It’s incredible how many guitar players can play a good Blues solo but have no idea how to play an acceptable Blues rhythm when asked to. Most players resort to playing just a few power chords or the usual “shuffle” rhythm. There is of course much more than that.
The problem seems to be that many guitar players are afraid to study harmony… and it’s a pity because it’s not so difficult to do and there are many rewards in doing it. On the other hand most players seem to simply try and learn by heart a certain amount of patterns, and then use them rigidly. It’s difficult to be creative under these conditions.
Many players who know how to build their own patterns can also improvise using chords, creating more than one melody line at the same time. Think of what players like Eric Johnson can do with chords: it’s because they haven’t learned these patters by heart, rather they know how to build and modify them depending on the context. Wouldn’t you like to get started on this in a simple way?
The solution to this is to learn how to use one of the most maligned interval ever: the tritone - often called “the interval of the devil” by classical music theorists and always used with extreme care. Despite its bad reputation, the tritone sounds great and is the base for most Blues and Jazz tunes out there.
The tritone, as it is expected from an interval with such reputation, is definitely a dissonant interval. To hear it, try playing an A and an Eb notes at the same time on your guitar. It’s not a “nice” interval, but as we will see it’s a necessary ingredient to create certain musical effects. Think of it as adding spices to your food: you don’t want to add too much, but you definitely want some. And how much you put in your food depends on your taste - and the same is in music.
To learn how to “spice your music to taste” in a practical way watch the following video:
The first thing you have to do now is of course to pick up your guitar and TRY all this stuff. No amount of reading (or watching videos) will make up for direct experience. You will also see how it’s easy to create some interesting and original harmonies by adding notes on the second or the first string as explained in the video.
By the way, I haven’t mentioned this in the video, but this is a great introduction to “Jazz chords”. Rather than learning all these chord shapes by heart you should see how they are built - as we have seen. There are definitely more Jazz chords out there than the ones I have shown in the video, but this will get you started. Enjoy!
About the Author: A professional prog rock musician, Tommaso Zillio is a regular writer of columns about Music Theory for Guitar