Eric Clapton Tears In Heaven
This emotive ballad from Old Slowhand is a real crowd pleaser! Jon Bishop transcribes it and says it’s a perfect, fun-to-tackle and approachable acoustic party piece!
Eric Clapton wrote Tears In Heaven about the loss of his son, Conor, who died tragically in 1993. It was recorded the same year and also featured in the movie Rush. Its combination of tasteful acoustic guitar work and emotive vocal made it a worldwide hit.
The track is mostly in the key of A but modulates into G for the bridge (starting on the IV chord, C). With a 77bpm tempo and a straight 4/4 time signature it’s a typical slow rock ballad. Songs at this tempo can prove deceptively hard to play accurately, simply because there’s so much space in between the notes. Many guitarists become fixated with playing fast, but it is also important to devote time to being able to play slow tempos with a good feel and consistent groove.
A key component of EC’s accompaniment is his thumb-plucked bass notes. These are played on beat 1 of the bar and on subsequent off-beats, giving both forward momentum to the track and providing interesting harmonic context for the chords. This is partly because Eric doesn’t always play the obvious bass note, the root. He’s being a bit cleverer...
If you harmonise the A major scale in 3rds you get the chords: A, Bm, C#m, D, E, F#m, G#dim. Any of these can be played with the
Many guitarists become fixated with speed, but it’s important to devote time to playing slow tempos with good feel and consistent groove.
root note in the bass, but we can also supplant the root with one of the other notes from the chord. This creates ‘inversions’. Placing the 3rd (C#) in the bass creates ‘first inversion’, while using the 5th (E) we get ‘second inversion’. Inverting certain chords in a sequence can create smoother bass lines.
Try playing the Tears In Heaven intro chords (A, E, F#m, A, D, E7, A) keeping each one’s root as the bass note. See how the bass line jumps around? Eric plays the sequence with some of the chords ‘inverted’ so the bass notes move altogether much more smoothly.
Inversions are written as ‘slash’ chords - A/E, A/G# etc - the chord name coming before the slash and the bass note after). With Eric’s inversons the sequence becomes: A, root position; E, first inversion (E/G#); F#m, root position; A, second inversion (A/E); D, first inversion, D/F#); D/E (E9sus4); E7, root position; A, root position. The bass line has become much smoother.
Inversions go hand in hand with another key component in Eric’s guitar part - voice leading. Voice leading is when the notes within each chord move smoothly and logically into the next, in a way creating mini melodies - Stairway To Heaven is a classic example. It makes for a very musical sound and means that Eric’s rhythm part would stand up as a respectable piece on its own.
The GT transcription combines the key guitar parts, including lead fills, into one piece. The backing has these parts removed so you can play along. It will also be easy to adapt, should you wish to perform the song as a solo piece, without backing. All the rhythm parts are notated at some point in the tab, so it’s just a case of working out what goes where.
Many thanks to Jez Davies for recording and performing all the keyboard parts!