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Blues Guitar Lessons: Riff Chords

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All right, we've worked
that bottom end pretty good now.
We got the Boogie Shuffle and
all of its infinite variety.
We've got the compound rhythm,
where you're mixing the bottom end and
the top end.
Massive, massive sound.
We've got the bass riffs.
Various ways of playing
with the bass player.
And again, creating that kinda mess.
All right.
Making the guitar sound
as big as possible.
Now we're gonna strip it
down a little bit, but
we're gonna actually create a little
bit more melodic quality to the rhythm.
And this little technique here
is what I call riff chords.
Got a chord riffs, and
they're played with riff chords, okay?
And I'll explain that.
When you listen to rhythm
patterns being played by piano,
for example, or often that
are arranged in horn section parts.
You hear these certain kind of rhythms
that are very similar to the horn
section patterns that we learned earlier.
The two bar phrase, for
example in the key of G,
we know how these go, like
Often what you hear is kind of
a stripped down version of that where
it's just two notes.
And there's a little
melodic element to it,
all right?
And what it comes down to, when you listen
to a lot of these different things,
the common theme seems to be
that there are little harmonies.
They're two note or three note chords.
We're gonna look at the two
note chords this time.
And they're arranged to
create little melodies.
they're attached to the rhythm in the same
way that the horn section parts are,
so they create a lot of color and
It's an interesting rhythm sound.
So let me show you.
First of all, these are the basic
riff chords themselves.
Now think of it as, I'll show you kind of
the pattern that they're derived from and
then strip it down for you.
If you play just a G chord.
And then strip it down to just two notes,
the third string and
the second string, that's the third
degree of the chord and the fifth.
So we've got kinda the essence of
that G sound in there.
Remember, the bass player
is playing the root, so
we don't need to play the root
in the harmony, necessarily.
And then, attached to that,
I play two notes here that look like
they kinda would belong to a C chord.
Now we've seen this rhythm in
what I call the Compound Boogie.
But here it's just
the two notes,
and then a third shape.
Now we're not familiar
with that chord yet, or
at least I haven't showed it to you.
But it's related to what would look
like in the open position, a D7 chord.
And it's just the inside notes.
So in the key of G, it's seventh fret.
And sixth fret,
which is the fifth degree of the G chord,
and the seventh degree of the G chord.
Now whether you know
the names of the notes or
whether you know them by their chord
structure, whatever, they're shapes.
It's easy to learn them as shapes and
think of them as shapes.
shape number
shape number
shape number three.
Now when we combine those shapes
with a rhythm using the same kind of
concept that we use when we
play horn section rhythms.
First of all, you think of the patterns,
the two bar phrase, here's my shuffle.
Da da da.
Just think about what's kind
of a cool sounding rhythm.
that swings, baby.
All right?
So now, I can harmonize that
using my little riff chords.
And the magic is I can almost use any
combination of those three chords.
If the rhythm is strong,
the chords will sound great.
So for example, two, three, same rhythm,
four, one.
I'll add the third chord in there.
Four, one.
Change the order.
All right.
Start on the second shape.
All right.
Anyway you can sorta slice them and dice
them, they fit in there because the rhythm
is strong, and so
that gives them kinda the foundation.
And what we're doing is creating
a little da, da, da, da.
Real bluesy sounding melody that kinda
runs through the chord pattern,
and when you
change chords you just move up the neck
All right?
When you listen to blues,
it's not gonna be long before you run into
something that sounds about like that.
So this is a very handy type
of a rhythm pattern to have.
Now if you're playing with another guitar
player and
they're playing that,
the question is always,
well what am I gonna play?
And one option, of course,
we've seen is play those upbeats.
You can play the horn section thing, but
sometimes you want something with
a little bit different flavor.
So they come in and
they fill in a hole in our concept there,
and they do it very elegantly.
Now to phrase those, you can add some
bluesified little embellishments there.
For example, a very familiar one by now,
hammer-on to the third,
use the blue third, in other words.
