In this lesson, I’m going to translate his F# tuning moves into standard tuning. It’s not always practical to use open tunings in a live setting. I tend to use them a lot more in the studio rather than live, unless I have a guitar tech and several guitars on tour. It’s not often I can play a whole set in one open tuning.
Let’s get our decoder rings out. Don’t worry, we won’t be drinking any Ovaltine today. First, listen to “Movers and Shakers” below before we dissect Mayfield’s moves.
A cool Super Fly-era move would be to play thirds on the 3rd and 2nd strings. I do believe it’s important not to get too fancy with chord extensions. Mayfield liked using simple triads for this effect.
You can try minor or major thirds, depending on the song you’re playing. Either a root–3 voicing or a 3–5 voicing could work. Also, think staccato. In Ex. 11 I only sustain the interval every two measures, which I’m sliding into from a half-step below.
Superimposing sixths on top of a minor pentatonic riff can create some real vibe. We can use the sixths to imply a minor 6th chord or a minor 7th chord.
One thing to keep in mind is to let these intervals hang for a bit. It’s not about fast movement. In fact, this is an important point with all of Mayfield’s music. It was way more about mood rather than flashy moves.
In Ex. 12 you can hear me play a sixth (G and E) on beat one. This lasts for two measures and helps imply the chord is a Gm6. In measure 3, I play a sixth that implies a Gm7 chord.
Double the Trouble
You don’t want to look like a chump. One way to do yourself a solid would be to double the bass line with a fairly clean guitar sound. You can hear this approach on a number of early-’70s Mayfield tunes.
Notice that there is a fair amount of palm muting in Ex. 13. I’m not completely deadening the string, but I am reducing the sustain by about half of its natural decay.
Why Don’t You Wah About It?
Playing muted eighth- or 16th-notes with a wah can be summed up in one word: Dy-no-mite! Sure, you can occasionally put a chord in there, but don’t feel obligated to. The muted wah acts like a percussion instrument. When using the wah, you really need to think of your toe and heel position. You can create an inner melody just with opening and closing the wah.
Starting at measure one in Ex. 14, I’m putting emphasis on beats 1, 3, and 4 with the wah in toe position (fully forward). Being that this position on the wah is the brightest, it helps highlight the beat. Take note of the slow sweep on beat 2 that builds into beat 3.
What’s Mine Is Yours
Hendrix borrowed many sonic concepts from Mayfield. Let’s look at one over a minor 7th chord (Ex. 15). I like to think of it as the 5 of the chord is the lowest note, then simply playing the root on top which moves down to the b7. Also, listen to the second half the first measure in the song “Transit” below.
Fourths get neglected in modern times. Importing some fourths into your soul tune can grease the wheels, if ya’ know what I mean. Can you dig it?
In Ex. 16 we’ll slide some fourths from the 2 of the scale up to the 3 of the scale. This works great over major chords. Makes sense when you think about it. We’re essentially sliding into a chord tone (3) with a harmonized fourth above it. In Ex. 17, I move the concept down a string set.
Five Plus One
Mayfield didn’t invent slick moves involving sixths. It can be traced back quite far in the blues and soul library. He did make tasteful use of it, though. I incorporate it over the I chord to sweeten the tea a little in Ex. 18.
Don’t Show All Your Cards
One thing to note about Mayfield is that he was a master at refining parts. He didn’t use every trick he had in one song. He thought about parts. Nuance was key. He was far more concerned with creating an overall vibe to a song. His choices were textural and he didn’t fill every crack. This is a challenge for most guitarists. We often feel the need to fill every space. You’re going to want to let things breathe.
Tie into Your Own Thing
Personally, I like to see how I can implement some of these ideas into songs I’m already playing. Dust off the cobwebs from songs you have in mental storage. Let’s pull them out to see if we can shift the vibe slightly with these new approaches.
It’s going to take some time for these concepts to seep into your playing. Avoid the crash course method. Let the ideas steep like a nice cup of chamomile tea on a chilly autumn evening. Spending five minutes a day on each of these concepts will help you develop consistent growth. Within one or two months of somewhat regular practice, you’ll start to see these flavors emerge naturally in your playing.