Watch the Day 11 online guitar lesson by Chris Buono from 40 Day Rhythm SWAT Camp
Nobody plays rhythm like Pete Townshend, except maybe Green Day's Billie Joe? Before condeming this declaration as way too rash, commit an hour or so to digesting the following Green Day rhythm guitar primer.
Within this crash course you'll discover evidence of vintage Who and Kinks power pop, Pistols-style bollocks-to-the-wall chordal assaults, and even an occasional nod to Van Halen, all reminiscent of the band's early '90s sound as chronicled on Lookout Records' 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours compilation. Sometime between then and 1994's Dookie, Green Day engineered a stylistic overhaul that stripped down many of these elements and all but eliminated guitar solos. Their adolescent themes and Beatley harmonies were recast over speedy, fat-sounding chordal riffs that have remained emblematic through the band's current release, Insomniac.
One factor has remained constant. Billie Joe's relentless rhythm guitar drives the band. Devoid of vocal melodies, the following stylistic examples may seem generic or derivative, but therein lies the challenge to bring them to life. Think of each as a road map to an exuberant performance. The benefits range from learning the basics or a few new tricks to rediscovering the inherent giddiness in banging out simple chord forms.
Examples 1-6 are notated using slash rhythms. Examples 1a-1g exploit the same rhythm motif, a Green Day staple found in such songs as "Judge's Daughter," "Why Do You Want Him?", "Only You," "Dry Ice" and "I Want To Be Alone." Root motion outlines the progressions V-IV-I-V, I-VI-IV-V, I-V-III-IV, I-II-IV-V, I-III-IV-I, I-III-IV-VI respectively.
Ex. 2a features the same rhythm with twice the duration (two bars) for each chord. The slight rhythmic alteration in Ex. 2b outlines a III-I-V progression with a neutered (no 3rd) III chord (C#5).
Typical of a Billie Joe "chord solo," Ex. 3a offers a look at open passing chords, those naturally occurring open strrings that sound en route to the next chord. Apply the concept to other examples as you see fit.
The "X" noteheads in the Townshend-esque power-chord riffs of Ex. 3b and 3c indicate muted, not open, strings as in the previous example. Both use I-b-VII-IV progressions, another Green Day hallmark.
Subtle rhythmic variations shape the I-b VII-IV riff in Ex. 4a. Ex. 4b transposes the progression to B with a rare swing-8th injection. The Who-ish Ex. 5a is a cranked up I-V-IV figure, while Ex. 5b serves up a syncopated I-IV-bII-I.
The 4-bar phrase in Ex. 6a chugs solidly on the I except for the brief bVII-IV punctuation in bar 3. Play the "X" noteheads in Ex. 6b as wither muted or open strings. Note the major III chord (G#) in the I-III-IV progression. Ex. 6c introduces a rarity in Green Day music: rests. The open spaces between syncopated chords build plenty of rhythmic tension before resolving to straight-ahead eighth-notes in bar 4.
Lest you think that all Billie Joe does is pound out chords, consider Ex. 7, reminiscent of circa 1990 GreenDay. Arpeggiating the root/5 chords against a droning open B string creates expanded harmonies. Top this off with the following flurry of 5th and 7th fret harmonies and you'll swear you can smell Van Halen nearby.
Arpeggiated chordal figures were much more prominent in Green Day's earlier sound. Ex. 8 presents two more BJ-approved open string voicings: Asus2 and the eerie F#add4. Adding the open E creates F#7add4. Try it.
Examine the two single-note riffs derived from I-bVii progressions in Ex. 9a and 9b. Ex 9a adds a 4 to the I and a #4 to the bVII. The 12/8 feel and ominous tonality in Ex. 9b impart a grungy mood.
The introductory figure in Ex. 10a features a pedal B5 chord against a moving bass line, another favorite Townshend technique. Ex 10b is a Sex Pistols-style approach to the old V-I. Broken down to diads (double-stops or two-note chords), Ex. 11 describes the harmonic climate over an extended (two bars each) I-bVII progression. Fingerstyle double-stops in Ex. 12 create another Van Halen vibe, again over a I-bVII movement.
Ex. 13a transforms a B pentatonic minor line into a wicked chord riff in which each chord in bar 1 switches string groups. Ex. 13b and 13c are killer one-bar hooks outlining I-V-#IV-V and I-bVII-I respectively.
Single notes, double-stops, and chords are combined to various degrees in Ex. 14a and 14b. The intense Yardbirds-style rave-up in Ex. 15a is recast as a single-note riff in Ex. 15b.
Ex. 16, an uncharacteristically metal-like intro, alternates single-note phrases with quick double-stops that pit the I and bVII chords against an open-G drone. Broken chord figures that contrast muted bass lines with sharp chordal puncuatations are among the most recognizable elements of BJ's current style. Ex 17 illustrates with a I-V-VI-III-IV-I-V progression, while Ex. 18 puts a I-V-VI-IV through similar paces.
So there you have it, a cavalcade of chordal cacophony that'd make old rubberwrist proud. Approach each example with unbridled passion, and you too could be Green for a Day!