July 2, 2011

Gettin’ Groovy, Part 2: The Bo Diddley Beat

Bo Diddley
It’s time to get groovy once again! In our last installment, I’m Bringing Groovy Back, we talked about the three essential elements to making your strumming as groovy-licious as possible. Those elements were:

    1. Follow JB’s Golden Rule of Strumming and never stop your hand.
    2. Tap your foot to the quarter note pulse of the song to fully connect with the rhythm.
    3. Keep a loose wrist, as if you were flicking water from your hand.

Let’s go ahead and put these elements to work by playing one of the all-time classic rhythms in rock music history: the Bo Diddley beat.

Do You Know Diddley?

The Bo Diddley beat is named for one of the founding fathers of early rock and roll, Bo Diddley (real name: Elias McDaniel). Mr. Diddley was a major factor in pop music’s transition from blues to rock and roll and a huge influence on subsequent artists, such as Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, The Velvet Underground, The Clash, Eric Clapton, and many more. The driving, tribal rhythm that he is known for is called the “Bo Diddley beat”, and it can be heard in many famous songs all the way up to the present day.

The Bo Diddley Beat

The Bo Diddley beat is based on a rhythmic pattern called a clave, which is the cornerstone of Afro-Cuban musical styles, such as rumba, mambo, and salsa. Although there are four main forms of clave, our man Bo’s beat is based off of the son clave, or “3-2 clave”, which looks a little something like this in rhythmic notation:

3/2 son clave

If you can’t read rhythmic notation, think of it in its simplest form as a two-bar phrase counted as follows, where the bolded counts are the clave rhythm:

One and two and three and four and | One and two and three and four and…”

As you can see, there are five accents in the son clave, with three in measure one and two in measure two (hence the alternate name “3-2 clave”). The second accent falls on the “and” of beat two; this gives the rhythm its syncopated feel.

For the uninitiated, rhythmic syncopation occurs when the “ands” of the beat (also known as the upbeats) are accented, rather than the number of the beat (known as downbeats). Syncopation makes music feel, well, groovy, and most music has some form of syncopation in it. Check out the following video of the Stones playing Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away” – this is one of the classic interpretations of the Bo Diddley beat, and the syncopation can be heard in the harmonica and drums as well as the guitar!

I Got Your Strum Right Here

Let’s break this strum pattern down, shall we? In the following video lesson, I’ll show you the elements of the Bo Diddley beat in phases:

    First, we’ll make sure that our strumming hand is constantly moving and that our technique is solid.
    Then we’ll break the rhythm down into two separate halves and tackle each half separately, before putting them back together.
    Next, we’ll look at how strategic left hand muting can really make the strum come alive.
    Lastly, I’ll demonstrate two different examples of the Bo Diddley rhythm: “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” by KT Tunstall, with relatively simple chords, and “Desire” by U2, which features chords moving throughout the pattern.

Grab your guitar and let’s get started!

Long Live Bo Diddley

The following short list of tunes shows how the Bo Diddley beat has lived on through decades of rock and roll, from the original examples by Bo himself to more modern examples from KT Tunstall. Follow the YouTube links and you’ll be amazed at the variations on this classic rhythm!

Share This Lesson and Stay Connected

If you enjoyed Gettin’Groovy, Part 2: The Bo Diddley Beat, please leave a comment below and share it with others on Facebook or Twitter, or however you like!

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See you at your next lesson…and keep it groovy!

1 Comment »

  1. […] These two songs, as different as night and day, have one thing in common: the same guitarist. The raging rock solo in “Baker Street” and the rockabilly lines in “Faith” are both played by Hugh Burns. As an added bonus, Hugh also contributed the sweet nylon-string solo in Wham’s “Careless Whisper”. As a double added bonus, “Faith” is a perfect example of the Bo Diddley beat. […]

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Jim Bowley is a professional guitarist, teacher and blogger. A native of Baltimore, he has over 30 years of playing experience and an advanced degree in Music Education from Towson University. Jim lives in Bel Air, MD where he maintains a thriving private lesson studio and performs with his band, Remains of Radio.

© 2012 Jim Bowley All rights reserved.
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