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Blues Guitar Lessons: Horn Riffs

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Let's add another layer
to our little rhythm cake here.
We've worked the bottom
strings pretty good,
worked the middle on the up-beats, and
now we're gonna work the high strings.
And the concept of this style of rhythm
is that we're emulating
the sound of a horn section.
Now, due to economics,
as much as anything,
it's rare to see a band
with a horn section.
But back in the day,
horn sections were quite common.
In fact, they were kinda required
of a self respecting Blues band.
They have a horn section playing riffs
behind the solos and the vocalists.
Listen to any BB King record from
the 50s and 60s and you'll hear that and
even to this day.
Now the idea of a horn section, and
this is I mentioned about the guitar
putting the horn players out of business.
Because we can voice
chords using four notes.
And even more, what we can do is
emulate the sound of four horns,
trumpet, trombone, saxophone,
tenor, alto, right?
We can do that on the guitar neck.
And as a result, one guitar player's
a lot cheaper than four horn players.
You don't have to have extra
room on the bus, you know?
So, this is how we do.
What does a horn riff consistent of?
Well, it's a combination of the rhythm and
the harmony.
Now, so far we've been keeping time.
We're steady timekeepers,
downbeats and upbeats.
We're playing something on
every beat all the time.
And that's an important role that
the guitar plays in a standard
Blues rhythm section.
But as we add these layers,
we create the opportunity
to think more in terms of the color,
and create again the call and response.
That kinda conversational quality that we
want to here in a Blues rhythm section.
So, a horn riff starts with
a rhythm it's that simple.
So I think about my shuffle [SOUND].
In my mind's eye, I can imagine that
horn section, you've all seen it.
Even if you've never seen one
live you've seen it on TV.
Four guys, preferably matching suits maybe
maroon velour with hats and
doing steps, right?
And the shuffle starts, and
the horn section steps up to the mic and
they go three, four [NOISE],
four one, [NOISE].
And meanwhile the guitar is wailing
over the top, it sounds killer.
We want to get that sound, so sorry for
the horn section but here is our horn
section right here, the top four strings.
I am going to rock your world a little
bit we are going to go up a fret and
play B-flat.
Why B-flat because that's a horn key.
And you might as well get used to it, and
you've already learned all 12 keys, so
it shouldn't be a problem, right?
Now, at the same time, we're gonna learn
a new chord to add to our arsenal.
We have seventh chords, dominant
seventh chords, we have ninth chords,
now we're gonna add another
one called the sixth chord.
The sixth chord, B-flat,
is a major chord with the sixth
note of the scale added.
Now if you play B-flat dominant seven and
then took your little finger.
And added it on the second
string at the eighth fret there.
You would have almost the same chord.
What we're gonna do instead of playing
the seventh on the fourth string,
we're gonna play the root.
So we have B-flat, the root,
eight fret, seventh fret, sixth fret.
Sorry, eighth fret, and sixth fret.
So, [NOISE] that's B-flat sixth.
Now we combine that with our ninth chords.
They all create this sorta uptown quality.
It's not that gritty down home sound.
It's more smooth.
[NOISE] Kinda jazzy, right?
So I've got the rhythm [SOUND] and
I've got the chord
put the two together, there's my riff.
As a rule, these horn riffs are two bars
long, the same as the vocals for example.
You take a breath, you sing for two bars,
you need to take another breath.
And that's the guiding principle
of these kinda phrases.
So, we're gonna play it over
the rhythm track now and
before we do I'll just show you
kinda how to close the circle here.
We've got B-flat six, now to spice it up a
little bit, I'm gonna use half step moves.
Where do I put them?
Wherever I hear them.
But watch the example that I've given you,
you'll see exactly a typical
place to put them.
So it sounds like this.
Three, four, one
four one
Now I go to my four chord,
Now, that's where I need to get
that top note on that ninth chord.
It's very helpful,
cuz it blends it with the one chord.
There's E flat nine and then
Now, another little touch
is to hit the note and
then slide
Now, in my picking hand, I can maintain
that steady up and down motion.
And I just happen to hit some of
the accents on the downbeat and
some on the upbeat, but
I don't have to alter my picking.
That's where you get into trouble
is when your picking is unsure.
So, the best bet is to
keep it consistent and
use downstrokes and
upstrokes together, like this.
Now when I'm not actually making
this sound my hand is still moving.
I'm even striking the strings very softly.
And it keeps my groove together when
I'm not actually playing the notes.
Five chord
One chord, turn around
So I have my turn around, ninth chords,
my ending, [SOUND] ninth chords.
Works like a charm.
Let's do that in B-flat, and
then we'll talk about the next key.
Now we're gonna end it.
Now you notice in that pattern, the turn
around and the ending just fit right in.
They're a natural extension of the groove.
Now the groove itself,
the riff, lots of variety.
This is what rangers were paid to do back
in the day is to come up with variations
on riffs that would sorta work
around the vocal and so forth.
And give each song a little
bit of a different quality.
So for example instead of
let's try this one.
Leave that bar
Has a different flavor because there's so
much more open space in it, right?
Now what we're doing is
creating this conversation.
Who's gonna have the conversation?
It's gonna be the singer or
let's say somebody is taking a solo,
the guitar player.
And if you're playing rhythm for
a guitar player and
you leave that
That's where the lick goes and
we are going to get into
the licks pretty soon here.
It's the same time, let's change keys.
Why not?
Go to E-flat,
another respectable horn key.
Now in this case, E-flat,
rude on the fifth string.
We'll start the riff on
the E-flat ninth chord.
And then for the four chord,
A-flat, we'll use the sixth chord.
We just reverse the order of the chords,
same idea though.
Five chord we can still
use the sixth chord and
when I play my turnaround I can
go back to the ninth chord.
[SOUND] sounds a bit more blues-ier
to end the progression with that and
when I end the actual song,
I will use my ninth chord again.
A mixture of ninth and sixth chords and
a different rhythmic flavor to the riff.
I'm going to demonstrate it for
you and you can grab a hold of it.
Once you get the feel of it it's very
easy to just sorta grab these things.
Keep it relaxed,
right hand moving in a steady motion.
You just want to have that feeling like
it's all laid back and comfortable.
Here we go.
[SOUND] A one, two, three, four.
Four chord.
Five chord.
And one chord.
Turn around.
our five.
Back to one, get ready for the ending.
Has a much different flavor,
changing the rhythm of the phrase.
Changing the order of the voicings.
But you can mix and match these things
to your taste, it's really where
the art of rhythm comes into it and
the choices you're going to make.
Now when you're listening
to recordings and
you hear horn sections
on old Blues records,
that's the stuff you could start to listen
for is what's the rhythm of the phrase?
Can I grab that phrase on the guitar?
That's how you expand your
vocabulary as a rhythm player
is to listen to the recordings and
steal their ideas.
Once you know the basic technique,
it's not that hard.
All right, so mess around with that,
and we got our horn section together.
We're gonna do one more little thing to
wrap up rhythm playing for the moment and
we're gonna turn attention
to playing some licks.