Ain’t no sunshine is a soul classic that has become a ‘standard’ among working musicians the world over.
As a guitarist you might be expected to know this tune should you ever play a cover gig with no preparation.
To understand why this was a hit we shall in this blog look at cyclic rhythmical patterns, note choices and the art of repetition. But first, let’s watch the video.
Ain’t No Sunshine Finger Style Pattern
The back beat pattern does this in a very simple way. So first try playing Ain’t no sunshine with just this basic rhythm.
The bass works against the chord in a claw comping technique, use the video and the diy tab sheet of the Guitar Conspiracy.
Ain’t No Sunshine Vocal Melody
The rhythm is essential. The first two sixteenths start on beat 2, this immediately brings the focus of the listener to the singer because beat 2 feels more unexpected than beat 1.
The rhythm section, in this case just a guitar, plays two 8th notes over beat one, a bar earlier than the vocal, and ends on the back beat of beats 1 in bar two.
When the vocal finish its phrase on beat 1 of bar three, the guitar takes over with it’s steady 8th notes, setting us up for the next vocal phrase. This cyclic rhythmical pattern moves the track along.
As you can see in this notation, the guitar and vocal use a call and response technique where they rhythmically ‘take turns’.
I know, I know, I know
After 26 ‘I knows’ we get the picture, Bill knows that there is definitely no sunshine when she’s gone.
But how do you make 26 ‘I knows’ sound interesting?
Rhythmical placement, that’s how. And when you run out of that, add a note.
The variation Bill use is a pattern of 3, the rhythmical phrase last for 3 beats before it lands on a downbeat again.
To make things even more interesting this pattern of 3 beats use 4 ‘I knows’ each. This type of rhythm is called a cross rhythm, a very useful musical tool.
The notes move between the b7, root and the low 5th. As soon as this becomes slightly boring Bill moves up to a min 3rd to really tell us that he knows.
This cross rhythm feast is finished by a wailing Bill seemingly loosing track of time but securely landing on beat 1 with “…but ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone”, and we’re back in with the steady 8th note pattern.
Minor pentatonic with an added 9th
As the guitar conspiracy states; you have to get to know all intervals inside every scale shape in order to become a free player. As we do this we add the 9th to the minor pentatonic, like David Gilmour of Pink Floyd often does.
This trick is what Bill Withers use for his scalic palette in Ain’t no sunshine as well.
A great exercise would be to take the instrumental video (finger style lesson) and play the vocal melody on electric guitar, constantly reference Bill’s phrasing in all its detail.
For maximum effect, do this in all positions of the minor pentatonic.
Next blog shall take a look at Blackbird by The Beatles.
Dan (your guitar guru)