Country Slip Notes
By Scott Healy
Fri, 1 Jan 2010

Pianist Floyd Cramer’s “slip note” technique is one of the most identifiable types of riff in country piano playing. Cramer developed this in the ’50s and made it his trademark sound: a relaxed, on-the-beat grace note that usually leads up to a chord tone. As part of a two- or three-part right-hand chord, the “slipped” note itself provides a melodic embellishment, usually an added second (or ninth) or major sixth.

This style, and the type of major chord harmony it implies, is a huge part of the Americana style of roots music that has evolved over the past few decades, influencing a wide rage of players such as Chuck Leavell, Bruce Hornsby, Benmont Tench, Matt Rollings, and Donald Fagen.

Click the thumbnails for larger sheet music examples. 1. It looks like a grace note on paper, but play the slip-note on the beat, maybe with a bit of an accent, as in 1a. How fast you play it depends on the tempo and feel of the tune. It’s probably going to sound closest to a 32nd-note going into a dotted sixteenth. Put a note on top, as in 1b, and you get a double stop with a slip note that sounds a lot like a pedal steel guitar lick. Make sure to play the grace note on the beat and with the top note. 2. Take the simple scale in 2a and add a few embellishing notes. The best place to put them is leading up to the third, fifth, and sixth. Experiment with the way the notes ring; it should sound even and clear, and always relaxed. Now add a top note with the fifth finger in 2b. The open intervals ring out nicely and the slip notes imply harmony and embellishment without getting too fancy. Try the same thing with triads in 2c, moving up and down with gospel-tinged voicings. 3. The true Floyd Cramer style is sparse and restrained. In his famous piano intro for Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” he uses half-step “blue” notes, and he plays it softly in the high register, similar to the example in 3a. Adding the upper note changes the sound a bit, as in 3b, and makes it even more bluesy. Try the same lick with a whole step instead of the blue note, as in 3c — it changes the whole vibe 4. Start in 4a with a melody and chords, listening for harmonic movement and direction. Add some slip notes in 4b, on the beat, and a few embellishing notes after the beat. Make it all swing a little, but stay relaxed. Add a top note in 4c, then a bass line in the left hand. If you’re doing it right you can bring out the melody under the top note, connect the chords without too much pedal, and stay relaxed but moving, all while implying the maj(add 2) harmony and a rootsy feel. True Americana.
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