If you want to learn how to funk, you start with James Brown. This is an objective fact. JB’s rhythm guitarists (Jimmy Nolen, perhaps most notably) basically wrote the book on how to play funk guitar. The sparse, staccato lines in JB’s songs are something that we can all learn something from, especially when we pay attention to the way they interlock with the bass and drum parts. Any one of those parts on its own might seem simple, but when you add them all together it becomes a funky stew that will get even the most uptight butts shaking.
Feeling it in your picking hand: The real gist of playing funk is to develop a sense of feel in the picking hand. Your hand basically acts as a metronome as you play, never stopping, feeling every beat (even the “silent” beats).
16th note-based syncopation: Most funk rhythms have a strong beat that is subdivided by four (this is basically the definition of 16th notes). Many of the notes played end up falling on off beats, played with upward pick strokes.
The video for this lesson covers both of these ideas in detail.
Step 1: Learn the lick with a half-time feel, feeling the 8th notes
Note that your downward pick stroke ALWAYS falls on the beat. This will basically always be true, whether you are playing rhythm or lead. It’s rare that you will EVER find an exception to this rule. But also take note of the fact that most of the notes in this particular pattern are on off-beats, played with upstrokes. When you are playing these upstrokes, you still want to feel the downstrokes on the beats around them (this is demonstrated in the video).
Step 2: Gradually increase tempo, continuing to feel 8th notes
Step 3: Once you hit 160-180 bpm, cut the tempo in half.
Playing the lick the same way, but now with half as many beats. So instead of feeling it as 8th notes, you’re now feeling it as 16th notes. This changes NOTHING about the way you actually play it, or the speed, but it does feel a bit different.
Step 4: Continue to increase the tempo until you reach performance speed
Once you’re feeling it, you should be able to play it almost flawlessly for as long as you want to, without even devoting much conscious thought to it.