African Fingerstyle Soukous Guitar Tutorial and Tablature – Lesson 13

The above fingerstyle piece has a very fast paced sebene section, which is a rather characteristic trait when it comes to African soukous guitar music. If you would like to learn the tune, get the tab for it below! Yeah, but what are the chords, right? The scale degrees the song’s using are I-V-V-I for both parts. What? No fourth? Yup, we don’t even need the fourth chord. The piece plays in the key of B major all the way through.

Finger Positioning is the Name of the Game

Yeah, the biggest challenge in playing this example correctly is to find a fluidity of movement. Only when you find this “inner peace” will you be able to place your fingers on the required strings & frets without straining your fretting hand or falling out of the groove and the tempo. The syncopation that’s so idiosyncratic to the Congolese rumba – and to African genres in general – is present in this song as well. Keeping this rhythmic pattern at the required tempo wouldn’t be particularly hard to do. The greatest obstacle in the way of doing so is the string skipping. You need to skip both the G and the D strings at one point into the 1st section. Pay attention not to make any unwanted noise during these leaps, and you’re in the clear. Most of the time you’ll need to outline chords with playing arpeggios within the melody line. But not at the phrase endings! When you arrive to them, you’ll have to fret double stops, which are actually major 3rd intervals. These are fretted on the A-D and E-A string pairs, that makes them sound really smooth and fat. But don’t be afraid of creating bad sounding clusters, because you are up high on the fretboard, past the 12th fret. Phew! After playing the required repeats, let’s move on to the sebene.

Breakneck Sebene with Sixteenth Notes

guitar tab example

If you have followed the previous soukous tutorials, you probably noticed that if nothing else, the sebene will surely have fast 16th notes. Playing at the higher part of the fingerboard is also a typical trait of this African guitar style. What the current example showcases really well is the stubborn, almost mechanical way of oozing these fast notes. Letting the pattern speak instead of trying to carry a message through individual notes is key when it comes to soukous breaks. This of course doesn’t mean that you couldn’t inject your own personality into the song; quite the contrary. I highly suggest that you at least give an honest try to play fingerstyle with fingerpicks and a thumb pick. While these tools are not the most popular – at least not among “regular” guitar and bass players – they enable you to have the best of both worlds. Namely, the attack transient and the ability to play multiple strings at once. Not to mention the additional side effect of gaining some speed thanks to the picks. It of course takes some practice time to get used to them, but it’s well worth it. The sebene phrases also end in dyads, but this time, these are fourth intervals. Enjoy!

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