Last month we examined the role of the picking hand, particularly the use of bare fingers, in creating dynamics and adding dimension to your phrasing. Early in the electric blues era, this bare-handed approach was especially popular among “down-home” (rural southern) players, who also developed a variation on bare-fingered technique called chicken pickin’. The musical potential of imitating hens clucking in a barnyard may be somewhat limited, but the technique also opens the door to a variety of funky, percussive phrases.
Last month, we analyzed the densely layered rhythmic blend of tresillo, backbeat and triplets that powered many classic New Orleans-based R&B hits. This month, we'll look at the city's unique spin on one of the fundamental grooves of humanity itself: the two-beat.
In the late Fifties, Brazilian guitarist/pianist/vocalist Antonio Carlos Jobim took his fascination with jazz harmony and the guitar compositions of Heitor Villa-Lobos, combined it with influences as varied as composers like Debussy, Chopin, Ravel and Rachmaninoff, and helped give birth to a whole new style: bossa nova. (Translated from Portuguese, bossa nova means the “new way of doing” something.) This fresh-sounding, über-groovy, guitar-centric music (typically played on a nylon-string acoustic, accompanying a vocalist) required fluid fingerstyle chops, flawless time feel, a command of seventh and extended/altered chords—what’s known as “upper-structure harmony”—and the ability to improvise.
American music—blues, jazz, R&B, country and all the rest—were formed from the blending and reblending of African, Caribbean and European musical elements in the social cauldron of these United States. New Orleans, Louisiana—a.k.a. NOLA—was a crucial first point of cultural contact and cited mainly as the birthplace of jazz, but by the early Fifties, New Orleans was also home to a distinctive style of rhythm and blues. The difference was in the rhythm itself. Records coming out of the city began featuring an unusual blend of ingredients like tresillo, triplets, backbeat, two-beat and second line (or parade beat).
"Jeff Buckley release only one full-length studio album in his lifetime, 1994's Grace," writes Dale Turner, "but in the 15 years since his passing on May 29, 1997, his influence endures, often cited as an inspiration by artist like Radiohead, Chris Cornell, Muse, Coldplay and a host of newer acts."
When beginning any new adventure, it is important to first look inward. What are your unique goals? Are you ready to be focused, hardworking, punctual and self-disciplined? If yes, you're on the right track. If you find yourself lacking any of these virtues, it might be best to work on them first before you go and frustrate yourself and others.