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Blues Guitar Lessons: New Orleans Rock and Roll

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When we talk about American music,
there are a lot of different
regions of the country
that each sort of fed into
the styles that we know today.
And we've got Delta blues.
We've got Chicago blues.
We've got Texas blues.
There's a style called Piedmont blues,
more toward the East Coast.
And a city that is as renowned
as any other place in
America for its musical heritage,
if not more so, is New Orleans.
And I think everybody kind of knows
what the deal is with New Orleans,
in terms of the history.
It was a French colony, and
a Spanish colony, and an American city,
and traded back and
forth between different cultures.
It's the gateway of the southern United
States, of the Caribbean, and vice versa.
So just cultural influences
flowing back and forth.
African influences coming directly
to New Orleans via the slave trade.
Indirectly to New Orleans via
the Caribbean, et cetera, et cetera.
So, they call it the melting pot,
not a bad idea to use that term, it all
blends together in something unique.
Now, New Orleans is famous
as the home of Jazz.
Blues and jazz grew up together, you
could say, and evolved into sort of their
distinct versions, kind of the center path
of each one is a little bit different.
Blues stayed, in the sense we're dealing
with it, stayed with the sort of the three
cord down home kind of quality,
really connected to its roots.
Whereas Jazz became more and
more elaborate and
went through many different iterations.
In New Orleans, after the original
Jazz craze of the teens and
the 20s, the center of the Jazz
culture moved elsewhere.
Kansas City, Chicago, and so forth.
And it wasn't until the late 40s that
New Orleans sort of came out again
with a universally recognized unique,
contemporary, popular music style.
It was just New Orleans rhythm and
blues, or New Orleans rock and roll.
It's kind of the same thing in the end.
And the elements of New Orleans Rock and
Roll reflect
the cultural elements that are present
in the city, even to this day.
What we often neglect to recognize
in blues is the Latin influence.
We saw it in the slow blues.
There's a little syncopation in there,
which you could trace back through the
years and say, where did that come from,
and there's a pretty good body of
evidence that points to the Caribbean.
There was a Cuban influence.
And if you listen to
some of the traditional
Cuban styles, you hear
Now we'll see this in lessons on Latin
blues, we'll see that very clearly.
But it also finds it's way
into other combinations.
What was cool about New Orleans was
how these things all glued together.
You had the triplets.
Because the piano was such a popular
instrument in New Orleans.
Much more so than the guitar.
Now you had a medium to slow tempo.
The triplet right hand on the piano
was a dominating rhythm style.
And then on the bottom end you got this
Latin thing, they call it Tresillo.
If you think of the Clave, two, three.
Actually, its counted in two, one,
two, dot, dot, dot, dot, dot.
Dot, dot, dot, dot, dot.
If you take just the first part, just
the first three notes, that's Tresillo.
Dot, dot, dot, dot, dot, dot, dot, dot.
Put a bass pattern.
you got a pretty cool little line there.
So, that Tresillo, which is sort
of a derivative of the Clave,
which is the underlying thread
through Afro-Cuban music.
Very important.
So you got that Latin thing,
you got the triplet thing, and
then you got this heavy back beat.
The drummers in New Orleans
started hitting that snare drum.
Jazz drummers would open and
close the hi-hat on beats two and four.
It's very subtle.
And the New Orleans drummers said, man,
I'm just gonna whack that snare on two and
And it really brought the back
beat into the center of popular
music culture in the US.
So, kind of a prototypical
New Orleans rock and
roll feel would be a little on
the laid-back side, not super fast.
High energy like Chuck Berry, or
the Rockabilly guys up in Memphis,
a little more relaxed,
which fits the style of the city.
And what we do as guitar players when
we play rhythm on a style like that,
is we listen to the other instruments.
Especially in New Orleans music, where the
guitar is not the dominating instrument,
we kinda take a back seat and say,
okay, who can I attach myself to?
I hear the drummer going
do-do-do-ba-do-do do-do-do-ba-do-do.
I say, he's got the triplets over here and
he's got that big whack over there.
Well I could play
play the
upbeats, or my upstrokes, I should say,
on beats two and four with the drummer.
And what we call those is chicks,
because it sounds like you're going chick,
chick, chick.
It's got that percussive thing to it.
I could play the bass pattern.
I can even combine them.
Or I could
Some version of triplets
along with the piano.
And, which one is the right one to play?
It’s an arranging question that will vary
according to the arrangement itself.
But let’s try some of these ideas out, and
we’ll listen, first for the rhythm side
of it, and then we'll talk about soloing
over this kind of a feeling as well.
So playing along with a rhythm
track in the New Orleans style,
let's see what we can come up with here.
All right.
So I played a couple of different
rhythmic textures there.
Now, we've learned all this stuff
in different context before, so
it's recombining, listening, and
thinking about what seems to fit with
what's going on in the background.
So first I've got my boom
[SOUND] chick
Now, because I'm in the key of A,
which, of course,
you're not always in the key of A.
But I'll take advantage
of the open strings.
That means I can hit the bass note,
play the chord.
I'm just playing the major triad.
And then return to double the bass line.
And I have time to do that because
the open string can kind of hold
the place until I get back.
