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How to play We’re an American Band
Today Robert Baker, shows us how to play “We’re an American Band” by Grand Funk Railroad. This is a great song and has a total essence of what the 70’s was as far as rock guitar. There’s a real nice power chord riff, a cool twin guitar solo part, a good solo and just really an overall good song. This song has a little bit of everything in it!
Step 1: The Opening Solo
The very first step is learning the opening solo. This solo use the D minor pentatonic scale, starting with box 4. Box for is 6th and 5th strings play the 5th to 8th frets, for the 4th and 3rd strings play the 5th to 7th frets, for the 2nd string play the 6th to 8th frets, and for the 1st string play the 5th to 8th frets. This scale is where the opening notes to the solo are coming from.
Phrase one starts by hammering on the 5th to 7th frets on the 3rd string, hammer-on, pick the 7th fret 5th string 2 more times. Then repeat this lick four times total and then after the fourth time slide from the 7th fret 3rd string to the 9th fret 3rd string. Then pick the 8th fret 3rd string and then quickly slide to the 7th fret 3rd string. Then pick the 5th fret 3rd string and then slide the 7th fret back to the 9th on the 3rd string. Back to the 8th fret 3rd string with another quick slide to the 7th fret 3rd string to the 5th fret 3rd string and end of the 7th fret 3rd string with a lot of vibrato.
After you pick the 7th fret go back to the 5th, all of this on the 3rd string still, then back to 7th fret and back to the 5th fret again. This time you do a hammer on on the 5th fret to the 7th on the 3rd string over and over and over again. A total of five times and then ending on the 5th fret 5th string.
Then we do this super cool ending run. Start on the 3rd string 7th fret and pull off to the 5th fret. Then pick the 7th fret 4th string, then go back to the 3rd string and hammer on the 5th fret to the 7th. Then pick the 6th fret 2nd string, then 7th fret to 5th fret back to 7th fret all on the 3rd string. And that is the entire opening solo. If you enjoyed learning this solo also be sure to check out our video for how to play the solo to I love Rock N Roll by Joan Jett and The Blackhearts for another super cool pentatonic solo.
Step 2: The Verse – Main Riff One
This is probably the most recognizable part of this song. Start this riff with a D5 power chord. Your pointer should be on the 5th string 5th fret and pinky on the 4th string 7th fret. Strum down, up, down. Down on beat one, up and down on two. Then a quick fill, 3rd fret hammer on to the 5th fret on the 6th string, then 3rd fret hammer-on to the 5th fret on the 5th string. Straight to a C5 power chord, pointer on the 5th string 3rd fret and pinky on the 4th string 5th fret. Then strum down on beat one another down on the and of two and down on beat three. Then strum D5 once again, pointer on the 5th string 5th fret and pinky on the 4th string 7th fret, and strum once. Then to an F5, pointer on the 5th string 8th fret and pinky on the 4th string 10th fret, strum once. To the E5, pointer on the 5th string 7th fret and pinky on the 4th string 9th fret to C5, pointer on the 5th string 3rd fret and pinky on the 4th string 5th fret. Then repeat all.
Step 3: The chords
The next part is this really choppy part. Starting with a G major bar chord. Take your pointer and bar from the 6th string down to the 1st on the 3rd fret. Then place your ring finger on the 5th string 5th fret, pinky right under it on the 4th string 3rd fret and middle finger on the 3rd string 2nd fret.
When you play this chord, right after you strum you’re going to pick your fingers up quickly choking the chord. Its an abrupt mute to not let the chord ring out, giving it a really choppy sound. Strum the G major chord, 4 times. Then go to a D major power chord, bar your pointer finger all the way down from the 5th fret 5th string to the 1st string, then make an open a major shape with your ring finger barring the 7th fret on the 4th, 3rd, and 2nd strings.
