P.G. LESSON: African Guitar 101...



by Shawn Persinger of Premier Guitar.com

African music is extensive and this introduction should be considered just the tip of the iceberg. 

Africa comprises 55 countries—each with its own unique style—so it would be impossible to summarize an entire continent’s worth of music into this lesson.

People outside of Africa tend to lump the varying sounds and grooves together the way someone might think of rock music. Both Elvis Presley and Metallica can be placed under that label, but are completely different in nearly every imaginable way.

Many African songs include several short inter-locking parts that fit together like a musical puzzle. For this lesson, I’ve composed two examples, and we’ll dissect, isolate, and internalize the elements of each one and then throw in a solo fingerpicking groove that’s quite unlike what you might find in traditional Western fingerstyle or classical guitar.

It’s worth noting that African guitarists often play Strat-style guitars, and playing with a clean tone that’s enhanced with a touch of chorus and slapback delay will give you a more authentic sound. Okay, let’s get to work.


The first three examples feature both rhythm and lead soukous-style guitar parts. Soukous is a hybrid that grew out of the Congo’s African rumba, which incorporated Cuban rhythms into Congolese dance styles. Soukous integrated even more indigenous sounds and was further developed in such East African countries as Kenya and Zimbabwe.

You can see the chord progression in Ex. 1 is a common I-IV-V-IV in the key of D. The harmony may be easy, but don’t underestimate the complexity of this groove. The rhythmic syncopations found in typical soukous parts will likely be new and challenging for most guitarists.

Click here to visit Premier Guitar for all of the examples and the full article.

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