Have you ever heard a song that you really liked and wished you could just sit down and jam along to the recording? ‘Cissy Strut’, by The Meters is one such song. There’s a reason that this simple funk/soul tune written in the 60s is still being covered and reinterpreted by countless bands to this day. Let’s take a look at what makes this song so great.
First thing’s first, taking a look at the key the song is in. This song uses the C pentatonic scales for pretty much EVERYTHING. That means you can pretty much play it using only 5 notes. That’s a lotta bang for your buck.
The tune is comprised of two main sections, plus a tasty little solo for good measure. Section ‘A’ employs that pentatonic scale to create a catchy riff. That riff is comprised of the notes C, Bb, G, Eb, and C an octave below. After that phrase, there’s a little tag to end the sequence where you pop down below the bottom C to play G, Bb, C, Bb, C.
This melodic sequence is followed by two chords, a Bb chord and an F chord. Since this song is such a good tune to build on your improvisation flexibility, don’t just limit yourself to one variation of these chords. Experiment with different inversions to see what sounds and feels best to you!
The ‘B’ section of the song is even simpler than the ‘A’ section, containing only three notes: C, Bb, and G. Since this section uses such simple ingredients, it’s a great opportunity to work on your feel. Cissy Strut is renown for being a song that uses these simple scales and chords, allowing musicians to really maximize their use of space and critical listening to keep the song fresh.
The final section of this song is an organ solo section. To accompany the solo, the instruments are keeping it nice and simple, playing off a C7 chord and leaving plenty of room for the soloist to do his thing. As you’re practicing along, listen to what the other instruments are doing and try to iron out a little part of your own. Pay close attention to what that rhythm guitar is doing! It’s a great guideline to follow along with.
Art Neville – Keyboardist for The Meters
Cissy strut is one of those songs that’s quick to learn, yet there are endless ways to re-approach and re-interpret it. That’s why it’s become such a staple in jam bands. So with that in mind, there’s a few approaches you can take. You can try to learn each instrument’s part, note for note. This is a great way to build on your ear training, plus it’s always fun to play the piano like it’s a guitar.
Another approach you can take is to build off of some of these chords and make new chords, changing the tone and feel of the track. You can try harmonizing off the main riff, or adding chords underneath it, giving the ‘A’ section a whole new feel. Since the main riff uses that pentatonic scale with the Eb, you can try playing a C minor 7th chord underneath the riff to give it a whole new texture.
For the ‘B’ section, why not try harmonizing on those three notes? Since they’re repeated so many times, you can make this part build by playing each part of this riff up a third. Just remember that the pentatonic scale contains that very important minor third, so when you’re playing over top of the C, remember to play an Eb to keep your embellishments working with the rest of the song.
For that solo section, there’s a few mentalities that you can use to work with it. As mentioned above, you can imagine yourself as another member of the backing band, giving that organ solo the bedrock it needs to play its lines without getting in the way of anything. Or you can use the spaciousness of that solo to your creative advantage, and make your own melodies lines that entwine with the organ. All you need to create a solo over this part of the song are those same five notes that make up the riff. As with anything so simple, it’s easy to dive in but difficult to really master. But I promise you’ll have an absolute blast getting there!
Cissy Strut is one of my favourite songs to jam along to thanks to its simplicity and catchiness. It’s also an example of how learning a track doesn’t just have to mean playing every single note as played on the record. Instead, you can think of each component of the song as an opportunity to break off and explore each section as a creative exercise. If it’s just you playing along, you can expand upon the suggestions above. If you know a few musical friends, even better! Introduce this song to them and get together for a wicked jam sesh.
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