Funk Music

Want to learn how to play the soulful style of Funk on the guitar? You're in the right place. This lesson is a beginner lesson on how to get yourself on the right foot for funky rhythmic guitar.

Ultimate Guitar
First And Foremost: this guide is not for lead guitar. In Funk, the guitar is used for rhythmic purposes, while a sax or some other horn or woodwind for the "lead" work. The Chords. In the style of Funk music, regular major chords won't do. So, instead, you beef everything up and use dominant chords. Dominant chords, and altered chords. In fact, both at once usually go very well in Funk. For those that do not know what dominant chords are, they are chords that contain the perfect fifth with the flat seventh and a major third. So, these chords will work for the key of E: E7, E9, E11, E13, E7#9, etc. The Rhythm. In Funk guitar there are two main things that you should do to make your strums sound a hell of a lot more funkier: 1. Straight Sixteenth Rhythm. When you play your chords, you'll want to choke your chords and keep your pick hand moving. You'll want to keep the same rhythm throughout. Remember the count for sixteenth notes (one ee and uh) so if you can't keep it going yourself, just count it out in your head. 2. Muted, Percussive Strums. When you're strumming for the rhythm, it wouldn't be interesting without some variety. Sixteen strums of a chord in one bar would get really boring, really quick. So, instead, you throw in some muted strums, and bam! you got variety. The muted strums really add a nice, funky flavor to your rhythm work. Here's an example of some muted strums in a funky rhythm progression.
Figure 1
The Hemiola. A Hemiola, what in the heck is this, you might ask. Is it some kind of bump on the skin, or a disease? It's far from it. It's a feel. In 4/4 feel there is a feeling of 4 and groups of 4. But, when you play with a hemiola you're still playing in 4/4 time, but you're playing with a feel of 3 instead of 4. This is a big staple in funk rhythm guitar, so learn how to do it. Here's an example on the 3 over 4 feel:
Figure 2
Single Notes And Double Stops. Not all funk guitar has to be chords. You can make the same groovy statement with single notes and double stops that fill in for the chords. When you use single notes, you can imply the same harmony as the chords without all of the chords, and use notes from the minor pentatonic scale of the same key. Here's an example using the groove from "Play That Funky Music (White Boy)" by Wild Cherry:
Figure 3
For the double stops, you can try playing this next example:
Figure 4
Wah-Wah. The Wah pedal is a great effect used in conjunction with all of the previously mentioned rhythm parts. It can add a lot more variety or cool sounds to your guitar work. But, make sure you don't use it all of the time, or your guitar work can sound cheesy. Minor Key Funk. In all of the previous examples we've been using happy sounding dominant rhythm figures. That's all because of the presence of the Mixolydian mode. It's a safe scale to play over the dominant chords, because it's a dominant mode. But, funk doesn't have to be all dominant, or all major sounding. Minor 7 chords and minor 6 chords are just as popular with funk as the dominant chords can be. Over these kind of figures, you can use the mode of Dorian (1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7) Swunk. Swunk? Did I just make that up? I think not. Swunk is a combination between Funk and swing. Swunk takes those other rhythm figures and adds a swing sixteenth feel. Outro. And that concludes my column and lesson on Funk. Do any users have any suggestions on additions for this lesson?

75 comments sorted by best / new / date

    A very good lesson. More chord shapes, rhythm patterns and examples from artists and a few excercises would have been nice.
    i found it realy good!! i play punk!! but now i think i play a bit funk too!! thanks!!
    Thanks dude!! now I know some more awesome stuff to add to my style!! Sweetness!!!
    Firstly thanks UG for everything, but how about a couple "bossa nova" or "reggae style" lessons. Two style's which I think are very sick. Reggae for its unique strumming pattern, and bossa also for its unique strumming pattern, but mostly hows it's basica chords sound amazing played nasywhere on the neck. Cheers.
    Sorry - that's for great examples of funk bass guitar playing.
    If you want to hear the best funk guitar player in the world, visit Garry "Diaper Man" Shider's web site. He's the guitar player for George Clinton and the Parliament / Funkadelics Mothership. And I think "Play That Funky Music (White Boy)" is by The Average White Band, not Wild Cherry - unless Wild Cherry did a remake that I'm not aware of. A good example of funk bass guitar playing can be found at Have fun!
    Did everyone else have a black guy pop up in their head when they played this or was it just me? Man that black guy can dance. Now i gotta learn me some jamiroquai and EW&F. He needs something to dance to.
    keke13 wrote: i found it realy good!! i play punk!! but now i think i play a bit funk too!! thanks!!
    you daft punk! =P ok that was gunna slap myself now XD
    "im rick james bitch" ..... grand funk railroad. gorge clinton . kool and the gang
    but 1 question.. do u think it wud still sound funky without horns or woodwind instruments? cud u pls give any suggestion how to be funky without those wind instruments...
    When you play the funky guitar chords it's funk indeed, and it sounds like this .. there are some bands which d not have any horns. Avoid the funk, cause it's gonna get you anyway !
    this is a really good lesson, however the second excercise's timing is off! you simply CANNOT play exactly that rhythm and be on time! And that is very important in this genre! The way the second example is, it makes you actually go off time, and then switch back on time, and then switch back to off time. that's just flat out confusing to try and nail that
    Thanks for inserting that Play that Funky Music riff. I always wondered how to play that.
    Good but dont cover other types of funk from different areas, for example The Meters (New Orleans Funk) which relied upon the cohesion of bass and lead guitar to provide a backing and not a rhythm guitar so point is: examples of how to play lead guitar in funk would have also been good
    Hell yeah. George Clinton is the master of funk. And you were right phlash, his guitarist (Gary Shider) is a bad ass.
    this is a alright lesson but you can pretty much figure out funk rythmn in like 2 minutes with a wah and a quick strum. but it was nice
    the lesson had good information stylistic elements of playing funk, but it could have had examples of the chord shapes that you mentioned.
    there isnt a typical tempo, it just depends on the tempo that you want. i mean, i know that doesnt really help, but im just saying, there really isnt a se tempo. allegro sounds like the average tempo, if you just want a straight answer.
    [quote]THANKS FINALLY! Could you please recommend me some "funk" bands?
    old school chilli peppers, primus, some rage against the machine.[/quote] Those are all funk rock bands. A funk band would be Stevie Wonder, Prince, Earth, Wind, & Fire, or Parliament.
    Iboseth: THANKS FINALLY! Could you please recommend me some "funk" bands?
    old school chilli peppers, primus, some rage against the machine.
    I must say, I'm impressed. I've never really listened to funk before, besides select Chili Peppers songs (Hey, close enough). As an intro into funk, this does well. max stars, man.