Want to play guitar like Brian May? We show you our favourite techniques to shred like the iconic Queen guitarist
Queen guitarist Brian May is a player that covers a lot of ground. It’s hard to single out one key thing that makes Brian May sound the way he does, but in this lesson we’re going to dive into a few of his most recognizable habits.
It only takes a single listen to a Queen Greatest Hits album to hear the range of his playing across a range of styles and genres, but we like to rock around here, so that’s what we’re going to do!
Brian May Style Riff
This riff is simple but effective. It uses some basic triad shapes with an Open A string. Brian would often play a Major triad, in the form of an A Major chord and add some extended notes on top.
You can view these extended notes in two ways - either as a 6sus4 chord, or as an inversion of another major triad. Brian would have most likely thought of it as an inversion.
Fast, Ascending Lick
This fast, alternate picked lick contains a repeated theme with some different endings. It is very typical of a Brian May style lead line. It uses notes from the A Major Scale.
Descending Lick with Flurries
As well as speedy ascending licks, Brian would also use quick descending licks like this with little hammer-on and pull-off flurries. This descends through the A Major scale and is a great fast rock lick.
The initial bend should be raked into - don’t worry about being sloppy. Brian’s guitar style allows for a bit of looseness.
Framing Chords with Arpeggios
A lot of Queen’s music had orchestral influences. This chord-framing lick is a great way to add some of that melodic orchestrated feel to a guitar solo. The lick is based around a single note descending line on the B string which is broken up with an A Major arpeggiated triad.
Three Part Harmonies
Three part harmonies are a huge part of the Brian May sound. This harmonized line is once again running up the A Major Scale, starting from an F# note.
What you’re hearing in the video is this guitar line, with two harmonies stacked on top. One is a major third above and the other a fifth above.
This gives you a major chord.
A simple way to work out harmony without knowing too much theory is to take your initial lick (In this case, what you see above) and then from the scale the lick comes from, start the same lick pattern but three notes further up the scale. This gives you a major third.
Then, from the first harmony, move up 5 notes and start again - this gives you a fifth.
When you stack all three together, you get a huge sounding three-part harmony.