•Understand and dissect different
elements of a drum groove.
• Create funky and percussive
• Simultaneously play in several
different registers to simulate
Rhythm guitarists can benefit from being
aware of what the drummer is doing. A
great way to dive into this world is to study
drum patterns. With the availability of transcriptions
all over the internet, it has never
been easier to get inside the mind of a funky
drummer. There are usually three parts to a
drum pattern: kick, snare, and hi-hat. Each
instrument occupies its own sonic space—think low, medium, and high—and these
parts can easily translate to the guitar as bass,
chords, and melody. By combining these elements,
you can create interesting composite
rhythms, and in this lesson we are going to
look at a few examples.
The starting point will be a pattern similar
to Clyde Stubblefield’s classic “Funky
Drummer” beat shown in Fig. 1. Reading
drum notation is pretty similar to standard
notation. The lowest notes are the bass
drum, the middle notes represent the snare
drum and the Xs along the top are for the
hi-hat. An open hi-hat is marked with a
circle. As you can see, there is a lot going on
here. It’s highly syncopated and very busy.
The driving pulse is based on a 16th-note
groove and provides the grid in which you
can line up the hits and accents provided
by the snare. When you craft a guitar part
based on something like this, typically you’re
going to choose much simpler patterns that
either double or play off of what is already
happening. However, in this lesson we will
play more of the parts in order to really
assimilate the funky drummer groove.
Often guitarists think in terms of rhythm
or lead parts. This can be limiting, and one
of the ways around this limitation is to listen
to other instruments and simulate some
of their characteristics. This is what most
solo performers do, especially pianists. If
you check out some old-school jazz pianists
like Earl “Fatha” Hines, they are definitely
thinking about playing like a band. They’re
playing the bass, rhythm guitar, melody, and
background parts at the same time.
Let’s start by looking at just the kick and
snare parts. In Fig. 2 we use a single bass
note for the kick drum and some chord stabs
for the snare. This example is the composite
rhythm of the drum groove condensed down
to two parts.
In Fig. 3 we add a muted percussive sound
that will give us the feel of the 16th-note pattern
originally played on the hi-hats. It’s possible
to add this feel to any rhythm part. Nonpitched
sounds are an essential part of the
rhythm guitar vocabulary and can be achieved
by maintaining steady up and down strokes
while muting the notes you aren’t playing. We
can further embellish the basic pattern with
Fig. 4, which adds a little more melodic movement
to the basic 16th-note chordal pattern.
Leo Nocentelli, the Meters’ guitarist,
had a huge influence on me with his
unique approach to playing melody and
rhythm. Both Fig. 5 and Fig. 6 demonstrate
how to combine melodic fragments
to create a moving and funky groove.
This is one of the keys to adding variety
to funk guitar parts. Try to imitate a horn
section or a combination of different
instruments playing in different registers.
Leo calls this a “layering technique,” in
which you play in several registers to
simulate different instruments playing at
the same time.
We move back to the bare-bones kick
and snare pattern in Fig. 7, but add an
African twist. Try playing it with the picking
hand muting the strings. You can also
try changing the notes you play while
keeping the same rhythmic pattern.
A different harmonic element appears in
Fig. 8, the D Phrygian mode (D–E♭–F–G–
A–B♭–C). You can think of this scale in two
ways: either a Bb major scale starting on D
or a minor scale with a lowered 2, 6, and
7. It gives a jazzier, exotic feel to the harmony.
Also notice that the chords are built
on fourths, which is a staple of modal jazz
As you can see, we are basically turning
the guitar into a melodic drum, and by studying
patterns such as these you can open up a
whole new world of cohesive rhythmic playing.
This study will also give you more of an
awareness of how to lock in with your rhythm
section. Next time you play with a drummer
or a drum track, practice playing along using
the hi-hat as the subdivided pulse and try to
mimic the snare and kick patterns to work on
developing your rhythmic sync.
has played in a host of boundary stretching
groups, performing jazz, hip-hop,
world, and experimental music with many stops
in between. As a touring artist, Bernard has
been gaining steady momentum, performing in
his own band or as a member of the Stanton
Moore Trio, Robert Walter’s 20th Congress,
Groundation, and other lineups. His forthcoming
album, Outdoor Living will be released soon.
For more information, visit willbernard.com