Some of my best ideas for rhythm guitar playing have come from listening to other instruments. A piano part, bass line or drum pattern, when adapted for guitar, can create a fresh approach to a standard shuffle groove. One of the best sources for rhythm ideas is horn section parts. Horn sections in blues bands usually consist of a trumpet and a couple of saxophones, and the typical horn section part consists of a repetitive rhythmic figure, or "riff," played in harmony behind a vocalist or soloist.
TAB FIGURE 1 depicts a typical riff adapted from B.B. King's recording of "Sweet Little Angel" (from Live at the Regal, one of the all-time classic live blues recordings). It consists of three basic chords: A13, D9 and E9 (the I, IV and V chords in the key of A).
The chords in the parenthesis are played using the same voicings either up or down a half step; these are "embellishment" chords that create a feeling of motion in the part without altering the basic harmony.
FIGURE 1 is typical of horn section riffs in several ways:
1) It's a two-bar rhythmic phrase that is repeated through the entire progression.
2) It's made up of 13th and ninth chords. These harmonies have a fuller, more "uptown" sound than either triads or seventh chords.
3) Each chord contains only four notes, since most horn sections have a maximum of four horns.
TAB FIGURE 2 is a cool "stomp" riff, adapted from the T-Bone Walker record T-Bone Jumps Again. The chords are the same as in the first example, but the rhythm is different. Notice that the change to the IV chord (D9) actually occurs one beat early (on beat four of bar 1). This anticipation is used on all the changes to help propel the groove.
Another common horn section idea is to keep repeating the same two-bar lick over a standard 12-bar progression. TAB FIGURE 3 is also inspired by "T-Bone Jumps Again." Play it over our original 12-bar in A, repeating it every two bars without changing a note.