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Rhythm Guitar:
R and B - Soul Ballad Style / Slow Jams



Q: One of my favorite styles of music is R and B. I have always been fascinated with R and B Rhythm Guitar and how songs by the famous artists have a touch of jazz, funk and even other kinds of rhythm guitar styles. My question for you is directed more at the slow R and B numbers. For example; the song: "I've Been Loving You Too Long" by Otis Redding... What kind of approach is the guitarist in a song like this using, and how can I make guitar parts something like that! Thanks for all of your YouTube lessons!
Chester - Melbourne, Australia

A: Thanks for writing in. Whether it's the slow jam style of R & B or funky or even jazz influenced R & B - this style is generally recognized as having a footing in gospel music. Gospel's sparse instrumentation - especially with the slow jam approach, really lends itself well to this sort of sweet laid-back type of guitar playing.


This style has it's roots in gospel music with the sweet laid-back chord playing approach practically coming directly from that genre.

To develop this style of playing it is important that you understand a collection of the basic barre chords built off of the sixth and fifth strings in particular. When playing the chords - use a subtle arpeggio technique strumming across the strings smoothly. The arpeggio approach will really help the feel of this style shine through. Vary your dynamics as you go through each chord.



Applying lead fills and runs from a strong melodic scale like the pentatonic helps to add another classic element to this R and B approach. The pentatonic can be performed either from the key center, or to cover a particular chord of the moment.

The application of double-stops (two-note chords) in conjunction with the other techniques we've discussed will bring everything together in creating this style. Double-stops of the; 4th, 5th, Ma3rd and Mi3rd are most popular. However, don't neglect the use of 6th's and octaves as well. Octaves are particularly strong when used with Pentatonic scale.

There are a number of important traits that simply need to be there in terms of establishing the Slow Jam R and B style. Some have to do with instinct - some with rhythm plus feel and other points are purely guitar theory based. For example, you will need to have a handle on the pentatonic scales of major & minor as well as the application of double-stop concepts. And, then there's the chord types that permeate this style. Since so much of the background of this style has to do with gospel and blues sounds, it is important to study the major, minor and dominant chords found in the gospel style - listen to Ray Charles, Sam Cooke and Ben E. King. If you have never explored modern R and B sounds... most certainly take some time out to learn about relevant players such as; Kool and the Gang, Dianna Ross, Rick James, Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind and Fire and Midnight Star - just to name a few.


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Handout exercise below is available as both Powertab and PDF documents.

R and B Slow Jam Exercise
rhythm chart
(Adobe PDF format)
R and B Slow Jam Exercise
rhythm chart
(Power Tab editor document)