In this special feature Jon Bishop examines the backbone behind some of the greatest guitar music ever recorded, as he delves into the world of rock’n’roll rhythm, using some of the genre’s most famous names as inspiration.
Forget “who put the bomp in the bomp-pah-bomp-pah-bomp”, today we’re going to find out who put the ‘rock’ in rock’n’roll! In this lesson we’ll be taking the famous rock’n’roll rhythm pattern - the backbone of the music - and exploring different ways to add interest and variety. The feature will focus heavily on the picking hand, and each of the examples requires a slightly different approach; some using down picking only; others featuring hybrid picking technique (pick and fingers); while others adopt a ‘fingers only’ approach that mimics those players who use a thumbpick and fingers (use that method if you prefer, as the tab fingering is the same).
The rock’n’roll style borrows heavily from blues and also from country (Elvis Presley added black blues to white country, while Chuck Berry added white country to black blues), so it is no surprise that many songs follow the classic 12-bar pattern so commonly associated with these genres. For the purposes of our studies this means the I, IV and V chords are A, D and E. To add tension these are often changed to A7, D7 and E7.
To create a rock’n’roll riff there are several scales and arpeggios that can be used and combined. These building blocks include the A major arpeggio (A-C#-E) the A major Pentatonic scale (A-B-C#-E-F#) and the A minor Pentatonic scale (A-C-D-E-G).
The most basic version of the rock’n’roll riff is when the chords move between A5 and A6 to ape the left hand of a boogie-woogie pianist - think Chuck Berry or Status Quo. This boogie riff can be played with a straight eighth-note feel (Rockin’ All Over The World by Status Quo) or a swung eighth feel (Whatever You Want by Status Quo). Early innovators like Chuck Berry sometimes mixed up the feels, with the rhythm section playing a swing rhythm, and the guitar playing straight eighths (Johnny B Goode). Once this base is established, we can add extra notes and ideas to expand our rock‘n’roll riff vocabulary.
It can be hard work to get this otherwise simple riff to sound really good, and as ever the devil is in the detail. Things to consider are: how much palm mute should be added; how much fretting-hand muting is required; how are the dynamics of the rhythm to be played; and which notes are best accented?
This month there are 10 audio examples to study, complete with notation, and each one focuses on the style of a famous rock’n’roll artist. To provide a familiar playing field the examples are in the guitarist friendly key of A (we mustn’t forget that, as many rock’n’roll riffs were written on the guitar they exist due to the instrument’s physical idiosynchrasies).
As usual there’s a jam track, which is also in the key of A, as well as individual backing tracks supplied for you to practice with.
Rock’n’roll is a hugely important genre for guitar, bridging as it does the old and the new - it’s also great fun to play, so please enjoy!
Some new rhythm ideas are guaranteed here, for even the most seasoned of rock’n’roll guitarists.