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Play Funk Guitar – Lesson Eight

In today’s lesson, we examine the use of open strings in funk guitar. An often overlooked technique, the use of open strings can provide a solid foundation to build new exciting funk riffs and licks. Although the guitar’s open strings favour keys such as E, A and D, you can always add a capo on to move your new open string riffs into different keys. As always be sure to create your own ideas in this style, and document your licks for reference.

Funk Guitar Example 1 – Open E String Funk

Having an open E riff is incredibly satisfying. In standard tuning the low E is the lowest pitch note we have available for us, and can act as a bass note for this funk riff. This single note groove is rhythmic and catchy, and with the application of hammer-ons and pull-offs make it more challenging than it originally seems. Make sure when you slow down these funk riffs that you still maintain the groove and rhythmic structure.

Intro to Funk Guitar 8 - Example 1 E Open Strings

Funk Guitar Example 2 – Open Am Funk

This open Am funk riff has hints of rock and blues wrapped up in it. Funk is an incredibly versatile genre and can blend well with rock, blues and even jazz. The use of chromatic notes and a mini Cmaj7 arpeggio here all add up to make a slick riff.

Intro to Funk Guitar 8 - Example 2 A open Strings

Funk Guitar Example 3 – Bluesy Open Funk Riff

Examples one and two focussed on open string single note riffs. I wanted to include an idea that uses open strings and chords but retains that funky feel. Standard open chords tend not to lend themselves too well to funk music, but open string drones with chord fragments on top certainly can. This dominant 7th chord vamp, uses an E7, and an A7 three note triad shapes interspersed with open strings, to create a fresh sounding riff.

Intro to Funk Guitar 8- Example 3 Open String Chord Fragments

Recommended listening

For classic Average White Band style guitar licks, I recommend buying the album “Cut The Cake/Soul Searching/Benny & Us.” My favourite track on that album being “Cut The Cake.”

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Guitar Lesson Video Transcription

Hi everyone, Simon here once again for Fundamental Changes. Today we’re looking at using open strings in your funk playing riffs. Let’s go and have a look at 3 examples of that, just after this.

[guitar playing]

There was our Example 1. As you can tell, it’s got an E dominant feel about it using the open 6 string as your reference open string. Open strings are a really, really neglected part, I believe, of all guitar playing, but especially rhythm stuff in funk styles.

You can get really fat, full sounding riffs by adding in open string drones and everything like that. Obviously, with all of these, as with all of our other riffs we’ve been looking at, the most important thing is you have the groove and the rhythmic structure that goes behind these funk riffs.

In this example here, obviously having that root open 6th string, and then using a mixture of the 5th and the 7th frets on the A to get your flat 7th and your root note, and little fills all around the place there. The 2nd time, getting that quick hammer-on and pull off sequence there – the pull off and the hammer-on sequence there – really adds a sparkle to this riff.

Obviously, if you want to do things in different keys, you’re going to need to use a capo, but that can sound really cool. If you’ve got this riff we’ve just done here in E7, put a capo on the 1st fret, you can do the same riff and everything up 1 fret, then you’ve got an F 7 riff. That’s quite a cool capo funk playing you don’t see particularly often, but can sound really, really awesome.

Let’s go and have a look at our Example 2.

[guitar playing ]

This riff here is around A minor, A blues type feel. Obviously you’ve got the open A as your single open string note here. We start off with a lick on the open A string that incorporates the blues scale by using the flattened 5th there that appears at the 6th fret of the A string.

Then we end up with a little C major 7 arpeggio. There’s one way of looking at it. You can look at it a few ways, you could see it in terms of A minor as well, but I’ll keep it C major 7 here.

You’ve got the 5, 4 on the 3rd, 5 on the 4th, and then 7-3 on the A or the 5th string. Once again, focusing on groove, keeping it alternate picking and nice and regimented, make sure you use a drum track or some kind of metronome to keep your playing nice and tight. When you play with bases and drummers and other musicians and you’re syncing up your groove, you’ll already be ready because you’ll already be in the pocket with your own playing. You’ve just got to sync it in with those other instruments.

Let’s go and have a look at Example 3.

[guitar playing]

Examples 1 and 2 were around single-note funk riffs again, but using open strings, I wanted to include a chord riff that uses some open strings as well.

I’m personally not a huge fan of open chords in funk guitar playing. As a general rule, your standard Gs and Ds and Cs and A minors, all of those, I personally don’t think they ever sound that funky. They’re always going to favor pop and other genres like that.

However, what you can have, once again, is some kind of open string drone, and then using triads and little fragments of chords over the top of that drone. In this case, once again, we’ve got an E dominant vamp, a 3-note E 7 here that starts off nothing like on the 6th, 7-6-7 on the adjacent strings there.

Then using a little bit of – some little variations on the top of that, and 3-note A 7 triad that comes on the 5th fret of the 6th string, nothing, 5-6 on the 4 and the 3. With these open 6 strings, and then occasionally the open top 2, giving this little flavor here.

This is a fun little vamp, sounds really, really cool, fresh and exciting, all by using open strings. Obviously in the guitar, E, A, and D, and G and B if you like, you can always write in those keys for open strings.

As I mentioned before, if you want to move that with a capo you can do it at any key, but it’s always going to sound different to fretted notes. It gives a really fresh, new sound.

I hope you’ve got something from this, include this in your own playing, include them in both your lead and your rhythm playing as well, because you can get new ideas when pulling off and using these riffs and ideas in your own lead playing too.

I’ll see you next time for more licks and tricks in the style of funk guitar. If you have any comments or anything you’d like to add, please just include them in the comments section below, as I do read all of them, and I really value you guys’ opinion.

Take care, I’ll see you soon.

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Simon Pratt Guitar Teacher

Author - Simon Pratt

Simon Pratt attended the Guitar Institute (now called the Institute Of Contemporary Music Performance) in London where he excelled in his Diploma of Popular music performance and graduated in 2005. His passion for funk music continued while studying privately with top funk player and editor of Future publishing magazines Jason Sidwell. Always keen to learn, Simon has attended…

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Since purchasing Joseph’s Book 1 of the Complete Guide to Playing Blues Guitar, I’ve gained a much deeper understanding of the options available to me when playing the blues. He writes clearly and methodically, giving just enough information on each topic so that I can confidently integrate new techniques and expand my playing knowledge.

The book provides alternative approaches to each method to drive home the idea that you the player should experiment and find what works best in different situations based on your preference. Clear explanations of different chord voicings and rhythm options have really opened up the palette of sounds to choose from, and I look forward to continuing the series.

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