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Michael Johnson >> Brian May (Queen) style >>


Teacher: Hello class!, this is our 2nd lesson on the style of Brian May of Queen, covering his techniques from the early Queen days. Brian May used all kinds of revolutionary techniques that many guitarist later adopted. In this lesson we'll learn how he could layer guitar tracks using various effects. Check out the lesson sample of what you will learn

Lesson Sample

Teacher: Most of these licks are actually pretty easy to play, it's how you layer them to the other tracks, in this lesson I'll show you how to build the individual tracks and then you can practice over the jam tracks to get the feeling of how to play over multi-layered guitar tracks to experience how it works, this should be fun, so let's get started!

Teacher: First let's start with the basic track of the first part of the lesson sample, you basically play the Csus2 and A5 chords:

Part 1 - Intro 1


Teacher: Here's the jam track

Looping Jam Track 1 - Intro 1

Teacher: Now you can play a descending arpeggio over the C and A chords

Part 1 - Intro 2


Part 1 - Intro 2

C & A Minor Pentatonic Scale Patterns


all-thumbs: you're right that is pretty easy!

Teacher: Each of the arpeggios are based on the Minor Pentatonic scale patterns, here's the pattern for each scale, try playing it over the jam track now

Looping Jam Track 2 - Intro 2

Teacher: It sounds pretty cool when you play to the other tracks

all-thumbs: sounds great!

Teacher: OK, let's add another guitar part. This next part is a simple melody you can play over the other parts

Part 1 - Intro 3


Part 1 - Intro 3

Teacher: In this lick you basically bend up to an E which is Maj 3rd to the C of the chord progression. Then you later bend to C# which is the Maj 3rd of the A progression, you then play a descending scale in the A Major scale. Here's the jam track

Looping Jam Track 3 - Intro 3

Teacher: OK, in the last jam track you hear all the harmonies, well it's the same exact melody I sent you, but I added a effects processor called a digital harmonizer, this effect automatically adds extra harmonies to your guitar. I use a Digitech IPS-33b that adds two harmonies. You can find these processors on Ebay for around $150 on up. Here's the same melody, but using the Harmonizer

Part 1 - Intro 3 - Harmony


Teacher: Notice it's the same lick, but with the thick layered sound that Brian May gets, I set the processor to the key of C, with a 3rd and 5th harmony than plays over the original melody, that is one way of getting the Brian May sound. Most multi processors have this feature. Now I also added another lead track to the rhythm, harmony and arpeggio tracks

POD_GOD: So does Brian use this effect when he's in the studio, or does he record each harmony separate and layer em?

Teacher: In the early days he used multi-tracks, as the technology became more advanced he would use processors, along with his tape delays (Echo-Plex) to create harmonies, which we'll cover in another lesson. Here's the lead track

Part 1 - Intro 4


Part 1 - Intro 4

Teacher: Now this track has a delay added, set on 600 Millsec, Delay level 100% and Feedback 50%. You can hear how the effects sustain the note and then then you can hear the delay stand out on the ascending scale run

Looping Jam Track 4 - Intro 4

Teacher: Here's the jam track with all the parts, hear how the jam track comes alive with all the parts, you can practice the various licks you learned over this track

all-thumbs: that's a lot of layering

Teacher: That's one of the secrets to the Brian May/Queen sound

POD_GOD: How the heck does he reproduce it live?

grolschie: Lots of layers on the recordings, but he still sounds phat live also.

Teacher: Great question, that brings up a good subject, Brian equipment, of course Queen sounded more raw in concert, but Brian May was able to pull off a lot of these tracks with his guitar setup

grolschie: "Brighton Rock" live used the tape delay thingamee.

Teacher: Brian used 6-9 Vox AC-30s, actually using 3 at a time the others as backup, because AC-30s can be temperamental and break down. Brian used Mestro Echo-Plex tape delays, one on the 2nd amp, another Echo-Plex on the 3rd amp with different delay setting on the second and third amp, he could create a wall of harmonies. He also used phasers, flangers, Wah-Wah and I assumed harmonizers in his later days. His guitar was custom built by Brian and his dad, using a kind off hybrid Stratocaster design. He authorized Guild guitars and later Burns Guitars to recreate his design (burnsusa.com). 

Teacher: OK, let's jump to the next riffs

all-thumbs: But what kind of pick did he use? j/k

grolschie: 5 pence for a pick

Teacher: Yes, thank you for answering that question grolschie!

Part 2 - Riff 1


Part 2 - Riff 1

Teacher: Now this riff uses a descending in the E Minor blues scale

E Minor Blues


Teacher: Brian May was influenced by Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles, you can hear the blues influence. Here's the jam track

Looping Jam Track 5 - Part 2

Teacher: Notice the riff ends in C which leads us in the next section. First, here's the chords for the rhythm track

Part 3 - Rhythm


Teacher: There are some interesting transitions in this chord progression, you play standard chords but use various intervals to tie the progression together, giving it a classical feel, notice how the D/F#, E/G#.... tie the chords together. Brian May used this technique in his songs all the time, Freddie Mercury was a classically trained piano player as well and would incorporate these changes all the time

all-thumbs: those chords sound just a little off until the next chord is played .....sounds good.

Teacher: Exactly all-thumbs, they are considered "transition" chords. Here's the same chords, but they are played in a "gallop" or "triplet" type rhythm pattern, check out the jam track:

Looping Jam Track 6 - Part 3 - Rhythm

Teacher: Now you can add a melody over the rhythm track.... Here's the first part of the single note melody

Part 3 - Solo 1


Part 3 - Solo 1

Teacher: Now you might notice the melody adjusts to the rhythm pattern, this is very common in classical, here's the 2nd part of the melody

Part 3 - Solo 2


Part 3 - Solo 2

Teacher: They are actually very basic melodies, but are very melodic when played over the rhythm track. Here's a jam track with the harmony guitar added, you can still play the original melody over these tracks.

Looping Jam Track 7 - Part 3 - Harmony

Teacher: I hope this lesson gives you a deeper understanding in how Brian May achieves his sound. OK, time to go, I hope to see you at the next lesson!

all-thumbs: thx

grolschie: Thanks man!

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