So I start with my first finger
barring the second and third strings, and
then hammer-on that major third there,
almost instantly.
Remember the grace note?
I start with a note that
has no real rhythmic value, but
it just sets up the following note.
Alternatively, I can slide into it.
I can also do that.
On that other.
So when I add those embellishments,
what they do is kinda give it a flavor,
an extra quality that's very cool.
It's very smoky, bluesy kind of a thing.
And it fits a lot of different settings,
the different tempos and so forth.
Let's practice these shapes.
We're gonna do so in a sort of
a technical way, for starters.
What I've discovered through the years
is I show these things to students and
it's hard to grasp the relationship of
these little shapes to the chord itself.
So it helps if you move
around the neck and
you get used to playing a different key.
So we'll go back to our old pal,
or our old nemesis,
the cycle of fourths, and see can
we construct these shapes in all of
these different keys
moving around the neck.
Now it's only one set of chords.
I don't have to think of a different
alternative based on different strings,
it's just that one set of shapes.
So for example, key of G.
Now let's see if we can do this in tempo.
We're gonna go one, two,
three, two, one, like that,
in tempo, and
then we'll shift to the next key.
So it'll be like this, two, three, four
The next key from G is C.
Here comes F, three, four,
And the next one is B flat.
After B flat we have E flat.
A flat, a wonderful key.
One of my all time favorites, D flat.
Let's not forget our old pal, G flat.
And the key of B.
E, let's bring the open strings into it,
why not?
A, familiar territory.
And up to D.
And finally, back to G.
Now I'm making you think
it's like, wait a minute.
Unless you really know your cycle of
fourths and you've really got your fingers
wrapped around that thing,
that's gonna be very hard to keep up with.
That's a practice thing and
I want you to practice that.
But equally important is to be able to
just put it in the context of the rhythm
Let's do a little demonstration
here which you can learn.
In the key of G, playing a 12-bar.
I'm gonna use those riff chords and
I'll use the typical phrasing,
sliding or
hammering on to create that bluesy effect.
And we'll play this 12-bar
shuffle in G with a quick change.
Now the quick change is always gonna throw
you a little bit cuz you gotta be thinking
right away as soon as you start,
go up to that four chord and back again.
So it's a challenge, but that's why we're
doing it is to make you think, okay?
Quick change,
12-bar shuffle in G with riff chords.
Here we go.
it up
a little
bit here.
Now a little note about technique there.
Picking technique, in particular.
One way to play these things is just
traditional flat picking, right?
Nothing's happening very fast, so
down strokes.
It's very easy to do.
What I like to do on these parts
is often use my bare fingers.
It's a form of hybrid picking, but
I'm not even really using the flat pick.
I'm just plucking with my
leftover fingers here.
The reason I like that is that I hit both
of the notes exactly at the same time.
And also mellows out
the tone a little bit.
So that's mainly what I'm
doing when I play these parts,
is using my bare fingers.
So whether you use the flat pick or
the fingers the result is the same.
I change the pattern a little bit,
the order of the shapes and so
forth, all optional stuff.
But that's a really good concept to know.
And to have those little
shapes under your fingers and
be able to apply them in tempo,
that's the gist of this whole lesson.
So go around and mess with that.
Play through that cycle of fours,
really get them down, and
then when you play them, you won't
have to think about them so much.
Okay, I'll see you next time.
We're gonna continue looking at our
three little chords in this lesson,
our riff chords.
Now last time I introduced
them as two-note chords.
Now we're gonna expand the concept
a little bit to add a third note, but
it isn't a third note
different on every chord.
It's one note that we add to all three
cords, the same note, and that's the root.
In other words, we are in the key
G [SOUND] for the example.
So I'm gonna play G on
the fourth string at
the fifth fret there,
and then play my phrase
on top.
So what that involves is kind
of attaching that lower note to the shape.
So that it affects
the fingering a little bit.
So let me walk you through that.
The first shape is G [SOUND] on
the fourth string and then B then D.
In other words a G major chord.
But to make it sound stylistic [SOUND]
I hammer on, I create the blue third.
