Jon Bishop unveils the wonderful world of soul and looks at chords and progressions that created some of the best-loved songs of the 20th century and beyond.
The aim of this lesson is to provide you with some classic chords and progressions to help you sound more authentic in the soul and R&B musical styles. It is also intended to give your rhythm playing and chord knowledge a good workout. Soul music is a unique blend of jazz, blues, pop and gospel and is the key style from which the ‘funk’ genre blossomed. R&B generally features more advanced jazz-type harmony and chord types.
The guitar is one of the key instruments in the soul ensemble, providing the backbone of the groove and also playing fills and single note lines. Other instrumentation used in soul music includes: strings, brass, piano, Fender Rhodes, organ, bass, drums and percussion.
This month’s examples use simple chords like major and minor triads and then build in complexity as we move on to extended, altered and slash chords. In this article we may sometimes refer to the various chord fingerings as ‘voicings’. The word voicing is just a fancy name for how many notes there are in a chord and the low to high string ordering these notes are placed. For example, the C major chord contains the notes C, E and G, but the guitarist can choose how to play (voice) this chord on the fretboard. The notes can be repeated and placed in different orders to create new sounds. Many of the examples in this feature sound good because of the particular voicing that has been chosen.
The chord types used in the examples can be grouped into the following areas: triads, 7th chords, extended chords (9th, 11th ,13th), altered dominants and slash chords.
The chords in the examples (with the exception of the altered dominants) are created by harmonising the major scale in diatonic 3rds. This process involves stacking 3rds from a given scale (diatonic simply refers to any scale made up of tones and semitones) to create chord types. Take for instance the C Major scale, (C D E F G A B); if we stack up 3rds from the root note C, we get C, E and G which create the C Major triad. If we continue this process we can add B (the major 7th), D (9th) etc, right up to A (13th). If we then start this process on the second note of the C Major scale, D, then we create a D minor chord (D, F and A) - and so on.
When we come to use slash chord notation, remember that the first letter is the triad (the three-note chord on top) and the second letter is the bass note. Therefore C/D would be a C major triad (C, E, G) with a D bass note. All of the fingerings have been tabbed so check out how these relate to the voicing in the notation.
The other chord type we’ll be looking at here is the altered dominant. This chord contains the root, major 3rd and minor 7th intervals. But in addition to these we can add altered 9th and altered 5th scale tones - namely the b9, #9, b5 and #5.
You’ll find an audio demonstration of the eight-bar examples which draw inspiration from some of soul and R&B’s biggest names. As a bonus, and to put the work from the examples into context, there is a final soul-styled jam track for you to learn. The demonstration guitar part has been tabbed out for all of the examples and then removed so you can play along with the backing tracks. Why not challenge yourself to come up with a part of your own over the backing track, using some of the examples as jumping off points along the way? Some of the best pop songs ever recorded are based around the soul feel and chord repertoire, and any gigging guitarist worth his salt will want to add them to his own aresenal.
As ever have fun with it, and see you next time. Thanks to James Compton for performing the keyboard parts.
Soul and R&B is a unique blend of jazz, blues, pop and gospel and is the key style from which the ‘funk’ genre blossomed.