Rockabilly Guitar Lesson

This Rockabilly guitar lesson will break down the essentials of the Rockabilly sound & teach you how to play this style with flair!

power-chords-songs

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In this free lesson you will learn…

  • The Johnny-B-Goode Progression & why it’s important
  • Why Elvis & Johnny Cash are some important to this genre
  • How to master the I-IV-V Blues progression
  • How to master chord walk-ups

Ready For Your First Rockabilly Guitar Lesson?

Rockabilly music is awesome!

This musical genre was birthed from a number of different styles of music, resulting in an attitude-packed Rock & Roll sound that grooves like Swing and Blues music.

  • Over the years, Rockabilly music has been interpreted in a variety of ways.
  • One thing however has always remained true to the sound, and that’s the groove.
  • Rockabilly music is upbeat and energetic, relying heavily on the downbeat swing to keep the beat alive.

Rockabilly-Guitar-Lesson

Not only is this musical style unique, its culture is too.

The style of Rockabilly is heavily influenced by pin-up models, tattoos, motorcycles, greaser hair styles and an ‘old-timey’ aesthetic.

Pro Tip: If you can play a Blues song, you can play most Rockabilly songs with ease! Listen carefully for the iconic I – IV – V chord progression in songs like Gang Band Rockabilly’s ‘Johnny Blue, Good Shoes!’

Strap on your best leather jacket, grab your best girl (or guy), grease your hair back and grab your motorcycle – today we’re giving you your first Rockabilly guitar lesson.

Rockabilly-Guitar-Lesson

Rockabilly Music Is A Hybrid Of Multiple Different Genres

Born out of a mix of Swing music, Blues, early Rock & Roll and sometimes even a dash of Punk; Rockabilly music truly is the product of musical mashups.

Fun Fact: One of the biggest sound staples of Rockabilly music has nothing to do with the guitar.

It’s the stand-up bass!

  • You’ll be pretty hard-pressed to find a Rockabilly band that has an electric bassist. One of the biggest identifiers of this amazing genre is the ultra-low and super-thick sound of the stand-up bass.
  • Where the guitar is concerned, many Rockabilly guitarists favor an electric guitar through a vintage clean amplifier, much the same as many early Blues guitarists.

Rockabilly-Guitar-Lesson

This style of music favours fast chord changes and single-string guitar riffs, making it a great style of music to learn if you’re experimenting with new chords on the guitar and want to challenge yourself.

Pro Tip: You can play this style of music on either an acoustic or an electric guitar. If you’ve got an electric lying around however, we suggest you use that one for this Rockabilly guitar lesson.

Nothing beats the sound of an amp for a lot of this music.

Rockabilly-Guitar-Lesson

Changing Between Barre Chords & Open Position Chords

One of the first things we should focus on in this Rockabilly guitar lesson is switching chords.

Many of these songs switch chords rather quickly, and so it’s important to have our chord shapes memorized. This includes barre chord shapes like F major and B minor.

  • If you’re unfamiliar with barre chords and how to play them, we recommend you start off with our lesson here before you continue.
  • There, we’ll break down the essentials of playing barre chords effectively so you can breeze through the rest of this lesson like a Rockabilly champ!

Let’s look at a few common chord shapes below to start off with.

C MAJOR

(If you don't understand the above image please read our article "How To Read Guitar Chordboxes In 60 Seconds". It will make everything clear!)

F MAJOR

G MAJOR 

B MAJOR 

 

A MAJOR 

D MAJOR 

Pro Tip: Memorizing chords is easy once we know how to play them; and learning to switch between them is just as easy once we can see the similarities between the chords we know.

Practice switching between the chords listed above to start working your hands up for the rest of this Rockabilly guitar lesson.

We’ve included some minor chords below to get you playing both of the essential chord types before we continue, so make sure you take some time to practice now if you’re not familiar with these chords.

C MINOR

F MINOR

G MINOR

B MINOR

A MINOR

D MINOR

Learn the 12 EASIEST beginner chords with our famous FREE guide

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Rockabilly Guitar Lesson Tips: The Power Of The Downstroke

This style of music is all about rhythm and groove, and the downstroke helps us convey the rhythms that we hear in Rockabilly music.

We need to be a bit heavy-handed with our pick hand to bring out the dynamics in the chords we play during this Rockabilly guitar lesson, so don’t be afraid to slam down on those chords a little bit harder than normal.

Try This: Using the chord shapes in the section above, play the chord progression below using the strumming pattern indicated. Give each chord a count of four beats before switching.

C Major | A Minor | F Major | G Major

Strumming pattern: Down Down Down-Up-Down-Up

1           2          3       &       4       &

(Bold strums indicate a stronger hit)

Rockabilly-Guitar-Lesson

Getting this strumming pattern under our fingers will help to really bring out that mix of Country, Rock, Swing & Blues that is Rockabilly music.

Pro Tip: Rockabilly is very much considered an ‘interpretive’ style of music. This means that every band you hear will have a slightly different take on the genre. That’s okay!

If you want to get a better idea for the sound of this genre, listen to Blues music. Rockabilly often follows the traditional I – IV – V style Blues progression.

Think of this style of music as dazzled-up Blues music and it will be much easier to understand.

Free-Rockabilly-Lesson

Rockabilly Guitar Lesson Tips: Get The Right Tone!

You can’t play this style of music with any old guitar tone.

This music demands a decent tone, and this Rockabilly guitar lesson is going to take you through the essentials of tone through any amp you might have.

  • We’re going to split this into two sections – rhythm tone & lead tone.
  • These two tones are a bit different from each other, so it’s important to understand how they can each be made.

Pro Tip: If you have a distortion pedal kicking around, now would be a good time to bust it out and plug it in. Having a pedal to boost your signal is super important for this Rockabilly guitar lesson, but not necessary.

