Today I have something cool for you…
And there really isn't much more to say other than THIS...
Right now, for the first time ever, I'm going to share with you how I play one of the most ICONIC guitar riffs of all time!
I’m talking about THE EPIC, THE LEGENDARY Lynyrd Skynyrd Tune…
"Sweet Home Alabama."
Apparently, Ed King was the guy who came up with the main signature guitar part. (BTW your friends will recognize this right away when you play it!)
Ed played it on a Fender Stratocaster.
Now I’ve played this tune countless times with band after band…
It always seems to come a little later in the set when everyone starts to cut loose on the dance floor…
In fact, I even learned a simple version of “Sweet Home Alabama” as one of the first riffs I ever played. (I’ll show you how to play that easy version too.)
My cousin showed it to me.
He taught me the chords and this little picking pattern.
I remember playing it to my parents and friends as a kid… and even they thought it was cool…
They were impressed…
They could recognize it right away… (You can do this too!)
Ed King jammed this monumental riff as a counterpart to what Gary Rossington played.
Gary held down a light arpeggiated guitar part (using the same chords) you can hear as well in the background on the final track.
So without further ado…
Let’s dive into this Sweet Home Alabama guitar lesson!
"Sweet Home Alabama" is a classic rock song by the American band Lynyrd Skynyrd.
The song was written by Ronnie Van Zant, Gary Rossington, and Ed King, members of the band.
It was released as a single in 1974 and also appeared on their second studio album, "Second Helping," which was released in the same year.
The song was recorded at Studio One in Doraville, Georgia, which was chosen for its proximity to their hometown of Jacksonville, Florida. The recording process was produced by Al Kooper and engineered by Rodney Mills.
"Sweet Home Alabama" quickly became one of Lynyrd Skynyrd's signature tracks and remains one of their most iconic and lasting songs.
It is a staple of classic rock radio and has been covered and referenced in various forms of media.
"Sweet Home Alabama" reached No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the United States. The song has become an anthem for the state of Alabama. (It’s often played at sporting events and other public gatherings in the state.)
In Rolling Stone magazine's list of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time," "Sweet Home Alabama" was ranked at No. 398 in their 2004 list and then climbed to No. 389 in their 2010 list.
To play an easy version of “Sweet Home Alabama” on guitar is not going to be too difficult. There are 4 chords total in the song, and you can almost get away with playing just 3 as a beginner.
However, to nail all the guitar parts like the recording is incredibly difficult. That is going to require an advanced level of guitar playing
You only need to know 4 chords to play “Sweet Home Alabama” on guitar D, C, G, and F.
Let me next share how I might voice these chords on the neck. For D, let’s omit the 1st string and play a D5 chord like this:
For C, let’s use just 2 fingers and play this Csus2 shape like this:
Then for G I just move my middle finger in the fretting hand over one string like this:
Now the only other chord left is the F chord. For this shape, I’ll use an F(add9) like this:
There is really only one MAIN progression to the tune. And then there is a subtle variation, more on that variation in a sec…
Let’s first look at the main progression.
The main progression is a 2 bar pattern that repeats over and over. It begins with a split bar. 2 beats of D5 then to 2 beats of Csus2
D5, Csus2 (1 bar)
Then in the second bar, we’ll just play G. So altogether the entire progression goes like this:
D5, Csus2 (1 bar)
G (1 bar)
The subtle variation comes in after the first chorus. It starts the same way
D5, Csus2 (1 bar)
But then in the 2nd bar, we have 3 chords. First 2 beats of G, then 1 beat of F to 1 beat of C. Here is where I use the F(add9) shape and then I switch quickly to a standard open position C chord like this:
So those are the two chord progressions for “Sweet Home Alabama”. The main progression and the subtle variation.
The main riff to “Sweet Home Alabama” uses the chords, D5, Csus2, and G. The riff comes straight from the chord progression using a combination of palm-muting and arpeggio picking.
Essentially, palm muting is a technique that creates a percussive and muted sound. You get this sound by partially resting the palm of your strumming hand on the strings near the bridge of the guitar while you play.
This technique is commonly used in various styles of music and lets you add dynamics and a unique texture to the guitar sound.
This is then combined with arpeggio-picking.
Arpeggio picking is a technique where you play the individual notes of a chord one at a time in a specific order, usually from the lowest pitch to the highest pitch. This produces a harp-like or cascading effect and is a fundamental guitar technique.
The term "arpeggio" itself refers to the notes of a chord played sequentially, rather than simultaneously. (Like strumming)
Here’s an example of how these two techniques could be applied in the style of Lynyrd Skynyrd
Notice how the notes on the bass strings are played with palm-muting while the notes on the treble strings ring out.
This is a huge part of creating the ICONIC sound we all recognize from the recording.
As mentioned above the note-for-note guitar parts to “Sweet Home Alabama” can be very difficult to play. However, here is an easy way to get started playing the iconic “Sweet Home Alabama” riff anyone can begin with.
In fact, this exact simplified riff was one of the first riffs I ever learned. I remember playing it for my friends and family and them thinking it was cool.
To wrap it up, "Sweet Home Alabama" by Lynyrd Skynyrd is undoubtedly one of the most iconic guitar riffs in rock music history. While mastering the exact guitar parts may require advanced skills, this blog post has provided a valuable starting point for both novice and experienced guitarists.
We checked out the history of the song, learned about its chord progressions, and explored the essential techniques of palm muting and arpeggio picking that give the riff its distinctive and memorable sound.
If you're a beginner looking for a simplified version or you’re an experienced player aiming to recreate the legendary guitar work of Ed King and Gary Rossington, this guide can be your foundation.