the song, but you’ve set the proper base to put it all in motion. Remember that you always need to follow what the leader of the band is doing; if you don’t, you’ll sound like the guy who shouldn’t be there.
So let’s look at the opening line itself and how it’s played. It’s all based around the E minor pentatonic, starting off with a low E and G on the bottom E string. From there you’ll move to the 5th string, for a D and a E before hitting a quarter-step bend on the low E string. The bend gives the line a little bit of that bluesy feel, although for the most part it’s very simple and very minimal – we’re working with only three notes through the repeated motif (four if you count the short slide to a B at the end of the entire line). But while the notes themselves might seem simple, the tough part about this lesson lies in the groove. This line has to move, it needs urgency, and that ultimately comes from the right hand. While we’re playing continuous 16th notes – your right hand should never stop moving – you’ll want to practice palm muting to break things up.
When we move to the G and the A chords, we’re doing exactly what Hendrix did on “Voodoo Child.” We actually omit parts of both chords in these measures; we play the 3rd and 5th of the G chord (B and D) and the root and 3rd of the A chord (A and C#). This gives both chords an “undefined” feeling, which resolves strongly when we return to our main riff. Note that even during the chords you should keep your hand moving in 16th note patterns; use your palm to break up the rhythms.
Practice your rhythms with a metronome and get that groove locked in. Next month we’ll look at a solo that will fit right over the top of this groove.
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