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Blues Guitar Lessons: Rockabilly

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Good God,
what was
That was a little bit of well, you
might listen to that out of context and
say that's country, and
you wouldn't be wrong.
At the same time well that's blues,
well yeah it's that too.
Well what else is it?
It's rockabilly,
rockabilly was a style that was labeled,
sort of after it occurred.
The guy who gets the credit for
launching the rockabilly explosion,
which was brief but intense,
is none other than our old pal Elvis.
Elvis didn't do it alone.
Legend has it,
he started singing a song by a blues
singer named Arthur Big Boy Crudup.
Well, that's all right now, mama.
He was just messing around and the guitar
player who sort of helped guiding
him at the time said that's kind of cool.
Now what just happened there was
what happened when Elvis and
Scotty started playing together.
Which is what's going on here?
Are you singing a blues song,
you singing a country song?
What is it?
Well it's a new thing.
It's called rockabilly.
Sort of like that.
Now [COUGH] that is sort of like that.
We looked at rhythm patterns
in the blues style and
started with our dead thumb pattern.
And then progressed to the two note
rhythm which is often just root in octave.
And we looked at Mystery Train.
By Little Junior Parker.
And, what Scotty Moore was doing was
sort of the next step over from that.
It was a style called Travis picking.
And Travis picking was popularized
by a guy named Merle Travis,
who played electric guitar.
This was in the 1940s.
He played electric guitar, had a very
popular radio show in the Midwest.
So he would play his guitar and then he
would sing, musical guests would come on,
and so on and so on.
But every week people were being
exposed to the sound of his finger
picking combined with melodies.
So, as opposed to
the straight up blues sound,
which is
a very simple base pattern.
With a melody over the top or
the octave thing.
Which is similar, just sort of extending
the base pattern slightly,
but still very simple.
With Travis picking you get more
of an emphasis on the melody plus.
The base
really moves
Right, and
of course when I play it like that,
it sounds very country as we interpret
the sound of country music today.
Which is exactly what it was.
So the revolution that occurred with Elvis
and Scotty Moore was that you shoved
these two musical traditions together,
which were very closely related.
There were plenty of guys,
black guys in Memphis playing something
that you would recognize as
being a lot like Travis picking.
And a bunch of white guys in Memphis
playing stuff and you'd say,
man that sounds a lot like blues,
and in fact it was.
So when you finally put
it all together and
have a very attractive front man like
Elvis, guaranteed to get some exposure.
So, that's the stylistic
essence of rockabilly,
this collision of parallel styles
that were already related,
but we sort of heightened
the relationship there.
So, Travis picking is a whole
subject unto itself, finger pickers.
We'll go on about it for quite some time.
For our purposes, all we want to do is
sort of build the melody up a little bit.
If we go back to the key of E.
And I take my two note, bass pattern.
I was going like.
The next step
would be
Where the melody starts to become a little
bit more elaborate, now we touched on
that when we were talking about the finger
picking style stuff accompaniment before.
But we keep taking it in that direction,
and pretty soon we get
And that's more the Travis type sound.
A little sweeter and
I've got a three note bass pattern there.
I'm gonna show you how to do this stuff.
It takes time.
It takes time, slow it down.
I'll give you sort of a sample of,
That's All Right Mama,
as it was arranged by
Scotty Moore on the guitar.
So we've got as the upper part
of the chord, the six chord.
We know the six chord extremely well.
And I'm gonna use the natural open
strings there to my advantage.
Open A, A on the fourth
string at the seventh fret.
Open E.
So now I've got the root,
the octave, and the fifth and
the octave and that way I sort of
sound more like I'm playing a bass.
This is what a bass
player would play right?
Now on top of that, I've got my chord and
I'm gonna start adding
melody like this first.
One Two, three.
Now all your concentration at this
point goes on the bass pattern
because you have to move
from string to string.
I just pluck the high notes on
the second beat like that.
Now as we did with both dead thumb and
the octaves I'm gonna start
syncopating like this.
Now the bass
pattern didn't
change a bit.
