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Ska Building Blocks By David Burk
Sessions From Guitar Player, February '99
If you want to be rude, play everything on the upbeat. The basic building block of past and present ska is the accented and of each beat (Ex. 1). The tendency is to strum this apparently simple rhythm (often called the "clip") with upstrokes. But you get a fuller sound if you downstroke the upbeats because, with downstrokes, you hit the bigger strings first.
Modern skameisters often play clip rhythms on the treble strings (G, B, and E). However, the '60s Jamaican originators -- ska's "rude boys" -- favored fuller voicings as shown in Ex. 2, a I-VIm-IIm-V progression in G. In bar 3, notice how the Am changes inversions.
For a truly rude flavor, add dominant-7th chords and sliding chromatic movement from either above or below the target harmony (Ex. 3). As illustrated here, occasionally it's effective to play on the downbeat.
Often called a "stuckey," a typical ska single-note riff features sixteenth-notes, played clean and very staccato (Ex. 4). Note the characteristic chromatic movement, as well as the arpeggiated chords.
These examples sound great with wah and work well at tempos from 150 to 190 bpm.
Listen to Example 4
DAVID BURK is a Minneapolis-based guitarist, producer, writer, and teacher. For info on Do You Know What Time It Is, an album by Burk's world-beat group, Labor Party, contact Nabi Musicworks, Box 8621, Minneapolis, MN 55408; (612) 823-6204.
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