From the November/December 2021 issue of Acoustic Guitar | By Greg Ruby
If you have a good grasp on some some rudimentary chord-melody concepts on acoustic guitar, here’s a way to add to this foundation. In this lesson we will borrow ideas from jazz great Eddie Lang for some new techniques and textures, then apply them to the verse of the old standard “After You’ve Gone.”
Try Some Bass Runs
Eddie Lang is considered the father of jazz guitar. As heard on his pioneering recordings from the 1920s till his untimely death in 1933, Lang’s unique approach combined elements like bass runs, inversions, diminished passages, and arpeggiated picking, all of which you’ll explore in this lesson.
In previous installments, we’ve explored ways to maintain momentum by adding passing chords or using tremolo. A similar strategy is connecting phrases with bass runs. Start with Example 1, and be sure to use the suggested fingerings. Note the use of the open strings for the Em chord, making it easy to shift to the descending bass line on the “and” of beat 3.
Up Your Chord Game
Up until now, these lessons have focused on using inversions on the top four strings, but it’s helpful to be able to do the same on the middle four strings. Example 2 demonstrates four inversions for a C7 chord (C E G Bb). Try playing these shapes based on other root notes as well, as they are essential voicings for playing in the chord-melody style.
Because diminished seventh chords are constructed entirely of minor thirds, the notes in one chord are shared by three others. For instance, a C#dim7 (C# E G Bb) is also Edim7 (E G Bb C#), Gdim7 (G Bb C# E), and bdim7 (Bb C# E G). (Alternatively, all of these chords can be seen as inversions of Em7.) Moving a single diminished shape by three frets causes the same four notes to become reordered, as shown in Example 3. After you’ve worked through this figure, try Example 4, which shows a diminished-chord scale. Use your fourth finger for the notes on string 2, while maintaining the same chord shape from inversion to inversion.
Mix Up Your Picking Approach
Even though chord-melody arrangements tend to focus on the fretting fingers and harmonic possibilities, the picking hand plays an important role as well. In the Eddie Lang–inspired Example 5, the fretting hand holds down a basic third-fret G chord while the picking hand adds eighth-note triplets, for a bit of rhythmic panache. Try picking the passage as written, with downstrokes throughout; use alternate picking; or experiment with your own picking patterns. After you’re comfortable with Ex. 5, apply the pattern to other chord types and voicings as well.
Tie It All Together
Now apply the techniques at work to a chord-melody arrangement of the original verse of “After You’ve Gone,” as depicted in Example 6. In bars 2–3, the root of the D9 chord (D) connects to the third of the G chord (B) via a chromatic bass run; a similar move is used to connect the D9 and B7 chords in measures 4–5.
Bar 13 arrives at a C#dim7 chord on the middle four strings, while beats 3 and 4 of that measure put into practice the diminished chord-scale concept introduced in Ex. 4. Lastly, the eighth-note triplet picking patterns can be found in bars 12 and 16, on C6 and G chords, respectively.
After you’ve learned this verse/introduction to “After You’ve Gone,” try incorporating Eddie Lang’s techniques in your own arrangements. It’ll help keep things interesting every time.
Greg Ruby is a guitarist, composer, historian, and teacher specializing in jazz from the first half of the 20th century. His latest book is The Oscar Alemán Play-Along Songbook Vol. 1. Ruby teaches Zoom lessons and classes.
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2021 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.