It's time to talk about the blues, as Jack White and blues go hand in hand. His major influence is without doubt rooted in blues playing and great blues players. For us to start to find the best parts of Jack's playing, we need to learn the basics of the blues. Don't worry; it won't be anything too deep here, just the essential rules we need to understand before we learn to break those rules and give them the Jack White treatment!
So what is a 1, 4, 5 chord? Well, firstly, we would typically write them in Roman numerals, like this: I, IV, V. Secondly, this is based on the degrees of the major scale. Let's make that really clear by drawing out the A major scale here, with Roman numerals above each note.
As you can see, when we look at the A major scale, the I, IV and V chords are A, D and E. These will always harmonise to be major chords, so we can safely say that the 1,4,5 in A is A major, D major and E major. Great! PS. If you want more detail on this theory stuff, check out this theory exercise
To find a 1,4,5 on the guitar, we can use a simple pattern. If you play the 1 chord on the E string, for example, A major as a barre chord, you can then find the 4 chord one string down and the 5 chord two frets across from the 4 chord. Like this:
You can then move this around to anywhere on the neck. In our example we are moving it finally to the key of E major, which allows us to use open chord shapes. We therefore need to use the same shapes as above, just down around the first frets. It would look like this:
Practice these shapes (Which can also be found in the Chord Boxes section), and we'll continue this idea in the next lesson. See you there!
It's now time to outline the 12-bar basic structure. We can do this in any key you like, as long as we start to think of the chords as numbers rather than the chord name. For example, you would say, "I'm playing a 1,4,5 in the key of A", rather than saying, "I'm playing A major, D major and E major". The chord structure is like this:
In the previous lesson, we talked about the 12-bar blues basic structure. These structures are there to give us a grounding, especially when jamming with friends or over a backing track. However, when it comes to Jack White, breaking the rules is just as important as knowing them. What we often see with Jack White is subtly changing the structure by extending bars or moving around the structure a little. For example...
Let's take the chords of the blues as we've done them so far, and connect the minor pentatonic. At first, it may feel a little strange to play a minor pentatonic scale over a major chord, but in fact, it's a sound that will be familiar to you. It's the blues; it's rock and roll, it's rock... It is quite simply the exact sound we're after if we want to emulate Jack White's lead playing. To demonstrate this, in the video Franco plays:
As this is in A, we will play our A minor pentatonic box 1. Have a play around with this, and try to get a feel for this sound. It's a lot of fun to play around with this! You can also find this diagram in the Fretboard Diagrams section.
Finally, make sure that you are very aware of the chords you are playing as you improvise. Can you shout "one" as you hit the root chord, or "four" as you hit the IV chord, for example? This will really help you in targeting notes as you go to the chords. The first step here is simply to be aware of the chord changes, and as the chord changes hit the root note. Franco demonstrates this perfectly in the lesson, so be sure to watch it all the way through.
At this point, before we jump into another track in the final unit, let's talk about how Jack White would add interest and a bit more energy to the blues structures we've learnt in this unit. The key is all in the rhythm. So, to start with, Franco lays down a core rhythm that is the basis of the track. It looks like this:
With this set as the base of the rhythm for the song, we can bring in the first of our shifts. Palm muting. This is a massive tool in your tool belt, and if you get it right can completely change the sound of the track. It's very often used during the verse or underneath a quiet vocal to make more space. The key thing is that you position your right hand, which Franco demonstrates clearly in the video.
The next thing to try is leaving huge gaps of silence in the music. These can be called "stabs", as you essentially stab the chord! Play. the chord once, stop the sound dead, and leave a bar or two of silence. This is another huge tool in blues especially, and Jack White loves it!
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