Blues Rhythm Lesson 5: Shell Voicings and “Four-to-the Floor” Downstrokes

When playing with a band, it is important to appropriately share the harmonic and rhythmic range with the rest of the band.  If we are playing with a keyboardist or pianist, we don’t want to clash with their voicings or rhythms by getting too colorful or busy ourselves.  Likewise, if we are comping for a soloist it is important that our chords and rhythms don’t override their improvisation.  Therefore, we should strip our chords down to the bare essentials using only a root, major third and minor seventh, the minimum amount needed to sound like a dominant chord.  This is called a “shell” voicing as the chord has become a shell of the whole tonality.  We can also become more of a percussion instrument by strumming in chopping downstrokes.  This is called playing “four-to-the floor.”

When performing the shapes above, it is imperative to mute the the unplayed strings.  Since we will be using chopping downstrokes, any string that is unmuted will ring out and clash with the chord voicing.  On the sixth-string rooted voicing, lay the first and fourth finger somewhat flat so that they gently touch the strings above them.  On the fifth-string rooted chord, allow the second finger to gently touch the Low E while fourth finger mutes the B and High E.

Let’s apply this to a blues in G:


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