And all I did was, I went, [SOUND] on the
downbeat, [SOUND] and then on the upbeat.
How simple is that?
But put them together and
it kinda drives you crazy, right?
So you have to play it.
Very slowly,
don't let the bass alter one iota.
Now, I'm not gonna wait till you get this
because that's guaranteed to take
awhile if you've never done it before.
So I'll walk you through
the technique of it.
And then you'll be able to practice it and
send me the results so
I can check up on you.
Here's another variation of the melody,
just keep moving.
right so the melody
get's little bit
more elaborate.
Bass stays exactly the same.
Take it a step further.
there's a lot
going on in there
you think.
But the bass, melody.
That's not tricky,
we could do that, right?
Once again, separate the two, no problem.
Put them together, go crazy.
So you've got to take that down real slow,
that's an example of the sort of
Travis style, where the melodies weave
around over top of that steady bass
pattern and the result is pretty cool.
This is our A chord, now for
the four chord,
Can go up town a little
bit use a D9 chord.
Now in each case I have to
pick out my bass pattern and
in this case I'll play the D
on the fifth string and
then the third degree is with my
first finger on the fourth string.
I move that second finger back and forth.
Now, there's
my picking hand.
The sum of the parts is
greater than the individual components.
Melody's nothing, the bass is nothing.
Put them together and
it sounds like it's all over the place.
That's another practice thing and
then five chord.
The rest of it is just phrasing.
It's muting in the right hand, you want
that thump, thump, thump in the bass.
And you want the melody notes to ring out,
you can use your fretting hand to stop
the notes so that they don't run together.
It's really an interpretation idea.
But I'll play you a little sort of
blues sound using that technique.
So like this.
Well that's
all right
now mama,
Now you got that two beat,
that is a two beat.
We've encountered the two beat before,
usually as a fast tempo in blues, but
that's boom chick, boom chick.
That's the country two beat, right there.
Now, invariably when the solo happens.
The band kicks into four four.
So instead of that [SOUND] kind of loping,
relaxed quality.
Suddenly it's lets go boys.
The tempo is the same but
playing twice as many notes per beat.
That's the classic
Jump Blues bass pattern.
Walking line.
No variation from what we've learned.
Right, same pattern there,
that's the typical pattern.
So you've got components that
come from familiar places,
but they're being put
together in different ways.
So, from country blues or self accompanied
blues, we borrowed the bass idea.
We add a little melody that has more
of a country flavor to it up on top,
the sweeter sound.
And then, when it's time to kick it into
high gear, you go back to Jump Blues.
And that was kind of the template for
the rock and
roll sound, was this two beat
alternating with four four.
And at the same time,
ultra aggressive style of playing,
even though the rhythm
parts are kind of sweet,
when the solos start take
the gloves off and run.
Now, the same idea played in E,
those would be the two most popular keys,
E and A.
So we know how to play an E
up there in fifth position.
[SOUND] Playing an E,
we've got open position and
we've already done a lot
of the groundwork for this.
So the E pattern I'm playing there is
one that we've looked at previously.
The trick on this one,
this took me a minute to
master, was [SOUND].
I hit the hammer on at the same
time as I hit the bass note.
So, it's bass, [SOUND] chord,
just a two note bass.
Now, that's not picking the third string.
It's hammering on
the third string [SOUND].
So, you have to train
yourself not to pick it.
[SOUND] Hammer at the same time
that you play the bass note.
[SOUND] So the melody,
bass pattern.
Put them together.
Four chord.
Now this one, A 7, familiar shape.
[SOUND] And you reach over with your
little finger to play the melody on
the second string.
That's a bit of a stretch.
Right, I'm adding [COUGH] and
taking away that note.
When I wanna play first string [SOUND] and
second string together,
I have to really arch the little
finger there, that's a tricky move.
The bass pattern is just
fifth string, fourth string.
Now, a real characteristic,
this is a trademark pattern in rockabilly,
the five chord.
You've got B7.
[SOUND] There's your bass pattern,
add the rest of the chord, and a pattern.
