David Hamburger’s BluesAlchemy
“Rhumba Blues” is a jazzy blues arranged for guitar, bass and
drums, allowing the guitar to handle both lead and rhythm
chores. It also showcases a few ways to spice up tired chord
voicings by moving them up or down an octave. The G7#9
featured here is a good example: by moving the “Purple Haze”
chord down an octave, the chord ends up on the bottom four
strings, giving it a fat and chucky texture like a Hammond
organ, and there’s really nothing cooler than that.
Unlike simply comping behind a soloist, “Rhumba Blues” presents a challenge in keeping the lead and rhythm parts locked
together as you go back and forth. The basis of the tune is a
12-bar blues in G, and the chords are G7#9, C7 and D7 – we’ll
keep the chord voicings close together to make the changes
easier. The G7#9 is voiced by playing the root on the low E,
muting the A string, playing the F on the D string and Bb on the
G string; we’ll leave out the third to keep the chord from sounding muddy.
The lead/bass riff here is based on a G minor pentatonic scale
and mimics what the bass might be doing. Although we could
move the riff to follow the chord, leaving it static creates a focal
point for the listener and allows the chord changes to create the
movement and tension within the piece.
Once you have the basic changes and song structure under your
belt, try experimenting with different chord voicings – when you
reach the V chord, try playing a D7#9 to add some more flavor.
You can also change up the single note phrases; try moving it
with the changes or improvising for a measure or two and practice hitting the next chord stab in time.
Remember, by mixing up low-end, single note riffs and a few
well-chosen chord voicings, you can start unleashing a seemingly
endless stream of inventive-sounding yet supportive choruses
of rhythm guitar. There’s a world of ideas out there beyond the
guitar horizon, waiting to be pilfered by someone with a sense
of adventure, the gift of groove, and a light touch with other
people’s (rhythmic) pockets. Check out the pianists, organists and
horn sections on your favorite blues records and steal like mad.
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