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more... IntermediateLessonsSound SamplesBluesR&BChordsLeadRhythmNovember 2010

Rhythm & Grooves: Wheels Within Wheels

Wheels Within Wheels

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Next, let’s rework the 5–6–b7–6 line so it becomes the top voice in an A7 comping pattern. Fig. 3 gives you the grips, and Fig. 4 illustrates one of the many ways you can move through them. This particular phrase comes straight out of ’60s organ-driven jazz by the likes of Jimmy Smith, Brother Jack McDuff, Shirley Scott, Lonnie Smith, Jimmy McGriff, and Groove Holmes. As you wrangle this phrase, notice how our E–F#–G–F# line now ascends and descends on the 3rd string. If you have a Leslie simulator or a Uni-Vibe pedal, by all means kick it on.

Mix and Match

So far, we’ve placed the 5–6–b7–6 line in either the lowest voice or highest voice of our comping patterns. But you can mix the two approaches, as shown in Fig. 5. Here, the 5–6 (E–F#) portion ascends on the 3rd string, while the b7–6 section (G–F#) descends on the 5th string. It’s a cool sound.

All Together Now
These comping patterns really come alive when you weave them into a longer progression. In Fig. 6—which sounds especially sweet played with a relaxed swing feel—we apply our new moves to a V–IV–I sequence in the key of A. By playing a voicing on virtually every beat, you generate momentum and harmonic complexity without obscuring the underlying cadence: E7 (bar 1), D7 (bar 2), and A7 (bars 3 and 4). Try dropping this sequence into the last four bars of a 12-bar blues or shuffle in the key of A.

Next month, we’ll explore more ways to build comping patterns around lines. In the meantime, work out these moves in other keys and then look for ways to use them in your next jam or recording session.


Comping. The word “comp” is jazzbo slang for “accompany,” as in, “I’ll comp while you take a solo.” Comping also implies playing a chord progression with some rhythmic variation.

Scale and Chord Formulas. You’ll often see a scale, chord, or phrase expressed numerically, such as the 5–6–b7–6 line discussed in this lesson. These numerical formulas are derived from a major scale—our musical yardstick—and come in handy when you want to describe an item’s musical construction, independent of any key. Every chord type or scale type has a formula, and once you know it, you can apply it to any major scale to generate the notes for the given chord, phrase, or scale in that key.

For example, the formula for a minor 7th chord is 1–b3–5–b7 . To identify the notes in, say, Cm7, simply apply its formula to the parallel major scale— i.e., the major scale that shares the same root. In this case, that’s a C major scale (C–D–E–F–G–A–B), so applying the minor 7th formula yields C–Eb–Bb–G, Cm7’s chord tones.

Pedal Tones.
A pedal tone (or pedal point) is a note that sustains against a passage, acting as a tonal anchor. A pedal tone is usually played in the bass register below the musical activity, but can also ride above it, as in a blues turnaround when the highest note remains static while other intervals ascend or descend against it.

Andy Ellis

PG Senior Editor Andy Ellis is a veteran guitar journalist. Since cutting his teeth on British Invasion bands—the Who, Yardbirds, and Pretty Things got the party started—he has been a certified guitar nut. Now based in Nashville, Andy backs singer-songwriters on the baritone guitar. He also hosts a weekly radio program, The Guitar Show, that broadcasts on-air and online. For the broadcast schedule, links to the stations’ streams, archived audio interviews with inspiring players, and more, visit
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