That's tricky to get,
I'll be honest with you.
Getting that [SOUND] B to sound cleanly,
when you got the fingers
crowded around it.
But here's what happens in context.
I'm playing it slowly, and
it's like all the warts are exposed.
But when you're rocking and
rolling, you know.
you can sort of escape.
Not to make excuses, but that's kind of
the reality of how these
parts work in action often.
Don't look behind the curtain.
So we've got our B chord there.
And then here's the rockabilly move is,
you move,
move up to C and
leave that B string exposed, say wow.
[SOUND] Weird!
And back again.
But it's that out and
back thing that makes it sound cool.
So, I'll lay all that out for
you so you can see how it works.
When it goes into the rock and roll part,
we're playing just straight up rock and
roll stuff if I'm at E.
Or some version of that,
taking our boogie shuffle patterns and
just building on that foundation.
Now, [SOUND] let me demonstrate how
the sound works over a rhythm section.
The rhythm section is gonna be playing
a combination of a two feel and
a four/four feel, first chorus in the two
feel, second chorus four/four, so
you can hear the combination.
It's an interesting transition and
it's the heart of the rockabilly sound.
Here we go.
Whoo, I beat
the band to
the ending,
I get the prize.
Now, I played that two beat thing all
the way through the first chorus, and
followed the pattern that
I showed you earlier.
And then I went,
when it suddenly locked into that rock and
roll pattern there,
I fell back on my muscle memory.
And I played my boogie shuffle pattern
with the emphasis on the back beat.
And that fits pretty well
with what's going on in
there which is just a really fast
jump blues essentially, right?
Now all the patterns that we talked
about in rock and roll, like
yeah, you could do that too.
Play those fills, they work great.
You know.
That kind of compound rhythm pattern
works pretty good if you
can lay it in the pocket.
So there are many options that we can
steal from other aspects of blues that
we've already studied and
plug them in there.
But that's kind of the essential qualities
of the rockabilly sound is the transition
from the two feel to the four feel,
have the basics of the fingering pattern.
And with that as the foundation,
then soloing is pure rock and roll.
We'll look at that next time.
In our last lesson on Rockabilly Rhythm,
we talked about Travis picking,
which is actually a very melodic style.
its a fine line from there into soloing.
But the difference is gonna
be that usually when the solo
kicks in in a rockabilly song,
the beat changes as well,
from a two feel to a four feel,
more of a jump blues type of thing.
Its not a hard rule, but its a tendency.
So, when it comes to playing
solos on a rockabilly, fast
rockabilly groove like that, it's really
not much different than playing rock and
roll, which is not much different
than playing jump blues.
They're all cut from the same cloth.
So it's three chords,
a heavy beat, and high energy.
And you achieve that using any
of the techniques that we've
developed along the line here.
Double stops work great,
because you kind of get more bang for
the buck when you dig in and
play two notes at a time.
[COUGH] You'll hear little ideas
that have been used in, sort of,
famous solos that people will use,
as a nod to the style.
It's just part of the language,
I suppose you would say.
One of those things is open strings,
and in the key of A, for example.
Now the open strings
kinda create this drone,
a constant kind of
underlying energy source.
And so there, this is not, I'm not saying
this is on page one of the rockabilly
song book, but this is the idea.
I've got the third degree of the chord.
Now, I'm in the key of A.
I know that E, the high E string,
belongs to the A chord.
It's the fifth, so I can use it as a drone
against which I can play melodies.
There's the fifth degree of the chord.
the seventh,
the root.
There's the third.
Getting creative with it,
but using an idea,
which is open strings moving up the neck,
creating a drone.
And that's something you hear in
a lot of rockabilly stuff in E,
and so on.
The famous rockabilly songs
that came out after Elvis and
Scotty Moore made that discovery
about the fusion of the two styles
often included that kind of a sound.
And so, everybody's sort of working off
the same playbook there, basically.
I'll show you how to put that together.
As far as sort of rockabilly licks,
I don't know if I would necessarily
characterize a vocabulary of guitar
playing as being rockabilly
licks when it comes to soloing.
