Learn to Play: Riffs in the Key of Jeff Beck

Photo by Andrew Putler / Getty Images

Jeff Beck is one of the titans of rock ‘n’ roll. His work with the Yardbirds and the Jeff Beck Group influenced generations of players, and beyond these ‘60 outfits, Beck continued to challenge himself and his playing styles time and time again.

The rockin’ riff on “Heart Full Of Soul” was played by the same hands that played the haunting rendition of Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma” (from the opera Turandot) for Beck's 2010 record Emotion & Commotion. This dynamic range speaks to Jeff Beck’s reach and versatility.

To celebrate the legendary musician's birthday this weekend, we wanted to break down a couple of our favorite of his guitar riffs. Tackling them turned out to be a lot of fun and very challenging.

“Beck’s Bolero” felt like a must, given the namesake title and memorable melody. It was based on Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero” and is a wonderful combination of colossal rhythms, a singable guitar melody, killer production, and great performance.

The other ‘60s–era Beck tune we get into is a quick riff from the solo of "Let Me Love You." This is such a tiny little window into Beck’s extensive and ever–growing riff catalog, but the combination of characteristic vibrato and the note choice make it a hard hitter.

The phrasing was so interesting to me — almost pentatonic, but there’s something else there. Chromatics. Passing tones. And the good old sharp 4th before landing on the major 3rd from that bend at the end of the riff? So tasty.

The last riff that I dove into was from 1975’s Blow By Blow. The riff — appropriately titled “Scatterbrain” — is a bit tough to wrap your head (or hands) around at first listen.

But then you lock in, hearing the 9/8 time signature and feeling that strong beat at the beginning of each phrase. These are the “aha” moments. Oftentimes, we hear something and think to ourselves, “Wow, I couldn’t play that, but it’s really awesome.” But if we can shed those doubts in the moment and push through the resistance, we can learn more than we thought was there.

“Scatterbrain” is a riff that could provide one of these moments for us. It sounds complicated, and it is. But as we adjust our process, access our patience, and align our focus, we can nail it.

Don't be discouraged if you don't nail this part on the first try. Listen carefully and often before you attempt to play, allowing your ears to realize more about the riff before your hands even get going.

If you're struggling, remember to be patient and to take breaks, only coming back once you've had a chance to refresh and reset. Focus is important here, so throw on some headphones and turn off your phone. Twenty minutes of focused work is far more effective than an hour of distracted attempts.

It’s all worth the time and energy. Riffs that you think are out of your wheelhouse often are not. There are resistance powers at be that make us think this way as a default. Empower yourself. You’ve got this.


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