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Deep Blues: Funky Blues Rhythms

In this lesson, we will look at a few different ways to add some funk to your rhythm parts.

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Beginner
Lesson Overview:
• Divide phrases into smaller sections in order to lock in with a metronome
• Use “scratch” notes to add a funky feel to chord stabs.
• Create sixteenth-note based rhythms that work over blues progressions.
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Since there are only three chords in a typical blues progression, we need to squeeze every bit of musical juice out of each one. In this lesson, we will look at a few different ways to add some funk to your rhythm parts. To keep things simple, we are just going to focus on a D9 chord. Once you get a handle on these examples move them around to different keys to keep your chops sharp.

In Fig. 1 I’ve divided the D9 chord into three sections. The first is the 3rd (F#) and b7th (C). This is called a tritone since the distance between the notes is a diminished fifth (or three whole steps). These are also the two most important notes of the chord. We’ll be using these two notes as a basis of each example. You’ll notice that I begin the phrase with a slide from a half step below. I repeat this move again in the next section with the root (D) and 3rd (F#). The phrase finishes with two quick sixteenth-note chord “stabs” with the full D9 chord. I’ve included some scratch notes in this example. Scratch notes should be used sparingly. They help keep time, so players have a tendency to overplay them. As you work on this figure listen to the metronome I’ve provided, and as you lock into it try taking some of the scratch notes away.

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Keeping it simple is the name of the game when playing the game of groove, so with Fig. 2 I’ve split the D9 into two sections. I start this phrase out by using the top three notes of the D9 chord, which are C (b7th), E (9th), and A (5th). You may notice this as a first inversion A minor triad. As in the previous examples, I slide into these notes from a half step below. The second part of this figure is the tritone between F# (3rd) and C (b7th). There are less scratch notes then the previous example. As we progress I will gradually be taking them away. There is also space in this figure, so make sure you let it breath by letting those quarter notes sound for their full value and remember the eighth rest before repeating the pattern.

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The first section in Fig. 3 is the tritone move from a half step below. Next we approach the D and F# with the same approach before hitting a funky stab on the top three strings. Again, there are no scratch notes. There’s a little more syncopation with the first notes being held for a dotted eighth note, so make sure to let those last and really try to lock in with the metronome.

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All of these rhythmic phrases can be played in many different keys. Move them around. This is how you’ll start to be creative with this concept. You’ll have to make adjustments to these ideas to make them work in tunes you already know. Looking at your chord voicings in two- and three-note sections is a cool way to come up with new fresh rhythmic ideas that might turn into new songs or even fresh takes on old songs.

Dennis McCumber has been a guitar instructor and performer for more than 20 years. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in music education from The College of Saint Rose.
 Dennis performs regularly in the New York City area with various rock, blues, and funk bands, and occasionally as a classical soloist. In addition to performing, Dennis has been a middle school music teacher in the Bronx for the past 12 years. While teaching in the Bronx, he was given a guitar lab by VH1 Save the Music and a keyboard lab from the radio station Hot97 Hip Hop Symphony. Dennis has been an instructor at the National Guitar Workshop since 1996, where he teaches Blues, Funk, and Rock. Find out more at