You’ve fallen in love with funk music but don’t know what to practice to sound more funky? No problem!

We’ve got five groovy techniques to show you:

  • Bubble picking
  • Octave riffs
  • Motown chanks
  • Frusciante funk
  • Wah-pedal chops

Each technique is accompanied with a jam track or the original reference song so you can put them to use straight away!

Less is more when it comes to funk so you don’t have to be an advanced player to get to grips with these techniques.

You will need a bit of experience with muting strings and playing 16th notes, so if you’re not totally confident with those yet, check out our article on funk guitar for beginners.

Funk technique #1: Bubble picking

Bubble picking is a great technique used for repeated rhythmic patterns.

It’s not much different from regular picking, except that pretty much every note is played staccato and there’s not a lot of dynamic range.

  • It’s more about the feeling than the notes you’re playing.
  • The main purpose of bubble picking is to add texture.
  • This sound is used to ‘bubble away’ underneath the surface of the main groove.

Depending on the mood that you’re trying to set, bubble picking can be both picked while palm muted or open-string picked.

Most of the time, you’ll hear bubble picking used with single notes but double stops work just as well.

You can hear an example of bubble picking on Give up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker) by Parliament.

This live version with George Clinton & The P-Funk All Stars showcases it well. Watch for Garrett Shider, the guitarist with the purple guitar:

Practice bubble picking with these exercises

Below are two measures of a bubble picking part that you can play over and over along with the backing track in F minor.

The part features:

  • A slightly swung 16th-note rhythmic pattern
  • Picked palm-muted notes combined with completely muted notes
  • An idea centered around Ab (which is the minor third of F minor)

First, make sure you understand the rhythm.

  • Use alternate picking, move your picking hand along with the 16th notes.
  • Figure out where the notes and rests lie on the rhythmic grid.
  • Then, play the pattern on just one muted string.
  • Play the pattern on the correct strings but still muted.
  • Finally, at the right notes with your fretting hand.

Here’s the backing track in F minor:

You can also make up your own bubble picking part. If you want to choose notes from a matching scale, you could go with any of these:

  • Fm pentatonic
  • Fm blues scale (which adds the #4)
  • F natural minor scale

Since bubble picking isn’t meant to stand out, the goal is to find a groovetastic rhythmic pattern (less is more) and keep dynamics steady.

If you get bored playing the same notes over and over, change up a note or two at the end of the phrase every once in a while.

Funk technique #2: The octave thing

Doubling an original idea an octave above or below is a simple technique that guitarists can use to add an extra intensity and density to a track.

What better way to study funky octaves than by using Celebration by Kool & The Gang as a reference track?

Practice octave riffs over a funky backing track

Never underestimate simplicity – it can be the heart of a song’s iconic sound.

Check out this riff below:

Once you’ve learned the simple version above, try out it this alternative with a slide and a tiny bubble picking moment at the end of measure one:

Emphasizing beat 1 and highlighting a strong downbeat is one of the most effective ways to make a riff stay in the pocket consistently.

Below is the original song. Can you play along with the recording?

Funk technique #3: Motown chanks

Motown chanks are chords (usually triads) played in short bursts that land on the snare hits of beats 2 and 4.

In the late 1950s, Motown changed the game for guitarists.

  • The guitar took a more complementary role, but was still a crucial ingredient in the Motown sound.
  • The main role was to support the rhythmic patterns played by the drummer.
  • The rhythmic "chank" strum was a key tool that guitarists used for this.

You can hear one of the classic Motown house-band guitarists, Eddie “Chank” Willis, laying down his chanks all over the Motown catalog. One great example is the verse in You Keep Me Hangin’ On by The Supremes:

When practicing chanks, ask yourself:

  • Where in the song does it feel most appropriate to use them?
  • Am I matching the rhythm of the snare drum on beats 2 and 4?
  • What embellishments can I add to keep it fresh?

Practice Motown chanks with this funky backing track

A simple chank could look like the tab below: A triad inversion of a C minor chord on beats 2 and 4.

  • Keep the hits tight by muting the strings with your fretting hand after you’ve played the chord to kill the sound.
  • You can experiment and use either only downstrokes or upstrokes.
  • Keep your wrist loose and your strum mellow – although this is a percussive technique, we want to keep it light.