Now for the four chord.
Same thing.
And for the five chord.
So, I'm playing what's already there.
Bass pattern, whack on the snare drum.
The other thing that's already
there is the triplets.
That would be another option.
I just decided in the second chorus
I thought what might sound cool, and
add a different texture that would
be complimentary without necessarily
Use my riff chords.
And with that little slide in there, it
gives it kind of a nice relaxed quality,
which is, again, sort of, that's
the style of the city, the big easy.
Things were laid back, kinda comfortable.
So you don't want
anything to be too pushy.
You want it to sort of lay back
in the back, take your time.
And come up with something that
sounds intuitive and comfortable, and
just just ride it in the pot.
So, there's a couple
of examples of rhythm.
You could play around with those over
the rhythm track, and it's kind of fun to
find your spot to nail it, to lay it
right in there with the snare drum.
Chick, right on time.
It's a challenge.
You hear chicks on lots of records,
especially, it was more popular, maybe,
in the 60s, than it is now.
Motown Records, everyone would have
the drummer playing a back beat and
a guitar going chick
against the back beat.
The slower the tempo, the more challenging
it is to match that rhythm exactly.
So going back and forth is kind of a
technical challenge and in the end you're
listening and you're saying am I in
the pocket, am I with these guys or
am I rushing or dragging and you want
to be stone cold exactly in the middle.
Now soloing over a groove like that
what is in the play book there and
the answer is well, its blues,
it's in world blues but it's blues.
There is no unique melodic
vocabulary that makes New Orleans
stand out from other forms of blues.
If anything I would say probably because
saxophone is the dominant solo instrument,
New Orleans' solos might be more melodic,
in a sense then
typical blues solos, which might be
more shape and attitude oriented.
That's not a universal truth but
that's a tendency.
Now here we're not really playing a song,
we're playing a pattern and a feel.
So there's no melody
that I can listen to and
say I'll repeat what
the singer's playing there.
But great sax players in
New Orleans like Lee Allen,
who played on hundreds of records.
Had a method where he'd be
listening to singer and
pick up on a theme, a melodic idea and
translate it into the solo.
And play a solo that just sound like
it naturally flowed out of the vocal.
And yet had its own unique identity.
There's a real gift.
He was extremely good at it.
But instead of riffing and
sorta jamming and saying okay,
whatever you're saying, that's fine.
Here's what about me?
He always made the solo fit into the
fabric of the song in a way that was Is
very comfortable.
So, I'll show you an example of something
that might fit in along those lines
where not playing a lot by
trying to find the vibe and
the groove and
sorta just melt into the band.
Here we go.
All right,
that was
a collection
of ideas,
there was
no really
notion to
But I was thinking let's keep it mellow,
and let's develop a theme, and let's tie
the solo into the rhythm, so that was
kind of where I was coming from there.
So I started off
double stops
that fit against the A chord.
Again, double stops are great texture
because they sort of make each
note sound bigger and
take up more space, where as a single note
might sound kind of lonely up in there.
A double stop has plenty of weight.
Here's the four chord.
I thought okay, I could go down to the D
chord, but I can get the D
sound by just playing the D,
I'm sorry, the C natural there, which is
And keep the ninth on top,
remember that harmonica solo, where
That popped up in the back of
my mind there, how bout that.
Thinking of a third interval melody.
That's the same melody that Chuck Berry
might have played at a faster tempo.
You know what I mean.
These are all different ideas that
are drawn from different sources.
And once you have them in your mind,
spontaneously organizing.
I'm pulling ideas out of the air.
I've got my techniques at hand.
I'm saying I want something that
sounds smooth, comfortable,
that has kind of a flow to it,
that isn't too lick oriented.
And well what do you know?
Third intervals.
Yeah, I'm playing melodies with third
intervals, plus it has that slight.
Hint of the Spanish thing
which is perfect for
New Orleans, it sort of reminds you
subliminally of the Spanish sound.
So I played around with those
ideas through the first course.
And then the second course I thought
about, the rhythm part that I'd been
playing before and
I thought well that's a pretty good idea.
Maybe I can
start off
And build a phrase right from
the rhythm into something that's
a little more melodic again.
Just circulate it around that idea for
the rest of the chorus and
then at the last second I thought,
I'll throw in sort of a Fats Domino
Now that turnaround is one that we
learned as the Muddy Waters turnaround.
But I turned it on it's
head go back the other way
and put the root, the A up on top.
And that's exactly the kinda turn
around like Fats Domino played on
Blue Berry Hill.
Which had exactly this
sort of rhythm feel.
So all these pieces are kinda
circling around in the air there.
And once you know the language,
the stylistic language and the technical
language, you put the two together and
you've got a huge array of ideas.
You can pull from and
its what works at the time and
that's where the creative aspect comes in.
Making choices on the fly.
So mess around with that and
send me a recording of yourself playing
a New Orleans style groove and put a solo
over the top that has that feeling to it.
Listen to that music.
It doesn't do any good to
do this stuff technically.
You gotta listen to the music, listen to
the examples that I've guided you to and
translate that sound on your guitar and
then you got it made.
All right, see you next time.