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Rhythm Rules: Atypical Funk

Rhythm Rules: Atypical Funk

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Intermediate
Lesson Overview:
• Use non-standard chords to create funky guitar parts.
• Learn about how to create “stacked fourths” voicings.
• Unlock the secrets of the 7#9 and 7sus4 shapes.

Click here to download MP3s and a printable PDF of this lesson’s notation.

When we think of funk guitar, certain chord voicings come immediately to mind: A barred minor 7 (like Em7 on the 7th fret), a one-finger barred minor 7 (like Am7 on the 5th fret), a “James Brown” 9th chord, and a “Jimi Hendrix” 7#9 chord. These bread-and-butter workhorses of funk rhythm guitar sound great, but they can get boring fast if you’re limited to them. So let’s expand our horizons with other, less typical chord voicings that work great in funk and R&B—or in pretty much any musical context.

In this lesson, we’ll mainly confine ourselves to the oh-so-friendly key of E Dorian (E–F#–G–A–B–C#–D). To start, let’s get going with diatonic chord scales—in other words, we want to only use notes from the scale. In the first four examples, I play a low E and let it ring in order to ground ourselves with the key center and be able to hear the chords better in context. First, get comfortable with Fig. 1, which is just moving 2nd-inversion triads (5, root, 3) up the neck.

In Fig. 2, we add a note to the chord that’s a fourth below the 5 of the chord, and play a chord melody. Adding the fourth below introduces a bit of tension and dissonance, and makes the chord tonality a bit more ambiguous. This chord could be called an “add 2 chord” or could be written as a slash chord, like G/A, or even a “sus 4 add 9 chord.” Whatever you call it or how you think of it, the important thing is to get used to the fingerings and musical flavor.

Fig. 3 and Fig. 4 are riffs based on this chord voicing. Fig. 5 picks up the tempo, adds some scratching funk rhythm guitar and alternates between Em7 tonality and A7 (the IV chord in E Dorian). You can also easily adapt this chord structure to the middle four strings, so be sure to explore and make up your own riffs. Hint: These voicings sound great and more pianistic played fingerstyle.

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