Published On: Mon, Dec 2nd, 2013

Guitar Techniques – Play Like: Fleetwood Mac

The first album by Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac showcased a band with swing, subtlety and taste – and it made them stars in the UK. Douglas Noble looks deeper

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Formed by Peter Green with his former colleagues and the old rhythm section from John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac played rough-and-ready electric blues – a style which could hardly be more different from the slick adult rock that made later line-ups of Fleetwood Mac so famous.

This trio of Green, Mick Fleetwood on drums and John McVie on bass was augmented by an Elmore James imitator, Jeremy Spencer. After auditioning Spencer, Green commented, ‘I thought he played slide with conviction – and looking at him, I could see he was a villain.’

Drummer Mick Fleetwood gives Green credit for his vision for the band. ‘I didn’t learn that shuffling especially for Fleetwood Mac,’ Fleetwood said. ‘A lot of it was just luck. The insight that Peter had was that he saw how he could utilise my style of playing and give me the encouragement. He would say “Mick, just stay as you are.

You swing like the clappers, so just stay on the groove, and that’s all you have to do.”’ The rhythm section of Fleetwood on drums and John McVie on bass (from which Fleetwood Mac got their name) can be heard ‘swinging like the clappers’ on Spencer’s My Heart Beat Like A Hammer and Elmore James’ Shake Your Money Maker.

Peter Green quickly began to gain a name as one of the most authentic and tasteful guitar players on the British blues scene.‘To me, all faster tunes are rock’n’roll songs,’ he explained. ‘The blues has always been the slower tunes, and I put all my life and emotions in while I’m playing. Blues unchains all my emotions, but with rock’n’roll I’m back on this earth again. The blues is really having the blues, and if you haven’t got the blues, forget it… you cannot play or sing the blues.’

Three of the five Peter Green tunes on the album, Merry-Go-Round, Looking For Somebody and I Loved Another Woman, use very sparse instrumentation – just the rhythm section of Fleetwood and McVie, plus Green. In addition, Green’s guitar part in Merry-Go-Round and I Loved Another Woman is sparse and restrained, with much use of space.

Looking For Somebody does not even have Green playing guitar, featuring him on harmonica instead.Green was modest about his songwriting. ‘I was never really a songwriter… I shouldn’t have been distracted from my fascination with the blues… I have been known to come up with the odd bit, but I’m not all that wild about the big composer credit.’

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1: Chords in Open E Tuning – In open E tuning the strings are tuned to E B E G# B E from bottom to top, so the open strings produce the same pitches as the common open E chord. Take care when tuning to open E since strings five, four and three all go up in pitch; tune up slowly in order to avoid the possibility of breaking strings. These three related chords are simply produced by lying the slide across the appropriate number of strings at fret 12. Remember, when ‘fretting’ these chords with the slide, make sure the slide is immediately above the frets rather than just behind it.

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2:  Elmore James-Style Lick - Jeremy Spencer was essentially an Elmore James copyist, but even though his playing was somewhat restricted, he did what he did – as Green himself noted – with enormous conviction. The Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac album opens with a Jeremy Spencer ‘original’, My Heart Beat Like A Hammer, and starts with a classic slide lick in the style of Elmore James’ signature tune Dust My Broom, similar to that in the exercise. It uses the chords from Exercise 1, which are essentially different combinations of strings at the 12th fret.

Dust My Broom was played by James in open D tuning – D A D F# A D from bottom to top string. My Heart Beat Like A Hammer is in open E tuning, which has the same relationship between the strings, but a tone higher. Spencer’s other two compositions on the album, My Baby’s Good To Me and Cold Black Night, are also played by Spencer in open E tuning and with a slide.

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3: Pentatonic Minor and Hexatonic Minor Scales - The first line of this exercise shows a two-octave D pentatonic minor scale (D F G A C D) plus an additional F note on the top string. Start with the first finger at the tenth fret, then finger ‘one finger per fret’.

The second line is a ‘hexatonic’ minor scale (the prefix simply means ‘six’ signifying a six-note scale, just as the ‘pent’ in ‘pentatonic’ mean ‘five’ signifying a five-note scale). This hexatonic scale is formed by adding the second degree of the key, an E note, to the D pentatonic minor scale, so now the scale is D E F G A C D. Each note of the scale has a certain character in relation to the other notes of the scale; Frank Zappa noted that a musician was able to ‘wreak pathos’ by milking the second degree of the scale. Green’s use of this note was far more subtle, though, as we shall see in Exercise 5. Key-wise, D minor was something of a favoured key for Green.

