Robben Ford’s Universal Groove

Robben Ford’s Universal Groove

GOOD NEWS! We have teamed up with Robben Ford to bring you his first interactive guitar course, set to release in late August. Stay tuned for the big announcement!

This guitar lesson by Jude Gold is from a past issue of Guitar Player Magazine.

With his stinging, soulful solos and flawless pocket, Robben Ford has an uncanny knack for making complex music seem simple. Conversely, the guitarist can elevate a mundane one-chord vamp into something divine. Perhaps this is because Ford has successfully tackled so many genres. What has Ford learned from all of his musical adventures? “We’re all playing the same things,” he says.

To prove that common threads abound in music, Ford will take a I-VI-II-V progression and show that whether it’s played with a doo-wop group’s simplicity or a bebop pianist’s extended chords and slick substitutions, the underlying vibe is the sam —just one more universal phrase in the language of music. Read on for the full guitar lesson…

Guitar Lesson

http://truefire.com/guitabulary/lessons/robben.mp3

Chromatic Magic
Ford starts things off by playing Ex. 1, humorously giving the I-VIII-V a clichéd, ’50s-jukebox phrasing to illustrate what a workhorse it has been over the years. (As you check out the chord diagrams, dig how Ford often uses his thumb to fret bass notes.) In the next few examples, Ford will show you some exciting ways to elaborate on this timeless progression.

Robben Ford Guitar Lesson

“One easy way to generate a IVI-II-V is to play any chord and then move it up a minor third and come back down chromatically,” says Ford, playing Ex. 2a. “This involves tritone substitution. For example, we’re simply substituting the A dominant-7th chord [from Ex. 1] with one that’s built off Eb, which is a tritone away from A.”

Robben Ford Guitar LessonThat is, Eb9 is a tritone substitute for A7. The reason this sounds so smooth is because A7 and Eb9 have two notes in common: G and C# (which is enharmonically equivalent to Db). And when you pull the same trick on G7 by substituting it with Db9, your progression suddenly has a perfect chromatic descent in every voice, and you never even have to change your grip. When it comes to comping these chords, a good place to start is with Freddie Green-inspired quarter-note strums (two per chord).

Now, try this approach on other grips, such as the C6/9 or C13 in Ex. 2b. Fret either chord and put it through the same motions you did the C9 in Ex. 2a. Voila! Another killer I-VI-II-V.

Robben Ford Guitar Lesson

Baker’s Recipes
Early in his career, when Ford was hungry for new chords, he found a smorgasbord of them in an old Mickey Baker guitar book. To this day, Ford uses many of Baker’s fat voicings, and you can feast your fingers on some of these shapes in Ex. 3.

Robben Ford Guitar Lesson

Harmonically, this is a highly evolved approach to IVI-II-Vs. If you analyze the progression, however, you’ll find the recipe is simple. Just take a I-VI-II-V and throw in two special ingredients: spicy extensions (such as sharped-9ths, 5ths, etc.) and tritone substitutions. When you’re playing these grips with a rhythm section, you can, like Ford, make things easier for your fretting hand by dropping some of the bass notes and leaving them to the bass player.

Single-Note Sting
The beauty of a Ford solo is that no matter how busy or sparse it is, the impact is always the same:huge. Ford’s leads seem hardwired to his heart, and in Ex. 4, Ford comes at you with some melodic ideas you can try over I-VI-II-Vs. Enjoy the open sound of the first phrase, have a blast with the sixteenth-notes in the second. For more Ford fireworks, check out his latest release, Blue Moon [Concord Jazz].

Robben Ford Guitar Lesson

GOOD NEWS! We have teamed up with Robben Ford to bring you his first interactive guitar course, set to release in late August. Stay tuned for the big announcement!