Rock’n’Roll Rhythm

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.

Guitar Techniques - - PLAY: RHYTHM -

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.

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