Rockabilly licks are no different
than rock and roll licks,
are no different than uptempo
high energy blues licks.
And on the other end, you've got
higher energy rock and country licks.
I mean,
they're all coming from the same place.
So, it's more a matter of shading it one
way or the other, based on your tastes.
I'll show you an example here.
We'll play over the same
rhythm track that we used for
the rhythm part, which starts off
as one chorus of the two feel, and
then it goes into a chorus of
that high energy four four thing.
And see what happens.
This will be interesting to
put the two ideas together.
I'm gonna start off with one idea
that I'll explain to you, and
then switch gears and
see where we go with this.
Okay, so here's rockabilly style soloing.
I didn't really know where
I was going with that.
[LAUGH] Let me see if I can remember and
explain it to you.
Now over the two beat feel,
I was thinking, okay,
it's a pretty open feel, so
I don't wanna come in with guns blazing.
I'm gonna kind of let this
thing build up a little bit,
cuz I know the second
chorus is gonna smoke.
So I played
an arpeggio.
And this is a tried and true method in
rock and roll, rockabilly especially,
for starting off a solo, which is
building up on the notes of the chord.
You hear this quite a bit, actually.
So I'm playing the A,
the C sharp, the E, and the G.
It's the arpeggio,
in other words, and naturally,
as the melody goes up it
sort of builds up tension.
Where are we going with this?
We're going to the,
the D.
Playing a little third interval
thing there at the end.
So what I'm thinking is chord tones,
working my way up.
I'm really thinking melody.
What's catchy?
What's gonna sort of sound
like it's going somewhere?
Now those are all
sort of standard phrases.
There's my four chord.
Another standard one chord
phrase off of the A major chord.
There's my E-chord,
if I play with double stops.
This is where I ask myself,
where's, where am I going?
To D, okay.
Where's the closest version
of D I can find that'll flow?
I could go down, but another one that
I've discovered is, I can go up.
And play the fifth and the seventh, and
it sounds cool because it doesn't
go exactly where you might expect.
And then,
Up the third intervals to the A chord.
Now, the band kicks in.
The thing is gonna jam.
I use my open strings.
And again, I'm thinking melody.
You could sing that line, and
it works pretty good.
Then, using the open string.
Now once I hit that D there,
I wanna start to jam a little bit.
I could jam right off of the D chord, or
I could sort of skip the D chord,
and start being more aggressive on
the A chord.
That kind of brings it back home,
that down home blues quality,
that's that interval that we got so
used to.
Translate it to a rock and roll context,
and then here comes the five chord, and
this is the only place where I really got,
I guess, kind of fancy.
Or something like that.
Now, here's my E chord.
I'm playing on my A chord,
and I know, here comes E.
So, in my own way this is
like thinking about changes.
We talked about key center and chord tone.
I'm really thinking chord tone,
but in a rock and roll way.
So here's my A.
Here comes your E.
And I know my E is gonna work its way back
down eventually, back to A, so
I start doing the same thing.
Six interval,
or something like,
probably something like that.
So using my hybrid picking,
it allows me to relax at a higher tempo.
It's a life saver,
because I've got, really,
two picks going in opposite directions,
so neither one is working very hard.
If I was using a flat pick and going back
and forth, I would be wearing myself out.
you can really rip with that kind of
a sound.
And I ended the whole
thing with a classic rockabilly
chord which is the A six nine.
I've got the root, the third, the sixth,
the ninth, and the fifth.
Very country chord and that's just sort
of, sums up the whole relationship.
We've got the two beat,
which is a classic country feel.
We've got that rocking four
four jump blues thing.
On the soloing side,
I'm thinking melodically,
and moving up through chord tones, which
is a little bit countryish by comparison.
And then the blues thing.
Just give me some energy.
Dig in,
Hit those nasty notes and make it stick.
And then at the very end,
you know?
So, that's kind of the whole shebang
there, is that you listen to the different
ends of the spectrum, mush them
together and the result is Elvis.