Funk Guitar Master Cory Wong Explains Difference Between Just the Playing Notes and ’Really Being Able to Play Music’

Cory Wong, known for his unique approach to funk, R&B, and jazz, as well as his work with Vulfpeck and The Fearless Flyers, recently discussed some of the most important things that a guitar player should know. While chatting with Ultimate Guitar, Wong was asked to share a piece of advice with all the young new guitarists today. Or, at the same time, if he “could hop in a time machine and give young Cory Wong some advice.” However, he didn’t give an expected simple answer but rather advised new musicians to go deeper than just reading notes:

“When you’re learning songs, don’t just stop at the notes and rhythms. Don’t just stop at, oh, this is some sort of overdriven tone. Try to dive deep into the nuances. Try to dive deep into the things that really make something musical.

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And, as Cory adds, a machine could read music now. It’s up to us humans to hear all the nuances and actually feel what we’re playing. He continued:

“There’s a difference between being able to play the notes and rhythms and really being able to play music. You can teach a machine to play the exact notes and rhythms, but what makes something connect and what makes something unique and human is all those little nuances that get put into it.

Going more into these nuances and details of guitar playing, Cory also explained how the attack and release will matter. And it’s not something that you could easily figure out by just reading notation or tabs — you have to hear it. Wong explained:

“Think about the releases of the notes. When does somebody release the notes? How are they attacking the notes? Is it all downstrokes? Is it alternate picking? Get into all those details.

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“And when you dive into the details, it’s really gonna help you understand the guitar part in a deeper way. It’s gonna help you understand the approach of this guitar player in a specific way.

But it goes deeper than just that. You should also know what’s going on with the chords, melodies, how they all work together in a given song, and what they’re trying to achieve:

“And then don’t stop there at just learning the guitar parts and the nuances of the guitar parts. Think about how it relates to the chords that are being played. Think about how it relates to the melodies.

“Don’t just learn the guitar parts to learn the guitar parts. Learn why is this guitar part just these two notes or is it kind of outlining a C minor chord? Try to figure that out.

And ultimately, by getting into music theory, you’ll be able to implement it in your own music, all with the goal of achieving what you want. He concluded by saying:

“Figure out how the parts relate to the music that’s happening and the context around it and that way it’ll help you not only understand the part itself better, but it will help you to understand how to create great guitar parts when it comes time for you to do so.

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During the interview, Cory was also asked about using guitar tabs as someone who has higher education in music. When reminded that they can be incredibly helpful, even if you’re an experienced pro, he replied:

“Absolutely. I mean, that’s the thing, man. Tabs have gone up and down as far as being in vogue or being taboo. But if I’m gonna be honest, tabs are what got me going. That was the catalyst to help me really figure stuff out. It’s a much easier way.

However, there’s a downside:

“I mean, there’s limitations to tab if you don’t see the rhythmic notation. That’s the one [downside] with tabs is that a lot of times it’s hard to get rhythmic notation.

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“Of course, a lot of magazines have figured that out now, but with sheet music, it’s like the high open E string, depending on how many frets you have, you could play that note, if you see it on standard notation, there’s six ways to play that note on the guitar… Five very easy ways to play that note on the guitar.

“So, depending on what you’re playing, it’s just like, I could play it down here, I could play it up here. But with tabs, it just makes it very clear. It’s like, this is what it is and there’s less thinking involved.

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“And we all, as reading guitar players know, it’s hard. It’s a hard instrument to read on. There’s a reason why saxophone players are better at reading, it’s like, there’s one C sharp… Okay, maybe there’s some false fingerings, but you can assume you’re playing this note and that’s where it goes. So guitar is hard and that’s why tabs are great is because it’s just gonna tell you exactly where it is.

Photo: Jazzman (Cory Wong, Fredrikstad (Norway), 2 April 2022)

  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor and brands like Sam Ash.