How To Play Hells Bells
Today we’re going to learn how to play “Hells Bells” by rock n roll legends, AC/DC. This is probably my favorite AC/DC song, which as you probably know, all AC/DC songs are awesome. So that means it’s really good. The main riff is so unique, haunting, moody, and at the same time pretty and just fits the title perfectly. Today we’re just going to focus on that main.
Step 1: The Main Riff
First thing in learning how to play “Hells Bells”, the 1st riff has two different endings but everything else stays the same. The most important thing is to keep the open 5th string ringing out. It creates a really eerie, dark sound, kind of spooky sound that really sets the tone for this song and gives it the vibe it wants and makes it really cool. So first we pick that open 5th string, then we put our ring finger on the 9th fret 3rd string, then our pointer on the 4th string 7th fret, then right under, 7th fret 3rd string, then back to the 7th fret 4th string, and back to the open 5th string.
The picking directions are down, up, up, down, up, down. Always letting that open 5th string ring out, kind of like a bell. For the next part, we’re still letting the open 5th string ring out like a bell, then I use my pointer on the 5th fret 3rd string, then right above the 5th fret 4th string, then open 5th string again, and then the 7th fret but we are barring both the 4th and 3rd strings on it, so we are strumming both of those strings in the 7th fret together. Now our first different ending comes in, so we will always hear everything we just played, every single time. For this first different ending after we strum the 7th fret on both the 4th and 3rd strings, we now pick the 7th fret 4th string by itself, then we’re going to pick the open 5th string twice.
Remember everything stays the same up until the part where we barred the 7th fret on the 4th and 3rd strings. We bar every time, but after the bar the riff changes. It alternates endings between two variations every other time. The first ending is just picking the open 5th string twice. The second ending is playing power chords. We start with the C5, which is on the 5th string 3rd fret with our pointer, and our ring finger is on the 4th string 4th fret, and our pinky is right under our ring finger in the same fret on the 3rd string. Then we quickly go to our B5 which is just a half step down, so the same exact shape, but instead of having our root on the 3rd fret 5th string, it’s now on the 2nd fret 5th string. So we have our pointer on the 5th string 2nd fret now, our ring finger on the 4th string 4th fret, and our pinky right under it on the 3rd string 4th fret. Then we just play the open A string, the 5th string, once. And that’s the entire riff! When you repeat the main part after we do our first ending with the two open 5th strings make sure to leave out the very first open 5th string because when we end with the two opens that last open hangs out over where that first one would be. If you are enjoying learning this riff be sure to also check out how to play Stormbringer by Deep Purple.
Step 2: Tips on Playing Power Chords
A power chord is just a root and a fifth. In a scale we have eight degrees, so in the scale we are using the 1st degree and the 5th. These chords are neither major nor minor. That’s why a lot of rock players like the, or any players really, because you can play a lot of different scales over them and don’t have to be so strict in the notes you choose, it makes things a lot easier than when you have specific major and minor chords.
If you’re having trouble playing the power chord with all three fingers down, the pinky is optional so you can lift it off the fret board and of course just don’t play that string. Only play the strings with your pointer and ring fingers are on. You can even replace your ring finger with your pinky to hold the two notes as well if the stretch is too far for you.
The reason why the 4th string note is optional because it’s the octave so it’s the same note that your pointer finger is hold down. The benefit of including the octave with your pinky is that you get to strum more strings, since you are holding down more strings, but the disadvantage is that you’re holding down more strings. If that bothers you, go ahead and just hold down the root and the fifth, but then you have to make sure you are really accurate with your picking hand, or that you are muting all unwanted notes with your fretting hand.
Recap: How To Play Hells Bells
I hope you enjoyed learning how to play “Hells Bells” by AC/DC. How cool is that riff?! Remember to keep that open 5th string ringing to emulate a bell and set the tone of the song. This riff is a little trickier than it sounds, so be sure to slow it down and use the correct fingers to get it up to speed in no time.