• Understand the fundamental
elements of Jeff Beck’s style.
• Learn how to employ pedal
tones and combine major and
• Create Beck-inspired phrases
using unusual bends.
Click here to download the sound clips from this lesson.
One of the true great guitar innovators,
Jeff Beck has been consistently improving
and evolving since he first hit the scene
with the Yardbirds. In this lesson, we’ll discuss
his earlier playing style, focusing mainly on
the era when he fronted the Jeff Beck Group.
If you are not familiar with that period, I
highly suggest picking up Truth and Beck-ola.
With a young Rod Stewart as the lead vocalist,
the Jeff Beck Group released their debut
in 1968. This band was allegedly the impetus
for Jimmy Page to seek out his own young
blonde singer and form Led Zeppelin, which
made their recording debut in 1969. We have
Jeff Beck to thank for many things!
Beck’s playing is raw and full out on the
band’s first two records, and we can really
hear shades of what would come later in
Blow by Blow and Wired. Truth and Beck-ola
epitomize blues-rock—a sound he helped
define. Let’s take a look at some signature
Beck licks from that period.
In Fig. 1, we can see how Beck plays
up the 3rd and 4th degrees of the G
Mixolydian (G–A–B–C–D–E–F) mode.
Beck uses the bluesy, yet bright Mixolydian
sound quite a bit on such tracks as “You
Shook Me” and “Shapes of Things.” Unlike
the blues scale with its b3, Mixolydian has
a natural 3 and therefore doesn’t have a
We can also see Beck’s awesome bending
technique start to take root. He is sounding
the 4 with a bend and releasing it to get the
natural 3. Very cool and a great primer for
what’s to come.
At the time, Beck favored flashy, pull-off
licks like the one shown in Fig. 2. We can
trace this kind of lick to his deep love of
rockabilly music—Cliff Gallup in particular.
In this lick we take advantage of the available
open strings when mixing the major and
minor blues scales. The open 2nd and 3rd
strings work perfectly in the key of G while
the fretted notes are from the G minor pentatonic
scale (G–Bb–C–D–F). The mixing of
major and minor pentatonic scales is an essential
sound of the blues. For more on this topic,
please check out my lesson in the June 2011
issue [“The Composite Blues Scale”]. Also, try
some other open string licks in other keys. It’s
a lot of fun to see what you can come up with
by figuring out what open strings will work.
Fig. 3 is classic Beck and a staple of his
vocabulary. It’s also a pain in the butt to
play! On this lick we are using what is called
a pedal tone, that is simply a repeated note
that we keep coming back to in between
other notes. The trick on this one is that we
either have to use hybrid picking or just play
it fingerstyle. At this point, Beck was still
playing with a pick, so I can’t say for sure
how he approached it. On this example, I’m
using both my pick and fingers, but try it
both ways to see what works best for you. To
be honest, when tackling this lick, I just try
to play it as fast as I can! That’s how I get it
to sound like Beck. But be sure to practice it
slowly to fine-tune the phrase, and remember
that a metronome always helps. It ain’t easy!
The phrase shown in Fig. 4 is yet another
demonstration of Beck’s genius. He takes a
basic G minor pentatonic scale and adds in
some cool bends to create this original sound.
When we hear a lick like this played by someone
else we refer to it as a “Beck” lick because
prior to him we’d never heard anything like
it. This one is also tricky due to the bends
on the lower strings that take some hand
strength. Like all licks, try this one in different
registers on the neck. Also, take the idea
of the lick and move it to different scales. In
my next installment on Mr. Beck, we’ll take
this concept further, just like he did.
It’s a great idea to stockpile licks like Fig.
5 so you can pull them out when needed.
This one is a ripping lick and also a great
excitement builder. Like most things Beck
does, this one is a bit tricky due to the fast
repeated bends, so take it slowly. Also pay
close attention to muting. I suggest letting
the first finger poke up a little so it touches
the 2nd string to help mute and cut down
on excessive string noise.
Next time we’ll dive into Beck’s mid-
’70s Blow By Blow and Wired period.
Meanwhile, good luck and have fun with
Jeff McErlain is a New York City-based guitar
player, producer, songwriter, and educator. He
performs regularly in NYC and abroad with
his trio and blues band. Jeff has a number of
instructional DVDs available at TrueFire.com,
and he is a featured instructor for the National
Guitar Workshop. Jeff's latest CD I'm Tired is
available on iTunes or at jeffmcerlain.com