The Horizontal 3-StepMar 23, 2021
I finally got my hands on a couple of '60s-era Johnny Hart comic books – those cheap fifty-cent Fawcett paperbacks of B.C. and The Wizard of Id now go four about four bucks a pop if you can find them. My kids have only seen those strips in the newspaper, and infrequently at that, so I was gratified by my son's response, which was, in effect, "Oh! These used to be good!" There was one B.C. in particular I always liked: in that loopy running gag about operating a storefront from behind a small boulder, one of the characters sells the other a big ball of smoke. As the second character walks off in the last panel with his arms wrapped around the smoke, he muses to himself, "A fellow doesn't mind buying something tangible..."
Today's lesson is all about groove, which, like improvisation, can prove to feel nearly as intangible as smoke. One way to change that is to get down into the nitty gritty of what it takes to put the thumb and fingers together. In the steady-bass style, the thumb provides that solid 4/4 thump, and it's the syncopated way the fingers play off of that that makes the groove, so it's pretty key to know how to put that together, and how to keep it going. At the same time, you don't want to get so focused on the moment-by-moment details that you lose track of the big picture, which is to put a cool melody over a solid bass line. All that picking-hand coordination – the vertical stuff – is the mechanical means to the musical end of getting two horizontal things – the melody and the bass – to happen at the same time.
The Horizontal 3-Step is my breakdown of that process, and in today's lesson I'll walk you through those three steps with specific examples from the eight-bar blues "Motherless Child." It's pretty straightforward once you get the idea, and you can repeat this process on just about any fingerstyle tune you want to. You can also use this approach to work through the kind of modular licks I presented in yesterday's Improvisation lesson, "Form And Phrasing." You can find today's lesson (and yesterday's), and download the PDF booklet, at the link below:
The Horizontal 3-Step