Simple Motown chank

You can add some playful elements if the song arrangement allows it. Below are two versions of a chank with some extra sauce on top.

Motown chank with a slide

Motown chank with a bass riff

Chank it up over this drum groove:

Too easy? Here’s a challenge for you: Figure out the chords to You Keep Me Hangin’ On and see if you can play along.

Funk technique #4: Frusciante funk

John Frusciante, the iconic guitarist of Red Hot Chili Peppers, is known for a funk-rock sound that blends in-your-face rhythm with lead guitar.

  • His pioneering playing had a massive influence on the band’s sound in the early 90s.
  • Frusciante took RHCP’s sound and helped launch the band into ultra-stardom with his no-frills melodic funk-rock style.
  • He takes the aggression from rock music and combines it with the rhythmic feeling of funk.
  • Frusciante’s playing style is heavily influenced by Jimi Hendrix.

The Chili Peppers’ performance at Slane Castle in 2003 is largely considered to be one of their best ever. Check out the guitar on Can’t Stop:

How to play like John Frusciante

When you’re going for a Frusciante funk sound, don’t worry about having perfect technique.

He’s certainly not the cleanest player ever, but those little imperfections are part of what make him so enjoyable to listen to.

  • One thing you have to become good at to master this style is muting strings.
  • The guitar part might just be a single note line, but it won’t sound right if you just hit the string with the fretted note.
  • You also need the percussive hit of the surrounding muted strings.

The two riffs below are inspired by My Lovely Man.

  • It’s not essential to hit every string while playing the muted notes – just some on either side of the target note.
  • Focus on the top three strings first – get a nice pop from the muted strings while letting the fretted note ring out.
  • Even though we’re striking multiple strings, the attack needs to be one solid sound.

Frusciante riff #1

Frusciante riff #2

Once you’ve got one of those riffs (or both) down, see if you can play along with the original:

Funk technique #5: Wah-pedal 101

The wah-pedal sound is created by sweeping the EQ signal of your guitar from a low-pass to a high-pass filter.

Nowadays, it seems like the wah pedal is on everyone’s pedalboard. Overused effect or timeless classic? The jury’s out, but we’re fans.

  • From Hendrix to Hammett, the wah pedal has been a staple sound in lead guitar parts since the 1970s.
  • The original wah pedal was a signature model based on the “wah” muting technique used by trumpeter Clyde McCoy in the 1920s.
  • The wah pedal can be used for both rhythm and lead purposes.

Listen to a wah pedal in action on the theme song from Shaft, composed by Isaac Hayes:

Best wah pedal for funk guitar

If you’re looking for your own wah pedal, consider these time-tested classics:

  • Dunlop Crybaby – The standard no-frills “Hendrix” wah pedal.
  • 535Q Crybaby – A more customizable “Hendrix” wah option.
  • Fulltone Clyde Deluxe Wah – Like the name says, it’s deluxe.

If you don’t know if wah is your thing, see if one of your buddies can lend you theirs for a bit. Failing that, get down to your local guitar store and annoy the funk out of them for a few hours.

How to practice playing with a wah pedal

A simple way to get used to the pedal and foot motion is pushing down and releasing the pedal with the groove.

Strum the Fmaj7 chord once and then move the pedal up and down with each 8th note for the rest of the measure.

And here’s what you do to get a sound like the shaft theme:

  • Strum constant 16th notes with your picking hand.
  • Move the wah pedal from heel down to toe down over the course of 1 beat (four strums).
  • Once you’ve got that, add some notes – octaves sound great with a wah pedal.
  • Mute the strings you’re not fretting with your second finger and pinky.
  • Emphasize the downbeats (beats 2 & 4).

Try this out over the original:

Where to go from here

There’s a lot more to funk guitar than these five techniques. If you want to dive deeper, we recommend that you:

  • Check out guitarists Jimmy Nolen, Leo Nocentelli, Nile Rogers, and Cory Wong.
  • Pick one to three songs and learn the guitar parts.
  • Play along to backing tracks and perfect your time feel!

You could also take the easy route and try a free 14-day membership to Pickup Music to check out our Groove Learning Pathway. In this three-month program, we’ll show you exactly how to get the funk in your playing with play-along daily practice exercises, interactive jams, and personalized video feedback on your playing.