Learn to Play: Riffs in the Key of Dick Dale

Dick Dale, the "King of the Surf Guitar," pioneered a sound and approach to playing that laid the foundation for generations of players to come. He developed his style by adapting Middle Eastern music scales layered with loads of reverb.

Dick even worked with Fender to develop the first 100–watt Fender amp, the Showman. It was the first amp Leo Fender gave Dick to test that he wasn't able to blow up.

Today, we're celebrating Dick's legacy by working through two of his most famous tunes: "Misirlou" and "Riders in the Sky."

As Joe talks about in the video above, "Misirlou" is actually a traditional song from the eastern part of the Mediterranean and is written in a Middle Eastern scale. To nail this tune, Joe recommends plugging a Fender Strat into an amplifier with built–in reverb — like a Dual Showman Reverb head — or plugging into your reverb pedal of choice and cranking it to the max.

If your amp doesn't have reverb and you're not sure which supplementary stompbox to choose, we recommend the TC Electronic Hall of Fame or the Boss RV–6 as good all–arounders.

This next cowboy song, "Riders in the Sky," is one you'll probably recognize. It was originally written by Stan Jones in 1948 and has been adapted by various country musicians since then, including Elvis.

Our gear recommendation stays the same for this lesson — an amp with a reverb unit or a reverb pedal cranked to 10.

Getting this song down is mostly about learning Dick's rhythmic technique for the strumming hand, which Joe works out in detail in the video above. Once you have that pattern nailed and can pick it with regularity right back by the bridge, you pair it with a natural A minor scale with your fretting hand.

Put those two components together, and you have Dick's adaptation of "Riders in the Sky."

Be sure to check out our library of other "Riffs in the Key Of" below, and let us know in the comments who else you'd like to see us cover.


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