Brian May

Martin Cooper checks out some rock roy­alty this month and takes a closer look at the re­gal style and ma­jes­tic tal­ents of Queen’s Brian May.

Guitar Techniques - - LESSON: ROCK -

twice (Bo­hemian Rhap­sody); all four mem­bers of the band have in­di­vid­u­ally writ­ten num­ber 1 sin­gles; they have sold in ex­cess of 200 mil­lion al­bums; they have been in­ducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and de­liv­ered what many be­lieve to be the sin­gle great­est live rock band per­for­mance ever at Live aid in 1985.

Of course, gui­tarist Brian May has also played the Bri­tish na­tional an­them while stand­ing on the roof of Buck­ing­ham Palace – he’s cer­tainly the only per­son ever to have done that!

Queen formed in the early 70s when Fred­die Mer­cury joined the rem­nants of a band called Smile. The group had in­cluded May and drum­mer Roger Tay­lor and they re­cruited bassist John Dea­con and gave them­selves the name Queen. One of the most amaz­ing traits of the band is that they can move from heavy rock songs, such as Ham­mer To Fall, to pop clas­sics like Ra­dio Ga Ga or the disco-funk tinged another One Bites The Dust (each of those penned by a dif­fer­ent writer), while still sound­ing like the same band. although many would cite Brian May and his hard rock sound as be­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic of the Queen style, stop and con­sider how lit­tle guitar there is in many of their songs to re­alise what May does with the notes he plays, rather than how many of them there are. He is in a se­lect group of play­ers who is a house­hold name for both mu­si­cians and non-mu­si­cians. He is recog­nis­able, just from a sin­gle note or string bend.

These days, Brian favours a softer, more acous­tic style but it’s not long ago that he and Tay­lor were tour­ing un­der the name Queen + Paul Rodgers, with the for­mer Free and Bad Com­pany singer tak­ing on the sad­ly­de­parted Mer­cury’s vo­cals. Those who saw the trib­ute con­cert wit­nessed how Rodgers oc­ca­sion­ally strug­gled to cope with singing Fred­die’s songs, prov­ing what a fan­tas­tic singer Mer­cury re­ally was.

The track this month takes on the harder-edged side Queen sound and we’re in the key of e mi­nor (e-F#-G-a-B-C-D), but there are non-di­a­tonic chords and notes such as the a ma­jor, B ma­jor and e ma­jor chords. The solo largely uses e mi­nor Pen­ta­tonic (e-G-a-B-D) but check out the play­ing tips for the har­mony parts that are clas­sic traits of May’s play­ing and com­pos­ing. There are lots of syn­co­pated phrases and lines that be­gin af­ter the first beat of the bar, as well as typ­i­cal May-style note ma­nip­u­la­tion. It’s de­cep­tively tricky to play well, so fol­low the in­struc­tions care­fully – and good luck!

Brian May and Fred­die at Live Aid in 1985

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