Hotel California - A Fingerstyle Guitar Lesson.
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The Lesson explained
Here's one I've been meaning to do for a long time: Hotel California. What a great tune. I had the pleasure back in 2009 of not only meeting the man who wrote the music for the song, but getting up on stage with him in Calgary, Canada, for a bit of jam. I'm referring, of course, to Don Felder, the ex-Eagle. (Here is the only footage, shot by my sister.) and here is what he wrote for me in his book on his life as an Eagle.
I did this in the original key -- Bm -- but I used a capo, just as Don did, and played it as if it's in Am. I'll be referring to everything in this commentary as if it's in the key of Am.
I used my favorite tuning, Dropped D, (which Don didn't use), mainly because I wanted that descending bass line to keep going down to its lowest note which is the D bass note in the Dm chords.
The chord progression
It's an interesting one. I didn't ask Don how he came up with this tune, but I'm pretty sure he would have told me that descending bass line was the catalyst for the chord progression. You can hear it in the intro I came up with. It starts on A (the root, or 1, of the Am chord), drops a semitone to G# (the 3 of the E7 chord), another semitone to G (the 1 of the G chord), another semitone to F# (the 3 of the D chord), another semitone to F (the 1 of the F chord), another semitone to E (the 3 of the C chord) and then a full tone to D, the 1 of the Dm chord. It then goes back up to E, but this time E is the 1 of the E7 chord, which is the V chord, leading back to the Am chord.
There's a pattern there: the bass note keeps cycling between being the root or the 3 of the chord in play. Very cool. The result of that is that the key keeps changing every two chords, and each time it's a I chord in 'root position' moving to a V chord in 'first inversion'. (See this page for more on inversions): E is the V of A; D is the V of G; F is the V of C ...
So this is the progression for the verses. We have become used to hearing V chords moving back to the I chord, not the other way around. The key changes set up an unsettled, suspenseful sort of vibe that perfectly suit the story that the lyrics tell. The melody is a simple, repetitive, insistent three note line that fits over the key changes and adds interest in another way: the G chord becomes G6, the D chord becomes D9, the F chord becomes Fmaj7 ... these extensions create more tension. Very cool.
The chorus is back in the key of Am and stays there and all the tension is released, until the next verse. It's pure genius. No wonder this became such a huge hit.
Apart from a fairly big stretch in the intro / outro sections, over the C chord, there is nothing very challenging about playing this arrangement for the fretboard hand. There is quite a bit detail going on between the melody phrases, mostly licks from the original that I have woven into the arrangement. The timing gets a bit challenging there, but, as always, playing through these sections a few (hundred) times is the answer. The picking hand in the intro / outro also need a whole lot of practice time too. Those open strings are very counter intuitive for the old fingers. They just don't like playing higher strings for lower notes.
Feel wise I naturally seemed to gravitate to a Mexican vibe, a sort of slow mambo and all those harmonies in 6ths also adds to that south of the border flavor. If you like it, listen and copy. If not, keep it straighter.
I hope you like it!
Guitar Lesson by Kirk Lorange
As well as putting together these free guitar lessons, I am also the author of PlaneTalk - The Truly Totally Different Guitar Instruction Package, which teaches a mindset, a way of thinking about music and a way of tracking it all on the guitar fretboard. Yes, there IS a constant down there in the maze of strings and fret wire, a landmark that points to everything at all times. I call it The Easiest Yet Most Powerful Guitar Lesson You Will Ever Learn and many testimonials at my site will back up that rather superlative description. If your goal as a guitar player is to be able to truly PLAY the guitar, not just learn by rote; to be able to invent on the fly, not memorize every note; to be able to see the WHOLE fretboard as friendly, familiar territory, not just the first 5 frets and to do it all without thinking about all those scales and modes, then you should read more here.