If you don’t have a pedal handy, get ready to turn some knobs.

How-to-play-rockabilly

Rhythm Guitar Tone

You don’t need a whole lot of distortion to play rhythm guitar here.

  • Turn the Gain knob on your amp to 2 or 3 to break up your signal a bit, and keep your volume knob on the guitar around 8 or 9.
  • This will keep your notes and chords sounding crisp but not distorted. Keep your mids above 5 and your bass around 4. The treble can sit wherever is comfy for your ears.

Lead Guitar Tone

You can crank it up a bit for this tone if you plan on playing lead guitar over this Rockabilly guitar lesson.

  • You don’t need a lot of distortion, but enough to break up your signal a fair amount.
  • Turn your treble up slightly more than wherever you landed for your rhythm guitar tone, and keep your bass and mids the same as above.

Remember: We’re not playing Metal here, so go easy on the distortion.

How-to-play-rockabilly-guitar

Rockabilly Guitar Lesson Tips: Using Power Chords

Open position chords only take us so far, and some barre chords can be difficult to play for this Rockabilly guitar lesson.

For those instances where you can’t play a barre chord yet, you can swap it for a power chord by using only the three lowest strings of the chord.

Let’s use the example of “Get What’s Coming” by The Creepshow.

This is an awesome tune for this Rockabilly guitar lesson because it uses some chords that you may not have played yet. Check out the chord chart here.

Best-way-to-play-rockabilly

Pro Tip: This is a more aggressive Rockabilly-style tune, and there are lots of starts and stops.

  • This song challenges us to listen attentively to what’s happening in the song to know where we should and should not play.
  • The short bursts of chords can be played using downstrokes, but pay attention to the strumming pattern in the longer chord sections.
  • Hint: It’s the same one that you played above, just faster. Check it out again below:

Strumming pattern: Down Down Down-Up-Down-Up

1             2         3         &      4       &

Settle on down-strokes for the palm-muted bridge section to keep things tight.

play-rockabilly-guitar

Rockabilly Guitar Lesson Tips: Walk Up To Your Chords

Rockabilly music makes use of a lot of Johnny Cash influence, and as such we need to learn how to walk up to our chords.

Walking up just means that we play two or three notes that precede the root note of the chord we’re shooting for.

Try this: Walk up to a C major chord in the open position by picking the open A string followed by the 2nd fret before settling on the 3rd fret for the chord itself.

You can do this exact same movement with the G major chord using the same sequence on the low E string. Give it a shot!

C MAJOR 

rockabilly-guitar-lesson

G MAJOR 

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Some other chords that we can easily learn to walk up to include D major (walk up the A string open – 2nd – 4th – D major) and A minor (Low E string Open – 1st – 3rd – A minor).

  • We can also descend from above into a chord, like in E minor. Start at the 3rd fret on the low E string and play 3rd – 2nd – E minor to perform a walk-down into the chord.
  • Try this with every type of chord you learn. Not only will it help you play the chord easier, it will also give you an idea of the notes that surround that chord.

This makes it easier to move around the fretboard and play with new chords!

how-do-i-play-rockabilly-guitar

Download our lead guitar cheat-sheet to make things easier

It can be disorientating for guitarists to understand which scales work with which keys.

With this in mind, we created a cheat-sheet; a key and scale-finder that you can use again and again.

The Johnny-B-Goode Progression In Rockabilly Music

Question: What do the classic song ‘Johnny-B-Goode’ and this Rockabilly guitar lesson have in common?

Answer: Everything. Many traditional Rockabilly songs are based right off of this chord progression!

  • This song is one that can be played in a variety of different keys, and we recommend you explore as many of them as possible to get that true Rockabilly sound.
  • Check out the chords here, and make sure to study the lead lick at the top of the chord chart.

Pro Tip: You can impose the iconic Johnny-B-Goode lead lick over any Blues progression for a variety of different sounds. Give it a shot and make sure to practice!

A Rockabilly Guitar Lesson From Elvis Presley & Johnny Cash

If you want another free Rockabilly guitar lesson, all you have to do is listen to Johnny Cash or Elvis Presley.

Most of this style is modeled after the Blues, coupled with the influence of Cash and Presley among other classic musicians.

Their use of the traditional I – IV – V blues pattern is found all over Rockabilly music, and serves as a great point of reference for anyone looking to learn the genre.

  • For a good reference, listen to Folsom Prison Blues by Johnny Cash and learn how to play along with it here.
  • This song makes great use of the boom-chuck style sound that we hear in many tunes, and once again can use the same strumming pattern found earlier in this Rockabilly guitar lesson.

Pro Tip: When learning a new style of music like we are in this Rockabilly guitar lesson, it’s important to listen for what the songs you study remind you of.

Does a song sound particularly like Elvis Presley? Odds are there’s some influence there that you can pull out.

Speaking of Elvis, if you want some more inspiration for this genre you can listen to “Jailhouse Rock” – an Elvis classic.

  • If you find yourself jumping into the culture of Rockabilly music, you’ll notice many people who style their hair after Elvis himself, and Johnny Cash as well.
  • This style is rooted in a variety of genres, so have fun and listen for the influence where you can find it!

Want More Out Of This Rockabilly Guitar Lesson?

We love Rockabilly music, so we’ve included a listening list for you to reference below.

Listen for the picking patterns and strumming patterns and jam along!

Pro Tip: Listen for the chord changes in these songs. They all follow a similar structure in terms of the chords they use. We can use this strategy to figure out more than one song at a time!

BONUS: Check out this live performance of Reverend Horton Heat at KEXP!

Recommended Resources

If you enjoyed this free Rockabilly guitar lesson, we’ve got plenty more where that came from!

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