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Introduction to neo-soul feel

Welcome. Today marks the start of your neo-soul guitar journey!

Today, we'll put the focus on feel

  • Neo soul is all about feeling – its distinct use of rhythmic feeling is even more recognizable than the notes you'll use when playing in this style!
  • You might already have some of the right chords, scales, and licks under your hands.
  • But, without learning how to play with neo-soul feel, you'll have a hard time emulating the neo-soul style.

Neo-soul music vs. neo-soul guitar playing

The difference between neo-soul as a genre of music versus neo-soul guitar playing is subtle but important.

  • Neo-soul music originated from artists like Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, and D’Angelo.
  • It’s a genre that mixes the feel of R&B with the harmony of jazz and the rhythmic components of 90's hip hop.
  • Neo-soul guitar, on the other hand, can be thought of as instrumental R&B music without a singer.
  • A key skill that neo-soul guitarists rely on is the ability to imitate how R&B singers phrase their melodies.

A brief history of neo-soul guitar

The roots of neo-soul guitar are directly traced to gospel music.

  • Neo-soul guitar originated from Black American gospel guitarists.
  • Many of the defining neo-soul guitarists started out playing in church and working alongside gospel artists before working with more secular pop and R&B artists.

Pioneering neo-soul guitarists:

Since it's a relatively young style of playing, many of these iconic artists are active in the music industry today.

  • Spanky Alford (D’Angelo)
  • Isaiah Sharkey (John Mayer and Donald Lawrence)
  • Kevin Wilson (Stevie Wonder and Shirley Caeser)
  • John ‘Jubu’ Smith (Mary J. Blige and The Maze)
  • Erick Walls (Kirk Franklin and Michael Jackson)
  • Jairus Mozee (Prince and Jill Scott)

The cornerstones of neo-soul guitar

Learning neo-soul guitar will expose you to chordal jazz harmony, melodic phrasing, and various extended playing techniques that can be found across a ton of different genres.

These four cornerstones are the bedrock of the playing style.

  • Feel: Convincing phrasing, articulating melodies and chords using the right rhythmic approach.
  • Harmony: Neo-soul harmony is influenced by jazz and comprises colorful chord progressions.
  • Melody: Using phrasing to imitate the sound of a human voice and craft memorable lines.
  • “What is it saying?”: Using your guitar to create a smooth tone, sitting in the backbeat of the music.

Ready to make some music?

Exercise 1. C#m pentatonic scale

Let’s check out this familiar minor pentatonic scale.

Sam’s top tip:

  • Neo-soul guitarists usually focus on the top part of the minor pentatonic scale when building melodies.
  • These are usually the top 3 strings.
  • The lower range of the neck is still useful to know, but not as commonly played.

Exercise 2. Add feel

Let’s hear you add some feeling.

Exercise 3. How to play neo-soul chords

This is a two-parter. The first part involves learning some common neo-soul chords, while the second part of the exercise requires you to articulate notes using hammer ons.

Sam’s top tip:

  • Let those chords ring out!
  • Neo-soul chords are rich and dreamy, let them hang around for an added smoothing effect.


Awesome chops! Now for a short and tasty line to keep you salivating.

Sam’s top tip: Once this lick is under your fingers, try adding a couple of your own slides into the mix.


Your journey to becoming a master music mixologist begins now. Let’s hear you put these new techniques together in the jam.

Silky smooth playing. We hope there’s more where that came from!

We’ll see you in Day 2, where we'll shift focus to neo-soul chords.

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