Guitar Techniques: Texas Style Blues
Time to get in line for some basic blues rhythm techniques, courtesy of Stevie Ray Vaughan
It’s time to learn a blues rhythm guitar technique, similar to the one used by Stevie Ray Vaughan in Pride And Joy from Texas Flood (1983). It basically consists of a walking bass part on the bass strings punctuated by short open string stabs on the upper top two strings.
All the exercises are marked to be played in the shuffle rhythm – that is, instead of playing in even quavers, the first quaver of each beat is lengthened and the second quaver is correspondingly shortened – roughly equivalent to a triplet, with the first two of the three quavers in a triplet tied together. A shuffle feel can vary from barely perceptible through to a lazy feel or a sharp, clipped feel, depending on the desired effect. For practice, try varying the degree of the shuffle feel in the following exercises from subtle through to severe. So off we go with a killer Stevie Ray-style riff…
1: Correct Plectrum Technique
This first exercise is played solely on open strings in order to isolate the plectrum technique required to play the part. The plectrum strokes indicated above the notes in the music mean a downstroke on the beat and an upstroke half way through the beat – the ‘sim’ indication is short for simile, which means continue in a similar manner; that is, continue with the alternate strumming pattern. To emphasise the desired effect, the exercise is written in two parts or voices – the bass part with the downward pointing note stems and the upper chordal part with the upward pointing note stems.
The bass note is played on the beat, followed by the top two open strings on the upbeat, then another bass note on the next beat. When this second bass note is played, the top two strings are to be stopped dead at the same time, as the bass note is struck by sticking the palm of the plectrum hand back onto the strings. This requires a slightly different hand position from normal – closer to the bridge so that the palm can stop the top two strings without touching the bottom three strings. This is tricky, so practice very slowly at first. The end result is well worthwhile, but some degree of patience is required… as well as persistence
2: Walking Bass Pattern
Let’s apply the technique in Exercise 1 to a two-bar walking bass pattern in the key of E. Firstly, play the bass part on its own, then add the chordal stabs on the top two strings. Make sure the bass notes last for a full beat, giving a continuous bassline with no gaps – don’t lift the finger from the bass note at the same time as you stop the top two strings. The walking bass line implies an Em6 chord, hence the Em6 in brackets.
3: IV Chord Riffs
A similar riff to that in Exercise 2, this riff corresponds to what would be chord IV in the key of E, and the walking bass line implies an A6 chord, hence the A6 in brackets. As in Exercise 2, first of all play the bass part on its own. The tricky part when putting both parts together is that the bass part moves onto the third string at the beginning of the second bar. This entails stopping the top two strings at the same time as striking the third string at the second fret – precise positioning of the strumming hand is required. Of course, this could be refingered so the bass notes remain on the bottom string, but since the whole point of Boot Camp is to develop technique, try it the way it’s written!
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