• Understand the basics of funk guitar.
• Create two- and three-note
voicings that imply dominant
and minor harmony.
• Learn how to account for every
16th-note in the measure.
Click here to download the sound clips from this lesson.
Do yourself a favor and get a copy of
James Brown’s In the Jungle Groove
today. If you’re into funk guitar, this is a
must-have album with a small army of guitar
players throwing down some über-hip
lines and parts. Even if you aren’t into funk
guitar, this is still an essential album. Get
it anyway and show your friends that your
taste in music is not monochromatic.
This album is a compilation recorded
between September 1969 and July 1971
when Brown’s band was undergoing some
dramatic personnel changes. By “dramatic,”
I mean that his entire band quit in 1970.
Jimmy “Chank” Nolen, a staple of Brown’s
band from 1965–1970, and Alphonso
Kellum appear on the earlier recordings
while Phelps “Catfish” Collins and Hearlon
Martin team up for the later session dates.
Funk guitar requires you to play a part
that interlocks with drums, bass, and horns.
Most of what you’re playing is only one or
two measures long and you have to play it
in the pocket for a long, long time—like
six minutes or more. That can be an eternity
onstage at the local sports bar, when
it’s tempting to check out and stare at the
103" plasma TV.... but I digress. I’ve played
many funk tunes over the years, but it’s
always good to go back and really check
out what pieces make up a style of playing.
What voicings and rhythms will sound
funky when I put them back together?
Harmonically, funk leans heavily on partial
dominant 7 and minor 7 chords and their
related Mixolydian and Dorian modes. The
chord voicings in Fig. 1 are built with only
two or three notes, and can include the 6 and
9 from the Mixolydian mode. Fig. 2 shows
the minor voicings, again with only two or
three notes, adding the 9 and 6 from the
Dorian scale. You’re playing the essential notes
of the chord and using the extensions to give
your voicings a little melody. There’s a lot of
other things going on with the bass line, horn
line, and drums, so smaller, lighter chord
voicings won’t get in the way. Single-note
lines are typically derived from the minor
pentatonic scale and used to outline the
chord. We’ll explore those in later examples.
On the rhythm side of things, the 16thnote
subdivision is king. I suppose you don’t
get the nickname “chank” without being able
to scratch out some funky 16th-note rhythms.
To strum 16th-note grooves, you use the same
“down-up-down-up” patterns as eighth-note
strumming, just twice as fast. But remember
you’re counting “one-e-and-ah” and the downstrokes
fall on the “one” and the “and” while
the upstrokes are on the “e” and the “ah.”
Fig. 3 shows some common rhythms (for
chords or single-note lines) that emphasize
the downstrokes, or the “one” and the “and”
of the beat. These are based out of a dominant
sound and can work over any flavor of
G7. We use a basic minor voicing for the
rhythms in Fig. 4. These are a bit more syncopated
and focus on more upstroke rhythms.
As always, start at a slow tempo so
you can think through all the “down-up”
motions and count “one-e-and-ah” at the
same time. If the “e” and the “ah” are hard
to keep track of, “doc-tor-pep-per” works
well too ... seriously, it does. Sliding into a
chord voicing is another piece of the funk
guitar pie and Fig. 5 shows a couple of possibilities
à la “Catfish” Collins.
Once you’ve got a handle on the characteristic
voicings and rhythms, give the next
two examples a try. I employed a catch-all,
schizophrenic method that incorporates
most of the voicings and rhythms, adding
single-note pentatonic lines in places. Funk
guitar parts are not necessarily this busy. (In
fact, I would definitely get thrown off the
bus for playing stuff like this.)
Fig. 6 starts with a two-measure D minor
pentatonic line and goes into another twomeasure
phrase that uses the Dm-Dm6-
Dm7 combination with a little pentatonic
action thrown in for good measure.
Fig. 7 is a little longer. It starts with some
G7 combinations involving two- and threenote
voicings and a slide. A two-measure
“break” follows, with C7 and a D minor
pentatonic line. It ends with another twomeasure
phrase that uses almost all of the
Dm chord combinations and some more
slides. Make sure to check out other players
like Eddie Hazel (Funkadelic), Prince,
Ernie Isley (Isley Brothers), Hiram Bullock,
Nile Rodgers (Chic), Tony Maiden (Rufus),
Freddie Stone (Sly and the Family Stone),
and Al McKay (Earth, Wind & Fire) and see
how they put the pieces together.
Now, get down on it!
has a B.M. and M.M. in Jazz Studies from the University of North Texas, is an Associate Professor of Jazz Guitar at Collin College, faculty of the National Guitar Workshop, and teaches privately at the Guitar Sanctuary and the Fine Arts Academy at FBC Keller. He leads his own jazz fusion quartet and is a freelance guitarist in Denton/Dallas, Texas. Visit peteweise.com
for more information.