Prior to forming Fleetwood Mac, Green’s self-penned instrumental with John Mayall was The Super-Natural. I Loved Another Woman from Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac is in the key of D minor, as illustrated in Exercises 4 and 5. Green’s later composition Black Magic Woman was also in the key of D minor.


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4:  Stock Licks - I Loved Another Woman is based on a stock pentatonic minor lick similar to that in the first bar of the exercise, starting with a bend on the third string from the fourth degree of the scale to the fifth degree of the scale, then holding onto this bend while striking the minor seventh degree of the scale on the second string. The bent third string is then re-struck, and the note lowered from the fifth degree to the fourth degree. Towards the end of the first 12 bar progression Green plays a lick similar to bars 2 and 3 of the exercise – a rhythmic alternation of the fifth and flattened seventh degrees of the pentatonic minor scale. Feel free to add slides, as Green does.

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5: Phrases Using The Hexatonic Minor Scale - These are two phrases similar to a couple in I Loved Another Woman that use the D hexatonic minor scale as shown in Exercise 3, line 2. Pausing on the second can end up sounding a little too sentimental, as noted by Zappa; Green is more subtle in his approach. His sparing use of the second degree of the scale adds a touch of ‘sadness’ to the phrase, and smooths out the melodic movement from the minor third, F, to the root, D. The intro guitar melody of Black Magic Woman also uses the D hexatonic minor scale.

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6: Dynamic Phrasing - Peter Green can be heard using dynamic changes in volume in various phrases in I Loved Another Woman. We’re going to apply Green-style dynamics to the first phrase from Exercise 5, and a variation on it; the second phrase ends in bar 4 with a bend up to the root on the second string, an octave higher than the last note of the first phrase in bar 2.

The indication ‘f’ means ‘forte’ (loud), and the ‘hairpin’ sign means gradually getting quieter until ‘pp’ (very quiet). Then, for the final note of each phrase, we’re back up to ‘f’ for ‘loud’.

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7: Pentatonic Major Licks - Peter Green made a good deal of use of the pentatonic major scale when playing blues songs in the major key. The first bar shows part of the C pentatonic major scale – and as you can see, it doesn’t quite sit as nicely under the fingers as the pentatonic minor or hexatonic minor scales in Exercise 3. Bars 2 and 3 show a phrase similar to ones used by Green in Merry-Go-Round.

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8: Mixing Pentatonic Major and Pentatonic Minor - Like many of the more subtle blues greats, Green was a master of mixing the pentatonic major with the pentatonic minor. This two-bar phrase consisting of two one-bar phrases demonstrates some of these techniques. The first bend up to the major third degree of the scale is followed by a bend up to the minor third, and this is followed by a quick root/minor seventh/root tag. The second bar starts with a bend from the fifth to the major sixth, closely followed a bend up to the minor seventh before returning to the root.

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9: Ninth Chord Fills - Green’s sparse rhythm part in Merry-Go-Round makes tasty use of the ninth chord. No need for a chord diagram; for F9, place the second finger on the fifth string, eighth fret, the first finger on the fourth string, seventh fret, and use either the third or fourth finger to lie flat across the top three strings at the eighth fret.

The first two bars are similar to a simple but cool move at 0:36 – in bars 5 and 6 of a stock 12-bar blues progression in the key of C, chord IV is played as F5 for two beats, then moved up a semitone to Gb9 for two beats, then the tension is resolved by returning to F9. At 0:58 Green plays a fill using the ninth chord shape similar to that in bars 3 and 4 below. Green strikes F9, slides the shape up two frets to G9, then catches the top three strings with an upstroke, then returns to F9.

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10: Acoustic Blues - Green’s solo acoustic composition on Fleetwood Mac, World Keep On Turning, sounds as if it’s in the key of F, but upon listening it is found to be played in the ‘fretboard’ key of E – so either Green was playing with a capo at the first fret, or he was playing an acoustic guitar tuned up a semitone. Bars 1 and 3 show a simple vamp similar to one used by Green in World Keep On Turning using the open bottom string and rhythmic hits of the deadened bottom string.

Bar 2 shows a low-register run using the E pentatonic minor scale (E G A B D E); notice the neat hammer-on/pull-off at the end of the third beat. Bar 4 features a melodic fill on the upper strings similar to those used by Green in which instead of subdividing the beat into three, he subdivides it into four, upping the excitement and adding another level of expression without losing the underlying pulse. World Keep On Turning could be seen as a precursor of Oh Well Part 1.

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