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Learn the rhythm and lead styles of neo-soul virtuoso Tom Misch

Tom Misch
(Image credit: Jim Dyson/Getty Images)

Tom Misch’s guitar style fuses elements of jazz, funk, neo-soul and R&B. His sense of timing and groove is a big part of his sound. He plays ‘in the pocket’, often sitting just behind the beat with a subtle swing and a relaxed groove. 

Tom’s rhythm work is embellished with jazzy chords, which make his sound bang up to date. He often uses fingerstyle to play syncopated rhythm passages but will switch to a pick for a more forceful attack. 

Misch’s lead playing is undeniably smooth. His note choice is always well considered, opting for chord tones outside of the usual 1st, 3rd, 5th and 7th degrees, such as the 9th to add colour and a much jazzier sound. He uses pentatonics to great effect when playing bluesy lines, but it’s those 9ths, 13ths and chromatic passing notes that provide the sophistication to his silky smooth phrasing. 

And it’s this which makes Misch so identifiable. One facet of his playing - also adopted by Melanie Faye – is single-string slides that provide a human-esque, vocal quality to the phrasing. He also uses quick slides to execute trills between two notes a semitone apart – as fusion bassists often do.

Another articulation technique he favours is staccato. This technique of playing short and sharp notes is the polar opposite to Tom’s much smoother, gliding approach. Incorporating both techniques produces effective and interesting melodic lines within his solos. 

Misch is more often than not found playing a Fender Strat, usually on the next pickup for a warmer tone. Although a clean tone is usually favoured, he uses an envelope filter for optimum levels of funk. The one that seems to be favoured is the Moog Moogerfooger MF-101 low pass filter, which creates an auto-wah type sound that’s, again, often used by funk bassists.

You’ll hear how this effect works in the solo on this month’s example track, which highlights some of Tom’s syncopated Latin rhythm lines, staccato melodies, slides and jazz inspired phrases, with chromaticism and use of the 9th degree of the scale for extra colour.

Get the tone

AMP SETTINGS: Gain 3, Bass 4, Middle 5, Treble 7, Reverb 4

A clean neck pickup tone would be a perfect starting point. An envelope filter isn’t essential but a lot of fun if you have one for the final study piece. If you have no envelope filter you could experiment with chorus, flanger or a rotary effect. As always, a dash of reverb and delay will add to the spaciness, but don’t go overboard or you’ll have trouble keeping things tight.

Examples

EXAMPLE 1 This first example shows how Misch might approach playing rhythm guitar. The progression is based around a Minor II-V-I progression in A Minor and is played using fingerstyle technique. Use you thumb for the bass notes and your first, second and third fingers for the rest of the chord.

EXAMPLE 2 This idea illustrates how Tom uses the staccato technique to play single-notes riffs in the lower register. The trick is to lock in with the drums and bass guitar, always aiming to sit in the pocket and not rush the pulse.

EXAMPLE 3 This is a jazz inspired repeating lead motif. The 9th degree of the scale (B) is used at the start of the first three bars for a smooth jazz sound. Notice how these notes are approached via a slide from the Bb note at the 11th fret. The final bar features a chromatic line, once again showing some of Tom’s inherent jazz influences.

EXAMPLE 4 This final example further explores some lead ideas. The first bar employs A Minor Pentatonic scale before the 9th surfaces again in bar 2. Then we see a legato (slide) move that goes from the D note to the Eb and E. The final lick is based around an Am11 arpeggio where the B and D notes are played with the staccato rhythm that Tom loves to exploit. You’ll find many of the ideas from these examples in the following piece. Have fun!

Study Piece: Tom Misch

[Bars 1-5] Here we see a similar Latin inspired syncopated idea from Example 1. Use your thumb along with the first and second fingers, but watch out for the separate thumb/finger line at the end of each bar.

[Bars 6-10] Now for our first solo phrases. Notice the sound of the envelope filter? It’s an effect that really adds ‘vibe’ to ideas like this but, as with any ‘big’ effect, it’s best used sparingly. The F# in bar 6 lends a Dorian tonality while some chromaticism in bar 8 adds a jazzy vibe. The 9th degree (B) in bar 9 adds the colour we’ve explored in the previous examples.

[Bars 11-12] That choppy staccato sound again, before the slippery lick at bar 13 - use the third finger on your fretting hand for the quick semitone slides, then a unison A Minor Pentatonic lick ends the piece. For all the Examples and the full piece, relax those shoulders, arms and wrists for a laid-back, jazzy groove.

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