The minor 7th chord would never be the same. While Tom Johnston (lead singer and guitarist for The Doobie Brothers, as well as the writer of this song and riff) may not have been the first to use a double hammer-on in this manner, anybody who has mastered this song probably rarely plays this particular voicing without mimicking the same move often. By “double” hammer-on, I’m referring to the left hand 2nd and 3rd fingers both doing hammer-ons at the same time on the 2nd and 4th strings respectively. The particular voicing being used for this minor 7th chord is a Root 5 barre chord (this just means that the bass note, or, more specifically, the root note of the chord is on the fifth string).
The double hammer-on is preceded by a five-string barre (G9sus) which may be a bit of a challenge since your first finger alone has to press all five strings and get them all to ring. Keep in mind however, it’s not terribly important that you achieve a chord that rings out and resonates for a long time in this context (like you might get from putting a capo on the 10th fret or from open strings). Or to put it another way, you don’t need to hold down the barre constantly for extended periods of time. This is because there is a beat and half where you are doing muted strums. When doing muted strumming, this is the perfect time to let your left hand relax before it has to press again.
Periodically using muted strums while you play, specifically in the midst of playing barre chords, is a great way to add interest, is great for short choppy funky styles, and gives you a more percussive sound. But from a technical standpoint, the side benefit is it gives your left hand barre a chance to recharge before it has to press again. That being said, it is important that you get all the notes to ring, so check each string individually to make sure your barre is working properly.
Here are a few techniques being used in this particular riff.
- Hammer-ons: For what it’s worth, classical guitarists refer to hammer-ons as “ascending slurs,” and some will even mock you considerably if you refer to them as “hammer-ons.” Nevertheless, the term “hammer-on” is commonly used, for better or for worse. It is a technique that involves plucking one note with a pick (or fingers), and then allowing the left hand to, well, hammer-on the following note without the use of a pick to articulate. The second note usually takes place on the same string as the first note that was plucked or picked with your right hand. Another term for hammer-ons is “legatos” (Italian, literally meaning “tied together” or connected. The opposite would be staccato, meaning disconnected, short or detached.) Here the term “legatos” can be used as a synonym for the word “hammer-ons” or “slurs.” This is because by using ascending slurs, you naturally get a legato sound. By only articulating the first note with a pick, the slurred note naturally connects nicely to the first note when executed well. To effectively execute hammer-ons for this song, make sure the principle note that you are playing, namely the 5-string barre, rings out well. Otherwise this makes executing the slur very difficult to pull off. Essentially, your finger executing the hammer-on mooches off of the vibration caused by your pick for the first note. On a side note, it is possible and fairly common to do hammer-ons without picking at all with your right hand. Finally, make sure that each joint on the left hand fingers is bent, and your tip joint should go straight into the string (like a hammer hitting a nail). Certainly before trying to play the whole rhythm part, work on the hammer-on alone and make sure it rings out properly. If you can’t execute the hammer-on by itself, don’t expect it to work when you are playing the rest of the rhythm part.
- Muted Strumming: This is when you press on the strings with your left hand just enough to completely mute the notes (not to be confused with palm muting). When you do this well, there should be absolutely no audible pitches, just the percussive sound of the pick hitting completely dead strings. Make sure not to over-press causing certain fretted notes to ring out. Muted strums are notated with an “x” in place of the standard note heads.
- Accented Notes: Accents are accomplished by strumming the string a bit harder, thus achieving a louder dynamic. They are notated with something similar to the greater-than symbol (>). Keep in mind accents are only effective if the non-accented notes are played at a quieter dynamic. In other words, if you are playing every note very loudly, the accents will not stand out as much as they should. I don’t know if you know anybody who yells a lot, but I know a few. The loud volume of their voice begins to loose all meaning and you begin to tune it out over time. When a quiet person raises his voice, it really grabs your attention. Accents, or dynamics in general work the same way.
- Subdividing 16th Notes: To pull off busy syncopated grooves like this one without sounding clumsy, you will need to be able to move your strumming hand up and down in a constant 16h note pattern, or what I call “subdividing.” On the score above, I notate down strums (strumming down to the ground) with an arrow pointing down, and up strums (strumming up to the ceiling) with an arrow pointing up. You will also see down and up arrows with parentheses around them. This means bring your pick up without touching the strings. Notice if you do this right, it should feel like your arm is in constant steady motion. Sometimes you connect with the strings, sometimes you don’t. For a very detailed description on this process, click here.