Watch the Day 32 online guitar lesson by Chris Buono from 40 Day Rhythm SWAT Camp
The liquid, double-stop riffs that drive Jimi's "Little Wing" and Stevie Ray's "Lenny" are rooted in the melodic fretwork of R&B giant Curtis Mayfield. "What is a surfer without a nice big wave? You've got to have depth in the water to carry that wave," Curtis told Guitar Player in 1991. "Rhythm guitar is the foundation. It's what creates the movement that helps something ride on the surface, to really perform."
Mayfield maintains his depth and movement by fingerpicking and injecting harmonic fills. "People Get Ready," one of the guitarist's best known songs, contains good examples of his approach to rhythm guitar. Ex. 1 shows the second of the song's three fills. Notice how Mayfield implies the I-Vim-IV-I changes, rather than making them overt. Play the entire lick in the sixth position, fingerstyle. (Although Mayfield uses a unique F# tuning - F#A#C#F#A#F# low to high - for practical reasons we've notated these examples in standard tuning.)
The opening Db arpeggio leads you into a half-barre on the D, G, and B strings. Hold this from the last pickup note through the end of bar 1. Pay attention to tones that sustain from one move to the next. Strive for a relaxed, legato sound. At the beginning of bar 2, shift the half-barre one string lower to cover the A, D, and G strings. Keep it locked down - gently now - for all four beats. Dig the abundance of fourths and seconds in this lick. They give the passage its slightly mysterious, open sound.
In "Think" a gorgeous instrumental from Superfly, Mayfield relied on a combination of arpeggios and fills to create his wave of harmonic motion. Ex. 2 is the essence of the main guitar part. There are a lot of threes here: The song is in 3/4 time with a triplet pulse. Bar 1 is an arpeggiated D triad, second position. Again, legato is the name of the game - let the notes sustain as long as physically possible. The open A of beat three provides subtle momentum by leading into the root of the B7 arpeggio in bar 2.
In bar 3, play the last two notes (F# and G) on the G string. Yup, it's weird; your first inclination is to play them on the high-E string. But if you do this, the jump to Bm7 in bar 4 will be tough. Follow the tab, and the open strings of the strummed Em will provide a brief conic diversion while you shift from the second to the ninth position. Of course Curtis didn't have to do this; his tuning allowed him to grab this particular Bm7 voicing closer to home. C'est la vie.
"A Tribute To Curtis," takes a few of the previous ideas and some other Mayfield R&B goodies - plus a bit of Hendrix - and rolls them into a super-concentrated melodic rhythm study. As with the previous examples, play it fingerstyle. This eight-bar etude follows a traditional, blues-based call-and-response format. Before attempting the entire piece, do some reconnaissance: Play only the arpeggios - the calls - in the first two beats in every bar. This introduces you to all the chord positions and reveals the basic harmonic blueprint. Most of the fills - the responses - are derived from chord shapes, so knowing where these forms are located on the fretboard is half the battle.
Sliding fourths are an R&B staple, so I've included several here. Play them as written, with a grace-note leading into a pair of eighth note intervals, or as shown in Ex. 3. The difference is subtle, but shifting between rhythmic feels adds welcome rhythmic variety.
In "A Tribute To Curtis," the pickup notes lead into the first B arpeggio; be sure to slide down into the chord with your 3rd finger. You'll need to be quick to get there on time, so fret as lightly as possible. The fill in bar 1 contains sliding and suspended fourths - standard R&B fare.
At the end of bar 2, a chromatic line stretches from F# across the barline to G#m. The fingering is unusual, so pay close attention to the tab. You'll "crab" along the fretboard, moving from the sixth position to the fourth position with maximum legato. As you make the chromatic descent into bar 4, be sure to sustain the D# on the B string. You'll hear why when you nail it. The fill in bar 5 is full of similar chromatic-against-held-note movement. On the fourth note of the ascending sixteenth-note run, simply mosh your 1st finger across C# and F# (A and D strings) and hammer the Db and D#. Same deal for the last two notes on the D and G strings. The point - which you've probably grasped by now - is to create momentary dissonances that beg for resolution. Tension and release: A classic way to keep movement happening in your rhythm playing. Watch out for the fingering interruptus heading into bar 5. Musically, there's a chromatic line that bridges bars 4 and 5 (F#, Gb, G#). Physically, however, the line breaks as you move from the D string to the A string and leap six frets. This can work in your sonic favor. Swoop up to the G# (A string) from the 7th or 8th fret.
The fill in bar 5 is cool whenever you need to move from the IV to the I chord in an R&B context. The key to this lick is in the last two notes: Shift from G# to F# (A string) with your 3rd finger. Bingo! The 1st finger is ready for the I chord's root on the downbeat of bar 6. Measure 6's fill starts off as a pentatonic run and ends with a chromatic approach into bar 7's C#m. let the E (G string) sustain while you hammer B to Cb. Again, tension and release. Use a delicate touch for the triplet pull-offs in bar 7. Play the chromatic approach into F#/A# entirely with your 2nd finger. The final Bmaj7 sounds nice with a gentle whammy caress; of course, that's really more Hendrix than Mayfield.
Play with a drum machine - a simple back-beat pattern works fine - or metronome marking time on 2 and 4 (remember to halve the tempo). This will help correct a natural tendency to speed up the arpeggios and slow down the fills.