Lead guitar, rhythm guitar, The Orioles, the Yankees...Everyone breaks things up into teams, compartments, and sections. While the ability to build compartments has enabled our natural world to evolve and survive, often it's helpful for us guitarists to blur the line between the distinctions of rhythm and lead playing.
I call it The Front Porch Jamming Concept.
As a long haired teenager, I developed this idea while swatting mosquitoes and playing blues on the front step. It's served me well, both in band situations, and during long sets playing solo guitar on the street.
It's sometimes difficult for a guitar player to smoothly transition between a rhythm and a lead part.
This difficulty is further magnified when the guitarist is the only musician playing. When you're sitting on a park bench jamming away, and it comes time for the solo, the floor usually drops out from under the song, as there's no supporting rhythm. The solo sounds empty, thin, and pathetic. In turn, you might try harder, forcing the tone, and rushing the timing. Then, that song will go somewhere in a hand basket very quickly. And it won't be Kansas.
However, the greats never have a problem in this regard, especially the power trio wizards like Jimi and Stevie. But how can we begin to learn this skill?
Solution (One Of Many)
To apply the FPJC (I love acronyms), we can begin as follows:
Start with a simple blues shuffle in E. Make it groove, and feel it in your bones. Popular application tells us that the E minor pentatonic scale is our go-to pattern to create a solo over a vamp such as this. As we're thumping out that shuffle pattern, we will begin to create fills with the associated E minor pentatonic. Instead of stopping the rhythm, and soloing, we're simply going to add a few notes from the scale, and then go back to playing rhythm.
The important point to remember is to keep the groove going.
How? First, don't play a complicated line. Just two or three notes that fall outside of the shuffle pattern will suffice. Secondly, concentrate on the momentum of the song. You'll be shuffling DA da DA da DA da DA da, so reflect that in your fill. This can be achieved by playing similar rhythmic patterns, and also by keeping the rhythm part playing in your mind while you execute the fill.
I know this sounds goofy, but the ability to refer to a mental reference, be it for rhythm, timing, or tone, is invaluable. Put differently, if you use your hands or tapping foot for a reference, as soon as you make a mistake, or miss a beat, you're sunk. While the mind may be full of dark demons and little voices telling you that the rice crispies are poisoned with the rare albino dung beetle that looks like rice, it can be more accurate than relying on your hand.
As you play these fills, strive to convey the idea that the rhythm hasn't stopped, but that it's merely changed forms.
As you apply this, experiment with playing farther and farther away from the home base shuffle pattern. Concentrate on maintaining both the song's rhythm and form (I-IV-V) as you create melodies. You may find that there's a point where you stretch things too thin, and can't convey the sense of momentum. Pull back in, and try again. But do try. Trial and error are the names of the game here.
You'll know you've mastered the idea when a listener can dance to your rhythm and lead playing.
The Front Porch Jamming Concept is just pretending. But like a magician pretending that the rabbit really did vanish, conviction results in convincing.
Keep up the good work, and I'll see you next time. For more ideas, don't forget to check out my blog!
Copyright 2008 Josh Urban - All Rights Reserved
Josh Urban (photo) is a musician with a unique perspective on music. Always a thinker, he gains insight wherever he can find it, be it in the clubs as a working musician, busking on the city streets, or teaching in the classroom. A naturally enthusiastic fellow, Josh is always fired up about bringing the lessons he's learned to his readers. Maintaining a website, a blog, and a monthly newsletter, he aims to make musicians stop, think, and play with a little more intensity, integrity, and inspiration. You never know who's listening.