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Blues Guitar Lessons: Chicago Style: Melodic Rhythm

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I'd like to take our look at
Chicago-style rhythm a step
further than last time.
Last time we looked at this sort of hybrid
rhythm where you've got the bass notes and
the chords happening simultaneously.
Picking fingers and so forth.
In this case, we'll look at
the type of part that's usually,
it's a rhythm that's divided
between two guitars.
The classic underlying
rhythm in a Chicago blues
the boogie shuffle,
and we're very familiar
with the boogie shuffle.
But when you listen to those records,
and this is true of all
the classic Chicago artists.
Muddy Waters, Little Walter,
Howlin' Wolf, Sunny Boy.
You start to hear this stuff
going on in the background,
often in the guitar,
sometimes in other instruments,
where it sounds like everybody's kind of
soloing at once and yet, somehow it works.
It baffled me for a long time.
How can they do all that stuff, and
yet, it doesn't sound distracting.
Because naturally, if somebody's
singing and you're playing licks,
you're just kind of
fighting with each other.
So what I figured out is that the fills,
the melodic ideas that the rhythm
players are using are, yes,
they are very melodic, but
at the same time, they're very rhythmic.
And so when you're playing a melodic
idea with a very strict, solid rhythm,
it makes the melody sort of,
what would be the right word?
It sort of disappears into
the rhythm in a sense.
And it makes the rhythm
sound more interesting, but
it doesn't suddenly become a distraction.
That's the way I perceive it.
And we listen to the recordings, I think
you would hear what I'm talking about.
I make some recommendations and
I'll give you links where you can go and
check these things out.
Now, listening to Chicago-style
blues is very common,
you hear stuff in the key of A, or the key
of E, the open string keys on the guitar.
Very attractive, as you would imagine.
And there are certain voicings,
chord voicings that you hear
quite often In the rhythm styles.
And, one of them, for example.
We've learned this pattern already.
These are the riff cords.
Now, there's an example right there.
The first phrase.
Those are rift chords,
we know those already.
Now that [SOUND] D7,
there's an example of melodic rhythm.
I've got a D7.
If I play the bar chord across the fifth
fret there, that's a very familiar shape.
[SOUND] Then I take the top two strings,
[SOUND] just a little piece of the chord,
[SOUND] reach up with my fourth finger and
I'm playing the seventh.
And then, play a little melody.
So the melody's moving against the
other note,
which is the third degree of the chord.
Now that's just a lick that you hear in
rhythm parts.
I forget who I heard it from first,
but it caught my attention,
as that's just kind of a cool idea.
It's a way to get away from
playing just that chunka, chunka,
chunka kind of thing and
add a little color to it.
there's another chord
voicing which is really
specific to the Chicago sound.
Seventh fret on the first string,
fifth fret on the second string,
seventh fret on the third string.
That's E 7.
Now you might look at that and
say, I don't see where the E 7 is.
Well, we know E 7 with
the root on the fifth string.
So what this is is just
an extension of that same voicing.
And you just get rid
of the lower notes and
you're left with three of the notes
of the chord which are enough to kind
of give you the flavor of it, right?
And, again,
why do guys in Chicago play that forcing?
I don't know.
Somebody came up with it and
it was cool and
they all lived in the same neighborhood.
And they all jammed together and
they stole it and
passed it around and next think you
know it shows up all over the place.
So that just became part of the sound,
So we've got
kind of a melodic rhythm part there,
with the riff chords.
Another version of melodic rhythm.
[SOUND] And then a way of voicing the five
chord that has a little melody to it.
[SOUND] Right, that's very catchy sound.
And there you have a complete,
self-contained rhythm part.
The last part there is
just a turnaround lick.
And resolving back into the,
into that same five chord at the end.
So, I'll play you this over a rhythm track
so you can hear how it sounds in context.
But this is a style of
rhythm playing that it
takes you into a different
realm as a rhythm player.
As are the other techniques
that I'm showing you.
Instead of playing isolated parts,
low parts, mid-range parts, high parts.
You sort of, draw the pieces together so
that you're playing
parts that are broader.
They have more melody built into them.
They combine two guitar parts into one.
In other words,
the operative word is just expanding.
Expanding your sound.
So let's hear how this sounds over
a shuffle in A, a nice relaxed shuffle.
We'll go on from there, here we go.
That's a rhythm part, but when you
hear it sort of spotlighted like that,
that could be a solo, as well.
There's a fine line.
In fact, there is no line.
It's a gray blend between playing
a rhythm and playing a solo.
When the rhythm has more and more melody,
eventually it sort of morphs into
something that's like a featured part and
when a solo has more and more rhythm, it
kind of backs into the background again.
So that's sitting right in the middle.
And this is a lot of what made Chicago
blues so interesting, was that it sounded
like the players were all improvising
simultaneously around a common theme.
And in that sense,
Chicago blues had a little bit more of
the jazz mentality, than modern blues.
We think of modern blues, modern blues
records tend to be produced with
kind of a commercial sensibility, I guess
you would say, in that parts are set and
everybody plays the arrangement just so
and is very consistent.
There is a lead part up on top and
the rhythm parts are down underneath and
so forth.
In Chicago blues, it was more like who's
playing the solo, well, everybody is.
Who's playing rhythm, well,
everybody's playing rhythm, too.
And it's kinda that group effort and
it's a very cool sound.
Now, to get that sound to really work,
everybody in the band has to be on
the same page so
you have to find a drummer and
a bass player that are inspired
by the same kind of feeling.
And then you got something
going on that's really magic.
But you can lift those parts out and
use them over a more traditionally steady
part, like this rhythm track here.
And they just add a lot of color,
a lot of variety,
very cool, and
expand your rhythm style considerably.
So I'd like you to mess around with that,
and then send me a recording of
yourself playing that Chicago
style rhythm and see how it feels.
Now you might play it and say well,
I don't know I can't tell if it's
settling in, is it too much,
is it not enough, and that's where I can
help you out is give you a perspective and
we can talk more about kind of the ends
and outs of that style of playing.
So I look forward to hearing your
results and we'll meet again next time.