Weekly Workout: Three-Against-Four Rhythms

Posted by Scott Nygaard

From ragtime piano to bluegrass banjo to the Bo Diddley beat, three-against-four rhythms can be heard throughout American music. Emphasizing groups of three notes while playing in the 4/4 time signature, the three-against-four rhythm is so ubiquitous it can scarcely even be called syncopation anymore. Think of a ragtime tune like “12th Street Rag,” a swing song like “In the Mood,” or the rhythm Mick Jagger sings on the opening words “I can’t get no” in the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” and you’ll hear the three-against-four idea at work. In this workout we’ll continue our exploration of the fingerboard with an exercise that uses three-note patterns while playing in 4/4. 

Weekly Workout 3: 3 Against 4
Click to enlarge.

The workout begins with some cascading three-note arpeggios in the key of G in open position. Starting at the G at the third fret on the high E string, we simply play a series of triads that move down the scale systematically, beginning each triad arpeggio with the next lowest note in the scale: G, F#, E, etc. The second half of the workout moves upward. This is a little different from the first half. Each triad starts on a scale tone and then moves down a third and then another third, just like the first half, but the initial note of each triad moves up the G-major scale beginning on D: D, E, F#, G, etc.

Excerpted from Acoustic Guitar, December 2012

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