What a beautiful language than French. Where anglophones have something that might sound like “funk guitar strumming pattern”, french are lucky to only have one word that sums it all up: “cocottes” or “chickens” ! But what are these chickens?
The chickens are the essence of funk on guitar. Without this technique, the mythical pieces of Parliaments, James Brown or Tower Of Power would not have the same flavor. Specifically, a funk rhythm on the guitar is very often based on a “continuous pattern” of sixteenth notes in which we mix notes stifled by the left hand (also called dead notes) and chords (or notes only) that will come to be interposed between the muffled notes.
These chords, placed at various places of the measure, will aim to accentuate the rhythmic line formed by the sixteenth notes.
But then what are the chickens doing here? I do not really have a clue… maybe it’s the sound of the pick when you play the dead notes consistently: cot-cot-cot-cot-cot. chickens!
Before going back to the heart of the matter, let’s focus on the notion of rhythmic placement. Indeed, the interposed chords between the dead notes can be played on any of the 4 sixteenth-notes (semiquavers) that compose a time. This first basic exercise will allow you to understand the 4 possible cases. Work separately at first and then try to chain them as in the audio example. Note that the click used here is a bit peculiar: the charley mark each time, the bass drum each beginning of the measure and the shaker the sixteenth notes.
Listen to the 4 patterns in slow motion, then at normal speed:
For the right hand, we stay in straight strum down and up.. Try to spot on each of the 4 patterns if the chords fall on a pick up or down (surrounded in red on the tablature). Slowly breaking down each pattern will help you find your way. The goal of this introduction is that you can combine them as you like and start building your own funk lines. For example, you can build a measure by playing 1 time the first pattern, 2 times the second and 1 time the third:
It is up to you to develop your own combinations from these elements and to improve your rhythmic placement. I also left the click after the audio extract above so you can practice your personal combinations. To go on in joy and good mood, I propose a series of 4 progressive difficulty application exercises based on “chickens”. Cool no?
Exercise n ° 1
A classic to know. We find this formula in many funk rhythms, “Pick up the pieces” of the group Average White Band or “Soul” with a capital “S” of Tower of Power in particular.
Exercise ° 2
A form of chord very common that we find for example on the piece “Get Up” by James Brown. The notes at the end of the second measure are played by smothering the adjacent strings with the fingers of the left hand. The pick sweeps several strings to sound a single note reinforcing the attack.
Exercise n ° 3
An exercise in the spirit of Stevie Ray Vaughan who mastered the technique of cocottes!
Exercise n ° 4
Finally, we’re including here a sixteenth-note triplet that “breaks” the rhythm pattern and relaunch the riff to the next measure.
Here I hope I have given you some tips for working this technique. I leave you with this quote from David Gilmore that fits pretty well in the spirit of funk on guitar:
When you strum a guitar you have everything - rhythm, bass, lead and melody.
About the author: Alexis: Creator and administrator of Guitar School Garden. On Twitter: @guitarschgarden and @twablatures.