Jon MacLennan


Midnight Rider Guitar Lesson (Allman Brothers Band)

Gregg Allman once said, 

“There's nothing like music to relieve the soul and uplift it.” 

I couldn’t agree more, and that’s exactly what I want to do today in this “Midnight Rider” guitar lesson.

In this post, you’ll discover how to play the chords, signature riffs, and even the solo to this iconic Allman Brothers Band song step-by-step. 

So grab your guitar tune up and let’s get started!

Who wrote Midnight Rider?

"Midnight Rider" was written by Gregg Allman and Robert Payne. It was first released by the American rock band The Allman Brothers Band on their 1970 album Idlewild South. The song has since become one of the band's most iconic and lasting tracks.

The song features a bluesy and soulful sound, with Gregg Allman's distinctive vocals and the band's signature dual guitar harmonies, courtesy of Duane Allman and Dickey Betts. 

The lyrics of "Midnight Rider" convey a sense of restlessness and the longing for freedom and escape, making it a relatable and timeless song.

The recording of "Midnight Rider" took place at Criteria Studios in Miami, Florida, with Tom Dowd producing. The Allman Brothers Band recorded many of their classic tracks at Criteria Studios during this period.

As for credits and accolades, "Midnight Rider" has received widespread acclaim and recognition over the years. While it wasn't initially a chart-topping single, it has become a crowd-favorite classic rock staple. 

One of the most notable accolades for "Midnight Rider" is its induction into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998. This honor recognizes recordings of historical significance that have had a lasting impact on the music industry.

Additionally, the song is often included in lists of the greatest rock songs of all time by music publications and experts. Its popularity and timeless quality have solidified its status as one of the Allman Brothers Band's most celebrated tracks.

Midnight Rider Guitar Chords

To play “Midnight Rider” you only need 4 chords D5, Gm, C, and Bb. Here are examples of how I might play these shapes.

D5 is played in open position using only 3 strings. This shape looks like a typical D chord however we are going to remove the 2nd fret on the 1st string. Because later we will use that finger to play a bluesy embellishment on the chord. When I do this I mute the 1st string so it doesn’t ring open. 

Gm is played as a standard minor bar chord with the root on the 6th string in the 3rd position like this:

C is played in open position like this:

Finally, Bb is also another bar chord. But this time the root is on the 5th string like this:

What key is Midnight Rider in?

“Midnight Rider” is in the key of D. However, if I was writing the sheet music I would use the key signature of G, as the melody implies a D Mixolydian scale. This is a sound common to many classic rock songs of this era. But I would technically refer to it as the key of D if I was leading a band. 

How do you play Midnight Rider on the guitar?

There are two main sections you need to know to play “Midnight Rider”. Let’s refer to these sections as the “main progression” and the “bridge”.

The main progression is 12 bars long and begins with 6 bars of D5.

D5 (6 bars) 

Then you go to Gm for 1 bar and then C for 1 bar.

Gm (1 bar)

C (1 bar)

After this, you return to D5 for 4 bars, and then the whole section repeats again. 

D5 (4 bars)

So altogether the main progression would look like this:

D5 (6 bars)

Gm (1 bar)

C (1 bar)

D5 (4 bars)

Now it’s important to note that whenever the D5 chord is played we’ll use a fun bluesy embellishment with it. 

This riff plays the note C against the D chord. This is a very common sound in many classic tunes from this era. Here’s a look at a riff in this style:

This is why the D5 chord is played instead of a full D major chord. You’ll need your middle finger of the fretting hand to quickly access the note C on the 3rd fret of the 5th string for the bluesy lick.

The “bridge” section comes in a little bit later in the song. The “bridge” is used as an instrumental section (guitar solo). 

This part of the song gives the listener a nice relief before it circles back to the “main progression” and fades out. 

The “bridge” section is also 16 bars long and brings in a new chord (the Bb chord). It starts with 4 bars of D5. (Remember we’ll use the riff for D5.)

D5 (4 bars) 

Then we’ll play 5 bars alternating C to Bb with one bar on each chord like this:

C (1 bar) 

Bb (1 bar) 

C (1 bar) 

Bb (1 bar) 

C (1 bar) 

Then do a crescendo over 3 bars of a Bb chord.

Bb (3 bars) build in energy and crescendo

Then it finishes with 4 bars of D5 again.

D5 (4 bars)

So altogether the “bridge” section goes:

D5 (4 bars)

C (1 bar) 

Bb (1 bar) 

C (1 bar) 

Bb (1 bar) 

C (1 bar) 

Bb (3 bars) build in energy and crescendo

D5 (4 bars)

Midnight Rider Scales and Soloing 

The solo happens over the “bridge” chord progression. It moves through 3 different keys, and 3 different scales.

The are 3 chords used in the “bridge” and here are the scales used over each chord:

D5 = D major pentatonic scale

C = C major scale

Bb = Bb major scale 

Over the signature riff, the guitar solo uses notes from the D major pentatonic scale.

This scale can be played in 7th position like this:

The D major pentatonic scale consists of five notes from the D major scale. The notes in the D major pentatonic scale are:

D (the root note)

E (the major 2nd)

F# (the major 3rd)

A (the perfect 5th)

B (the major 6th)

These notes are used to play ‘pedal steel’ style guitar licks. Here is an example of how that can be done:

The C major scale pattern that is used over the C chord is this:

And the Bb major scale pattern is the same just shifted down 2 frets like this:



To wrap it up, "Midnight Rider" is not only a classic rock anthem but also an awesome canvas for guitar enthusiasts to paint their musical expressions. 

Whether it is jamming over the signature riff, or copying some of the ‘pedal steel’ style licks. Every note in this song carries great guitar lessons to pick up on and expand our playing.

The legacy of "Midnight Rider" is not only in its iconic status but also in its ability to connect generations of music lovers. 

Whether you're a seasoned guitarist looking for new challenges or someone picking up the guitar for the first time, "Midnight Rider" is a fun one to dive into.

So happy playing and for more Allman Brothers Style guitar lessons check out “Stormy Monday” next!

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