Funk music is based on 16th note grooves. A versatile guitarist needs to be able to play great rhythm guitar in order to do well playing lead guitar. Knowing chords, chordtones, and the length of notes(rhythm), as well as understanding the rhythms themselves enables us to be able to play over the chords played by a rhythm guitarist/keyboardist/etc. To this, we’ll start with an explanation of 16th notes and how to “hear” them.

Let’s start with a basic funk sound: the scratch. Play deadened strings with your fret hand muting them. 16 th notes are 4 notes-per-beat, so if we count them out loud, they would be “1-ee-&-ah-2-ee-&-ah3-ee-&-ah-4-ee-&-ah”, etc. You’re always best practicing these with a drum machine or a metronome. Play all of the notes with alternate picking, meaning up & down motion. I’ll use the standard symbols for up and down:

This is what we’ll be basing our funk rhythm sound on. You want to get comfortable with playing this kind of rhythm. It can get tiring, so it should be practiced regularly, and with a loose wrist. No anchoring to the guitar body here and no stiff-wristed arm action, either. When you add chords to the rhythm, you’ll be controlling the articulation and the duration of the chord with the fretting hand, so keep the movement to a minimum. The X will be used to show a dead strum, with no stray notes sounding, muted with the fretting hand, and the slash will signify a full chord, as named above the staff. In the next example, we’ll see muted notes mixed with fretted E9 chords. Play this slowly so that you can keep track of where the chord should sound in the rhythm. It’ll be much easier to start counting, maybe even out loud, to figure out where the chord should fit. You then want to add the chord on the appropriate beat. Just keep the chord ready to play and tighten down the grip when appropriate. Do this slowly at first to get used to the quick chord grip that you may not be used to playing. Maybe start at 70 beats per minute and gradually work up from there.

The first example puts an E9 chord on the first 16th note of every beat, or the down beat. It’s the note that falls on the “1”, “2”, "3", or “4”. Check it out:

The second example is going to sound pretty much the same to anyone listening. We’re going to play on a downpick, but it’s going to be the 3rd 16th note of the grouping, which would land on “&” of the grouping. 1-ee-&-ah 2-ee-&-ah, etc. You may want to think of it as the downpick or downstrum after the metronome beats and/or your foot taps. You could also think “down-up-down-up, down-up-down-up” etc.

With this exercise, keep the E9 chord, but we’ll be playing on the up picks or the upstrum. The first will be on the 2nd attack of the 16th note grouping. This will be on the “ee” of “1-ee-&-ah”. Check it out:

And our last exercise of these straight rhythms will involve the other upbeat, the 4th attack of the 16th note grouping. This would be the "ah" of “1-ee-&-ah”. You might think of this note as being the upstrum that leads into the next downbeat, which would be a numbered beat, or where your foot taps/metronome beats.

Here’s where it becomes interesting: mixing and matching these chord hits. This next example is going to give us the 16th notes divided up into 3s, with a 4 note grouping at the end. You could count it the way we’ve been thinking, with the “one-ee-&-ah” method, or think of it as “1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3-4”. You also may think of it as “down-up-down, up-down-up, down-up-down, up-down-up, down-up-down-up”. Whatever works for you.

Try this one with a D9 chord. You can continue scratching in between the chord hits for a while, so that you can hear and feel the chord accents against the meter. Once your comfortable with this, try floating your hand above the strings instead of scratching. Sometimes scratching is appropriate, such as in Earth, Wind, & Fire tunes, and sometimes it’s not appropriate, such as in Prince tunes.

The example on the left is the same as an earlier example, except you want to use a swing 16th note feel, or a hip-hop feel. To do this, delay the 2nd and 4th 16th note within each beat. Keep the downstrokes the same, but delay the upstrokes. Think “long-short, long-short, long-short, long-short” when playing the 16th note strums. Once you’ve got the groove, try floating your had on the muted 16ths.

Keep the swing/shuffle groove going for the next example, using F9. This one sounds great with a swing feel.

The next example, along with all the rest, can be played first straight and then with a swing feel. For now, stay with the dominant 9th voicing. The dominant 9th can always be used to substitute for a dominant 7th chord. It’s a major chord(actually a triad), which is made up of root, 3rd and 5th of it’s major scale, with an included 7th note of the same scale. Lower the 7th note by one fret(½ step), and add the 9th note as well. When you count up the major scale, the 9th note ends up being the same as the 2nd note. In the case of E9, the notes are E, G#, B, D, and F#. For F9, it’s F, A, C, Eb, & G. For the next chord, G9, we’re looking at G, B, D, F, & A.

The next example uses C9. C9 has C, E, G, Bb, & D.

Here’s a Hendrix-inspired funk rhythm. We’ll use the “Hendrix chord”, an E7#9. It’s the same as E7 with a raised 9. For this chord, we’re looking at E, G#, B, D, & F##. What’s F##? It’s F raised twice, which is the same as G natural. An easy way to think of it is E7(E, G#, B, & D) with a minor 3rd. This mixes a major 3rd and a minor 3rd. Pretty dissonant. Great for the blues or a really outside rock tune, like Hendrix might write.

Slide the dom. 9 chord a half-step from the D#9 at the 5th fret to the E9 at the 6th fret. Authentic James Brown-approved grooves here.

Use the same slide technique for B9 up to C9. Try some of the previous examples with half-step slides infused into them.

Here are some different chord voicings that are useful in any setting. For funk, you want the chords on the highest pitched strings. If you put ‘em too low, they start to sound muddy when mixed with the other instruments.

Posted 7 years ago