Some names you’ve heard, others maybe not. But they all have a unique voice on the instrument.



• Open your ears to new influences.

• Understand how to create interlocking rhythm parts.

• Develop a new appreciate for the rhythmic complexity of Wayne Krantz, the effortless bebop of Biréli Lagrène, and the driving force that is David Williams.

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The guitar has been a major factor in so many styles of music over the last 70 years, and any experienced musician can tell you that playing any one of those styles with authenticity takes countless hours of dedication. As we learn the instrument, we seek out music that we find inspiring to help guide us toward our voice. The legends we all know in the guitar pantheon have inspired millions of players. In my musical journey over the years, I’ve always been thrilled to discover unique musicians who never attained the same recognition as their more famous counterparts. With so much music at our disposal these days, I thought this group of guitarists deserved a little more spotlight. The inspiration and knowledge they have provided me were paramount in my development, and I wouldn’t be the player I am without them.
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This new box set showcases the potent, precise weavings of guitarist Freddie Stone and bassist Larry Graham.

Sly and the Family Stone

Short versions of San Francisco music history focus on the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Creedence, Santana, and in some cases, should-have-beens like Moby Grape and Quicksilver Messenger Service. But you can’t tell the complete tale of the ’60s NorCal scene without dishing propers to a band that was as mighty—and perhaps even more influential—than any of those rock titans: Sly and the Family Stone.

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Move past the typical "James Brown" chord shapes by incorporating stacked fourths, 7#9, and 7sus4 shapes to breath new life into your rhythm playing.

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.

What about the 7#9 “Jimi” chord? Well, we can play this chord, or notes from it, all over the fretboard and we don’t need to confine ourselves to the typical position—especially if there’s a bass player hitting the root note. Fig. 6 shows the common position E7#9, followed by nine different variations. There are others too, and some of these can be played on other strings in other positions, while still retaining the same note structure.

Fig. 7 and Fig. 8 take a few of these E7#9 variants and employ them in some funk riffs. Note the extra scratched and muted strings, and listen for the slides into chords. The aim is to get comfortable with all of them, and get familiar with the particular flavor of each voicing (clustery or open or dense?) and be able to call them up when you think they’d work well.

Stacked-fourth chord voicings have a very open sound, since the lack of a 3 provides a “modern” sound with an ambiguous key center. Fig. 9 takes a stacked fourth voicing up the scale, again in E Dorian with the low E ringing to provide context.

An even more open sound can be had with a 7sus4 voicing. Again, we start by working through the voicings going up the scale, as shown in Fig. 10. Chord-scales are a great way to get familiar with different voicings and get your hands used to the chord shapes moving around within a key. Try chord scales both ascending and descending, in addition to moving in thirds, fourths, or any other pattern you can think of.

Fig. 11 employs the 7sus4 voicing in a jazzy R&B-style riff. We use a similar feel in Fig. 12, but use the stacked-fourth voicing concept. We combine both open-style voicings in Fig. 13.

We can also make our voicings denser by having the lower two notes be only a minor second or major second apart. Fig. 14 runs the chord scale up with this tight voicing. You can think of the voicing as a rootless 9 chord with the 9th degree of the scale (or 2nd degree, if you like) on the bottom. Or you could think of it as a 7th chord with the 7 on the bottom—or a mixture of both. So the chord-scale could become Em9–A7–Bm7–A9–Dmaj7–Em7–F#m7–Em9. Because there are only three notes in the voicing, it’s certainly open to interpretation—and wide open for music making. Fig. 15 uses three-note voicings in a riff that starts off with a typical Em7 barre chord voicing, so we get a nice mix of a stock funk chord with chimey cluster chords.

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