Now another little technique
that works really well, and
I set this up last time I sang.
I used my bare fingers.
If I use my bare fingers to pluck the
two-note chord then that leaves my pick
free to pluck through.
So now I'm separating the notes of
the chord into two parts,
the upper notes and the lower notes.
And when I put them together,
I'll just give you an example.
All right?
It fills it out.
I've created a little bit more
of a bottom end to the pattern.
And also I've created that ba da ba da ba,
that little trade off that is
a nice little syncopated rhythm.
So the basic pattern.
It's the blue note,
a third finger bar, and
then shift position.
First finger, third finger and
second finger.
Now the temptation will be to play
the amen sound, right?
Or the Rolling Stones,
right, that's not the sound though.
first finger, third finger, second finger.
Remember, it's the two-note chords with
another note added in the base, so
we don't wanna alter
the notes of the chords.
So there's your exercise
right there to expand the two.
We'll do it slowly.
As I pick the fourth string
before I play each one
Do that with me.
Okay, now you've got that idea of
splitting up the bass
note from the chorus, and
so forth, and using the pick, and
the fingers, the hybrid style.
As far as making the changes you
can go up to the four chord.
C in this case.
Back down again.
Up to the five, and four.
And so on, right?
The way that we've been doing it,
which is one set of shapes moving up and
down the neck.
Now there's one variation, pretty simple.
[COUGH] But it's kinda handy with just the
stand position when I make the changes and
the way that I do that is this.
I'm playing G.
Now here's the C chord.
When I look at the C chord what do I get?
I've got something that actually
looks kinda like a G minor chord,
but with C in the base, right?
So if I wanna create the effect, I know
the bass player's playing the roots.
I can stay in position, and
instead of hammering on the blue note,
I just leave it alone.
So here's G, here's C.
And back to G.
Here's C again.
here's G.
Now here's D.
Say what?
I didn't change anything.
True, when I listen to the D,
it actually fits.
The G lick fits over the D bass note.
It's just a blues thing.
What can I tell you?
An alternative would
be to go up two frets.
And play the C lick
and that's cool too.
But what you'll hear often, and
this is a horn section arranging thing,
whatever that one chord lick is,
they repeat it over the five-chord, right?
So really you're only using the
G shape and the C shape,
very simple stuff.
And it's stylistic, when you do that
kinda thing and you're playing rhythm,
people that know the style say, that,
yeah, that guy's done his homework.
So it's a hip little alternative.
Now let's do an example
that uses those techniques.
We're gonna separate the bass note and
the chord tones.
I'm gonna mix it up a little bit.
I'll play the C in the same position and
also move it up.
And, again, it's a choice.
You just pick it according to sound.
Let's see how this thing sounds and
looks and then we'll talk.
Okay, here we go.
Different sound, right?
Stay in position.
So I mixed it up there, right,
I didn't follow a single pattern.
The choice is a musical choice,
it's not a technical choice.
What sounds good, what sounds appropriate,
what supports the singer or
the soloist, what makes it sound right.
So by knowing how to do both of them,
you can make those kinds
of decisions on the fly.
And either stay in position or
move up and down the neck.
Change the phrasing of the pattern.
It's a very creative style of rhythm.
It's getting into the fringes of
the style that we call comping.
And comping is improvised accompaniment.
Which is something that jazz
players do all the time.
They don't necessarily
have a set rhythm pattern.
Whereas in blues, we're used to,
it's got that pattern.
You just nail it down.
But as I was saying about Chicago blues,
the guys were improvising
as much as jazz musicians.
And they were improvising
within the style.
But they all knew where to go, and
they could mess around with it.
So the records are very fluid,
very dynamic.
Now I'd like you to record over
that rhythm pattern there.
Use the riff chords.
You can use the techniques as you wish.
Just come up with a cool sounding riff and
play it so
it swings over that rhythm pattern,
has a nice laid back feel to it.
And hit all the changes,
hit the turnaround, hit the ending.
And let me hear what you got, okay?
I'll see you in a bit.