How To Play Layla On Guitar
This Guitar Control video demonstrates how to play “Layla” on guitar, Eric Clapton’s classic hit song from his Derek and the Domino’s days. There are two different parts to this intro section that include a riff and a melody. Both of these parts involve tons of cool, stylistic techniques that help make this song really stand out as a guitar hero song. Mastering this song requires high attention to detail, but what else would you expect from one of the greatest guitar players of all time!
Step 1: Learning the Main Riff
Learning how to play “Layla” on guitar, Eric Clapton starts the entire intro with an open lick that you will actually hear again in part two, however, not played in the open position. Playing something in the open position means you will be using the open strings and staying towards the first few frets on the guitar. We start our open lick by picking the open 5th string and hammering on to the 3rd fret and also on the 5th string. A hammer-on is a lead guitar technique, where you only attack the string with your pick once, then to get the next note you want to hear, you slap your finger down on that fret. This technique creates a smoother sound than when you pick twice and adds a different style and feel to your playing.
After our first hammer-on we are going to go to the 4th string and do almost the same exact thing. However, this time, we are going to do a pull off. So we pick the open 4th string and hammer onto the 3rd fret, then pull off back to zero. A pull off is the opposite of a hammer-on, and we do exactly what it sounds like, we pull our finger off the string to make it ring out instead of picking it. Hammer-on and pull offs are great lead guitar techniques and are a must when learning how to play, Layla, and to play like guitar heroes like Eric Clapton If you are enjoying learning this song, be sure to check out another Eric Clapton classic, how to play Spoonful by Cream.
After our hammer-on/pull off on the 4th string we go back to 5th string 3rd fret, which we just pick once, and end up with the open 4th string open on our root note D. After this lick we follow with some power chords that will complete this riff. Adding these power chords is cool because it really thickens up and fills this riff out.
The first power chord we use is D5, which is on the 5th string, 5th fret. We slide it to C5 which is down 2 frets on the 5th string, 3rd fret. A slide gives a similar sound to the hammer on and pull off techniques we just discussed in that it has a smooth, legato feel but the attack is quite different. Instead of lifting a finger and slapping a different one down, or pulling one off, we are keeping the same finger(s) down and pushing them to the next desired note. We don’t want to lift our fingers at all because if you lift your finger you will loose the sustain we get when keeping our finger pressed down on the note. More simply, a slide is when you push your fingers quickly to get from one note to another.
After our slide we pick the Bb5 power chord on the 5th string, 1st fret. Then we pick an open A note on the 5th string and we actually leave our other fingers in the same position as the previous chord, the Bb5. So this means our pointer is lifted, but the fingers that were on the 4th and 3rd strings can stay where they were since we are only picking one note, the open 5th string, and not strumming.
Now we reach over with our pointer finger to the G note on the 6th string, 3rd fret, and drop back down to the 5th string with a C5 power chord, using our 1st, 3rd, and 4th fingers again and ending our riff on our root chord, the D5; the 5th string, 5th fret.
Step 2: How to Play the Melody from Layla On Guitar
For part two of the intro, we change the feel of the first riff to more of a lead melody. We use some of the same techniques but also add a few new ones, bending and vibrato. These two techniques are key to being a guitar hero and truly separate all guitarist from one another. Vibrato especially is a way you can tell different guitar players apart, and how we all have a different voice on the guitar. Essentially, it’s how we give the guitar life and create musical conversations.
So first things first, we are in the key of D minor. The D minor scale has one flat, which you can probably guess from the chords we used earlier is Bb. So the notes are D, E, F, G, A, Bb, and C. This part is played using the pattern four D minor scale, which is based around the D note on the 6th string, 10th fret.
We start off with our same exact open lick but now but in this D minor pattern 4 position, starting with a hammer-on on the 2nd string, 10th fret, to the 2nd string, 13th fret using our pointer to our ring finger. You can use your pinky if you find that to be easier or more comfortable, I use my ring finger in this case because these higher frets are closer together and it’s not a difficult stretch. The ring finger is generally a stronger finger so I will have a better grip and more control over my hammer on. Moving our lick much further up the neck is something that also makes this more lead based and stand out as a solo part.
Now we do a hammer-on/pull off on the 1st string with the same frets, the only difference is ending with a pull off. Then back to the 2nd string with our ring finger to pick the 13th fret once. Ending this phrase on the 1st string, 10th fret.
For this entire part, we will continue to play this lick with different variations on the end, but always coming back to this main melody. For our first variation, we do a whole step bend both down and up. If you aren’t sure what a whole step or half step bend sounds like, you can always check a bend by picking the note it is supposed to be so you can hear it and know you are hitting the right note. In this case it’s a whole step bend, both down and up, on the 13th fret, so you could pick the 15th fret to hear what your bend should sound like. After this bend, we pick the same note with your third finger, then drop to middle finger on the 12th fret, 1st string. 3rd finger 2nd string 13th fret and end by picking the 10th fret, 1st string.
The second time through, only the bend is different for the second variation. We now bend the 15th fret on the 1st string a whole step and everything else is the same. The 3rd time through is the same as the 1st. And the very last time we almost complete the second variation where the bend is on the 15th fret, 1st string, but we end the phrase different after that bend. So this is the 4th and last time through this part. After the bend on 1st string, 15th fret, we pick the 1st string, 12th fret once and then do a half step bend on the 2nd string, 13th fret.
Recap: How to Play Layla on Guitar
This video shows you in detail how to play “Layla” on guitar. Remember to pay attention to the little details that set this riff apart from others and incorporate the new techniques you learned into your own playing! This Eric Clapton song will have you sounding like a guitar hero in no time.