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The next group of examples are all played on one guitar, but have the vibe of two separate funk parts that have been merged. Fig. 6 employs an E7#9 “Jimi Hendrix” chord, with the call on the 1 and the response on beats 2 through 4.
Fig. 7 starts with a “Sex Machine”-inspired call, and the answer includes single notes and parallel major thirds.
Fig. 8 is very strummy, even through the single low notes, and has chords that move from F7 to Eb7 for the calls on beats 1 through 3, with a tenor line answer starting on the “and” of beat 3. At an even brisker tempo, we have Fig. 9. It’s in C minor and has a very wide range.
We slow things down for the reggae riff in A major shown in Fig. 10. Again, the tenor line and the rhythm skank are welded together as a single mighty force. Married to live happily ever after.
Tip: I find it easiest to play rhythm guitar (or rhythm guitar with single-note lines) by holding the pick with thumb, index, and middle fingers. You get a nice solid grip by doing this. The pick strikes the strings at about a 45-degree angle, similar to the angle of the 5-way switch on a Strat. Most of the movement occurs at the wrist, which is slightly arched and moves in a rotational way, with the fingers holding the pick firmly. I find this approach gives a nice, even, and firm sound to funk rhythm, almost like you have a compressor on your guitar. Furthermore, it allows for comfortable muting of notes or unwanted sympathetic vibrations on unplayed low strings.
Another Tip: Try playing some of these examples with your fingers. You’ll sound a bit like a junior Charlie Hunter. Actually, playing with your fingers opens up all kinds of doors to polyphony, but the point of this article is you can capture some serious interlocking polyphony with a pick and one 6-string guitar.
And now a word of caution: Just because you can play chords and tenor lines in one riff doesn’t mean you should—or at least that you should all the time. You don’t want to be the obnoxious over-player. If there’s a keyboard player in the band, or a busy bass player, or lots of percussion, it’s unlikely to make musical sense to play a dense guitar part. A spare part with lots of space will be much nicer and funkier.
Avi Bortnick plays rhythm guitar and electronics in the John Scofield Band, and is the creator of the Time Guru metronome iOS/Android app. He lives and gigs in the New York area, performing with Jim Weider’s Project Percolator, Rene Lopez, Jihae, Bunga Bunga Party and others. He can be reached at www.avibortnick.net or http://www.facebook.com/AviBortnickGuitar.