Be sure to lift your ring finger bar up above the first string so it doesn’t accidentally mute it. The 1st string is held down by the bar and that is the note you want to hear ringing in the chord, the 5th fret 1st string. Now strum this D major four times. Then move this major shape down two frets to the 3rd fret and it now becomes a C major. So barring the 3rd fret from the 5th string to the first with your pointer and then making that open A major shape with your ring finger by barring the 5th fret strings 4, 3, and 2. Strum four times. Then go back to the D major bar chord and strum this again 4 times. Repeat all of this twice.
Then the next you start the same but change halfway through. First you play G major 4 times, then D major 4 times and then change to F major. Bar the 6th string 1st fret all the way down to the 1st string, then place your ring finger on the 5th string 3rd fret, pinky right under on the 4th string 3rd fret and middle finger on the 3rd string 2nd fret. Strum 4 times and then go to G major and strum down, down down, up.
Step 4: The Chorus
This leads us right into the chorus. The rhythm for this chorus is just a straight eighth note rhythm and the strum changes every other time from down to up. Start with a D5 power chord, pointer on the 5th string 5th fret and pinky on the 4th string 7th fret.
Remember if you’re playing a power chord and using only two fingers, you can use either your ring or your pinky finger to hold down the fifth, it’s totally up to you. Robert is using his pinky, I usually use my ring and then use my pinky to include the octave, placing it right under my ring, same fret, just down a string. Both ways are correct. Play the D5 for two measures. Then go down two frets on the same string, now playing a C5 power chord. Pointer on the 3rd fret 5th string and ring or pinky finger on the 5th fret 4th string. Play the C5 for two measures. Then go to a Bb5, pointer on the 5th string 1st fret and ring finger on the 4th string 3rd fret. Only play one measure on both the Bb5 and the C5. So two measures on the D5, two on C5, one on Bb5, and one on C5. Then back to the D5 for two measures. Then repeat riff one.
Step 5: The Twin Guitar Solo
This solo is a twin guitar solo which means two guitars are playing the same thing at the same time, but they’re harmonizing one another. So they are playing different notes but the same rhythm and notes that complement each other. In this lesson Robert is just going to focus on the main harmony. To start the main harmony we hammer onto the 7th fret to the 8th fret on the 2nd string. We do this twice. Then also on the 2nd string pick the 7th fret, the 8th fret, and then the 7th fret again. Then pick the 7th fret 3rd string and then the 7th fret 4th string.
Then on the 3rd string do a pull off from the 5th fret to the 4th. Do this 3 times. Then very quick pick the 5th fret and chromatically pick 4th, to the 5th, to the 6th, to the 7th frets. All on the 3rd string. The word chromatic means notes that are right next to each other, so 4 is next to 5 is next to 6 is next to 7. That is why we call that part chromatic. End this phrase with lots of vibrato.
Then we move to pentatonic box one of D minor. This phrase starts with a really common blues lick. Start by bending the 3rd string 12th fret and then while it’s still bent pick the 2nd string 10th fret and then the 1st string 10th fret. Then bend the 13th fret 2nd string. Followed by another lick. Which is just the 13th fret on the 1st string pull of to the 10th fret, then pick the 13th fret on the 2nd string and then pick the 10th fret 1st string. So repeating and switching back and forth between these two different beginning notes, the 13th fret 1st string and the 13th fret 2nd string, always coming back to the 10th fret 1st string in between.
Repeat this a bunch of times and then bend the 13th fret 2nd string a whole step. This bend is pretty interesting. When you bend that 13th fret 2nd string up, you keep picking it about 4 times and then when pick that note again another 4 times when it’s not bent, the 13th fret 2nd string. Then pull off to the 10th fret 2nd string, pick the 12th fret 3rd string and come back to the 10th fret 2nd string and end of the 12th fret 4th string. Right back into the chorus!
Recap: How To Play We’re an American Band
I hope you enjoyed Roberts lesson on how to play “We’re an American Band” by Grand Funk Railroad. This song has a lot of cool special details that make it stick out. Make sure to pay attention to the details and also feel free to experiment and put your own twist on this song. Especially the solo sections.