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How to Play Chord based Rock n Roll Riffs - Part 1

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Published on Dec 15, 2012

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Much of what we learn about blues playing is transferable to playing Rock n Roll Lead guitar. However, there are some crucial differences and these are what we are going to explore in this series of lessons on chord based Rock n Roll Riffs.

If we just launch into soloing over a rock n roll beat using our pentatonic, blues or country scales it kinda works ok, but it's definitely not quite got the level of excitement that Rock n Roll requires. It needs more edge, more attack...more guts... more panache .. more of this.

For now, let's forget about scales and concentrate on chords.

As a point of departure let's start with a chord shape that should be reasonably familiar to you. The E shaped barre chord.
And let's look at these chord notes against the major scale with it's key note on the E string. This enables us to identify the chord notes in the key of the chord root.
Ok, don't worry if that didn't make much sense. All we have done is taken a familiar chord shape and identified each note of the chord by its position in the major scale of the same name as the chord so here's our A major chord and our A major scale and by working out where in the scale each chord note is we can label it in a way that I promise you is going to prove incredibly useful the further you develop your guitar skills and knowledge.

Ok -- so let's start with a real nice simple idea -- take the top two notes of the chord

...the fifth and the root and play them as a double stop like this. Try sliding into them with this sort of rhythm. OK now notice that exactly the same pair of notes - the fifth and root can be found repeated an octave lower. So we can give them the same treatment and play them off against each other like this.
So look out for that one -- the fifth and root used as a double stop -- pops up all over the place.
Now let's look at the fifth and third and add that to what we are doing already. Similarly the root and third together.

OK so that's just taking the major chord as it is and pairing up notes adding a bit of technique with the slide and a good crisp rhythm -- these - all basic elements of rock n roll riffs.

Now let's add some notes to the basic major chord...starting with the fourth
Favourite trick of second generation Rock n Roll Bands like the Rolling Stones and the Who was to use the suspended fourth sound. This is where you add the fourth note but make sure it resolves back to the third like this.

The second commonly used idea I am going to show you, I am sure you will recognise the sound of immediately -- especially if you're a Chuck Berry Fan -- it uses something called the unison fifth.

Unison refers to two notes of the same pitch played together. Chuck Berry used to love doing this by bending the note...usually while duckwalking across the stage! But you can get a similar but subtly different effect by sliding up the G string like this. Finally for this lesson, let's look at adding the sixth note. This is often used to echo the rhythm guitar added 6th shuffle idea, but it can also be used in a similar way to the sus 4 idea.
OK so that's a quick look at a few ideas all based on messing around with the 'E' Shaped pattern adding a few extra scale notes here and there.

Just with these ideas alone we can play some pretty neat chord-based improvised solos. Moving the ideas we have been over in this lesson round the 12 bar is pretty straight forward.

In the next lesson we'll add a couple of commonly used non-scale notes (also called non-diatonic notes) to our basic major chord. I'll look forward to seeing you in that lesson. Meanwhile let's play out with a bit of a rock n roll jam using some of what we have so far learned.

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