Spice up your funk rhythm chops with this Shane Theriot video masterclass

Shane Theriot
(Image credit: Press)

In this video masterclass, Shane Theriot demonstrates his phenomenal New Orleans style funk chops in a series of five exercises.

Hailing from Louisiana, not far from new Orleans itself, Theriot is a master guitarist, instructor and producer. A graduate of GIT in Los Angeles, he has worked with many A-list artists, including The Neville Brothers, Hall & Oates, Boz Scaggs, Willie Nelson and many more, and is Musical Director of the hit TV show, Live From Daryl’s House, with Daryl Hall.

Theriot has also produced several instructional books, such as New Orleans Funk Guitar Styles, written for Guitar Techniques’ sister magazine Guitar Player, and recorded original albums under his own name, including Still Motion (2017), Dirty Power (2009), and The Grease Factor (2003).

The classic New Orleans style funk sound can be heard from bands like The Meters, Chocolate Milk and Dr John, and its distinctive drum groove. This groove is probably an expanded and built-upon derivative of earlier musical rhythmic traditions of the area, such as those heard in ‘second line’ funeral parades from which jazz itself was born, and provides an infectious groove over which other instruments can overlay rhythmic and melodic phrases to create the swampy funk feel.

Shane demonstrates how to achieve this is in a variety of ways, first of which is in the form of a 3-2 clavé rhythm played with a popular C7 voicing for an E7 chord. This is a two-bar syncopated groove which has three distinct accents in the first bar, and two accents in the second bar. This sits perfectly with the drum pattern, and sounds amazing.

Expanding upon this, Shane next incorporates an upper structure E7 on the third, second and first strings, but building in a single-note line on the fourth, fifth and sixth strings which adds interest and movement to this one-chord groove, again resulting in a fantastic sounding ‘skanky’ funk vibe.

Moving into the key of G Minor, Shane demonstrates how to turn funky triads on the first, second and third strings into a groove by playing a G Minor triad (G-Bb-D) and using an F Major triad (F-A-C) as a passing chord. He also plays a funky blues-style line after the triad part of the groove in a ‘question and answer’ approach.

A groove in the key of A Minor  follows this, and here Shane employs a double-stop pull-off technique as the main element and adds a cool phaser effect to infuse the sound with an even swampier flavour.

Finally, Shane shows us his epic sounding approach to a I-IV-V 12-bar blues progression over a Zydeco style groove (Zydeco being a traditional Creole music born from jazz, blues, and indigenous native American music). This is in the key of G, using G7, C9 and D7 as a basic chordal framework, but adding some interesting harmonic extensions with a syncopated, ‘scratchy’ approach to mimic the percussive ‘washboard’ instrument often found in traditional Zydeco music.

Throughout all of these exercises, be sure to study the video carefully, paying particular attention to Shane’s technique in both his hands, but especially his picking-hand approach.

Keep your hand moving, as it’s essential to play the down and upstrokes in the right place to get the flow, groove and timing accurate (I’ve tried to indicate this as much as possible in the music). Note how relaxed Shane’s hand remains, and how he separates the lower and upper strings in the ‘scratches’ or dead notes.

Feel and timing are crucial here, so aim to stay ‘in the pocket’. Enjoy!

Get the tone

Amp settings: Gain 3, Bass 4, Middle 5, Treble 5, Reverb 3

A clean tone is best for this style, preferably a three-pickup single-coil electric guitar which enables the classic ‘in-between’ sounds on positions 2 and 4. A humbucking guitar would also sound great with both pickups on, but with the guitar volume turned down enough to thin out the sound somewhat. A phaser pedal or Univibe effect would be the icing on the 70s funk cake!

Example 1. E7 with 3-2 Clave

Ensure you use your fretting-hand fingers to mute out the sixth and first strings when fretting the E7 chord, and lift off quickly for the staccato effect. Although it’s not essential to only play the sixth and fifth strings on the scratches on beats 3 and 1 of the various bars, aim to separate the lower strings from the upper ones.

Example 2. E7 with 3-2 Clave v2

Bars 1, 3, 5 & 7: Check Shane’s fingering here, as you need to leave your fretting-hand fourth finger down on the third string on beat ‘3 and’. Lightly touch the heel of your picking hand on the lower strings to get the palm muting where indicated, but don’t anchor it down as you need to maintain the flow.

Example 3.Gm-F Groove

Use a combination of your fretting-hand thumb and fingers to mute unwanted strings throughout this exercise as the picking hand maintains a free flow. This can be especially tricky when trying to only play single strings, so listen carefully to yourself when playing.

Example 4. A minor Groove

This exercise uses the same kind of picking-hand free flow approach as Ex 3, with the double-stop pull-off on the second and third strings as the main feature. Make sure this is pulled off and hammered back on accurately and in time. 

Be particularly careful with your strumming accuracy by missing the lower strings when playing the upper strings, even when executing the percussive scratches between notes.

Example 5. Zydeco Groove in G

An alternate picking approach is used throughout this detailed and vibrant groove with the heel of the picking hand mainly resting lightly on the strings around the bridge area to target appropriate strings.  

Keep the fretting hand ‘choppy’, lifting off quickly between notes and scratches. Practise slowly to get the coordination right between the two hands. Above all with this style of playing, it’s vital to stay loose and not rush ahead - as the saying goes ‘keep in the pocket!’

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Andy Saphir

Andy Saphir has been a professional guitar player and teacher for over 25 years. Graduating with distinction from London’s prestigious Guitar Institute in 1995, he has gone on to gain a reputation as one of the UK’s top country guitarists. Specialising in country and blues, Andy is a versatile, multi-genre player and has a successful international performing career, touring with numerous shows and bands, including the Blues Brothers Approved. Andy taught on the guitar faculty at London’s ICMP for many years, and is a longtime contributor to Guitar Techniques Magazine, as well as being a Jam Track Central artist. Andy teaches in-person guitar lessons from Cambridgeshire UK, or remotely globally.