Layla, by Derek and The Dominos – How to Play

Layla by Derek And The DominosLearn how to play Layla, by Derek and The Dominos, the six-guitar-part legend composed by Eric Clapton and Jim Gordon.

This time we are going to look at the song Layla, by Derek and the Dominoes. Released in 1970, Layla was written by Eric Clapton and Jim Gordon separately, with Clapton composing the guitar-heavy first half, followed by Gordon’s composition of the piano-heavy second half. Duane Allman is also featured in this song, playing slide guitar. The final recording of Layla was sped up a small amount, so if you try to play along with the recording your guitar will be (almost but not quite) ½ step flat.

Song Parts And Analysis

There are six guitar parts in Layla, and sometimes they are playing completely different parts. Eric Clapton himself says that this is a very hard song to play.

Layla was composed in two parts:
Part 1 – Written by Eric Clapton is guitar-driven and contains the lyrics.
Part 2 – Written by Jim Gordon is piano-driven and contains an extended guitar solo.

Part 1 – Key And Scale

This part of Layla uses D Minor Aeolian for the chorus and C# Minor Aeolian for the verse. The D Minor Aeolian is a mode of the F Major scale and the C# Minor Aeolian is a mode of the E Major scale.

D Minor Aeolian = D,E,F,G,A,A#,C
F Major = F,G,A,A#,C,D,E

C# Minor Aeolian = C#,D#,E,F#,G#,A,B
E Major = E,F#,G#,A,B,C#,D#,

This part has two main sections that repeat, a verse and a chorus. Let’s take a look at each of them in more detail.

Part 1 – Intro, Chorus, And Guitar Solo – Rhythm Guitar

Layla begins with the very popular riff that, according to Eric Clapton, was written and added to the song by Duane Allman (Fig 1). The riff is in A Minor, meaning that the song begins on the 5th of the key (D). A second guitar plays the same riff one octave up.

Figure – 1

This riff is part of the Main Rhythm that makes up the intro, chorus, and guitar solo.

The main rhythm repeats six times during the Intro, four times during first and second chorus, and 20 times during the final two choruses and guitar solo.

Here is full tab for the main rhythm, (Fig 2)

Figure – 2

Let’s take a look at the chords used in this section. Only three are used and each is a 5th chord (sometimes called power chords) – D5, C5, and A#5. (Fig 3)

Figure – 3

Part 1 – Intro And Chorus – Lead Guitar And Key Change

The lead guitars play the melody an octave apart from each other and the melody has two parts (Fig 4) and (Fig 5). These parts are played over the main rhythm.

Figure – 4

Figure – 5

When you play along with Layla, you will play the Fig 4 the first time, followed by Fig 5 the second time. The third time, you will play Fig 4 again and the fourth time you will play something very similar to Fig 5, but with a slight variation. (Fig 6)

Figure – 6

The last beats of the second measure are simply chopped off and the song moves right into the verse section. That is where you will find the last note of the melodic phrase in Fig 6 and it really helps guide us through the key change from D Minor to C# Minor. (Fig 7)

Figure – 7

Part 1 – Verse – Rhythm Guitar

The verse section of the song is an eight-bar pattern, based in the key of C# Minor. (Fig 8)

Figure – 8

Here is a tab for the chords that I just created. We will work out the strumming and embellishments in a later article, but you can start working on it on your own from these tabs.

This section of music uses eight chords. Let’s take a closer look at them. (Fig 9, Fig 10)

Figure – 9

Figure – 10

All of these chords, except for the C7, D7, and E7, fit nicely into the C# Aeolian scale. The C7, D7, and E7 do not fit into the scale and are “outside” of the key of C#. This shows the gifted songwriting skills of Eric Clapton, and his ability to use out-of-key chords so quickly after a key change.

Part 1 – Solo And Analysis

The Guitar Solo for Part 1 is in D Minor Aeolian. Eric Clapton gets most of the notes for the solo in the 10th and 15th positions (Fig. 11). Both of these positions contain the familiar Pentatonic scale shape. Duane Allman uses the Slide for his solo and also uses the same scale and scale positions but he is also known to play notes past the end of the neck, where the pickups are. He called this “playing notes not on the guitar.” Using this technique requires a lot of practice and a good ear.

Figure – 11

Part 2 – Key And Scale

This part of the song uses C Major Mixolydian and represents yet another key change for this song. The C Major Mixolydian uses the same notes as the F Major scale. These are the same notes that we have been using in D Aeolian for the chorus and solo of the first part of the song.

C Major Mixolydian = C,D,E,F,G,A,A#
F Major = F,G,A,A#,C,D,E
D Minor Aeolian = D,E,F,G,A,A#,C

This part has three main sections that repeat. Let’s take a look at each of them in more detail.

The First Section is four bars long and the first time we hear it, it introduces us to the piano half of the song. (Fig 12)

Figure – 12

Here is another look at the chords used above: a C Major chord followed by an Inverted C Major Chord; E is the lowest note, followed by an F Major chord. (Fig 13)

Figure – 13

The Second Section is an extended First Section. It starts out with the same first four bars, but adds four more, and a new chord. (Fig 14)

Figure – 14

Here is another look at those chords. The only new one is the A# Major. (Fig 15)

Figure – 15

The Third Section is the Change or Chorus of the second half; it’s eight bars long, and looks like this. (Fig 16)

Figure – 16

Here is another look at the first four chords in the order in which they appear in the song. The chords are an A Minor followed by a D Minor, then a G5 followed by a C Major. (Fig 17)

Figure – 17

The next four bars are similar to the first four, except we play a D Minor 7 instead of the D Minor. We also play a G Minor 7 for two bars instead of the G5 – C Major chords. (Fig 18)

Figure – 18

Part 2 – Solo And Analysis

The guitar solo for Part 2 is in C Major Mixolydian. Eric Clapton gets most of the notes for the solo in the 10th and 15th positions, just as he does in the first part of the song, and Duane does the same (Fig. 11). Both of these positions contain the familiar Pentatonic scale shape. The solo is mostly improvising over the piano for this section.

Figure – 19

This is a great song to listen to in two different modes, and hear the effect that each has on the music. The solo in the first part is in Aeolian and the solo in the second part is in Mixolydian. They use the same notes but sound very different.

Song Form And Overview

Once you have all of these parts learned it’s not too complicated to play. Let’s take a look.

A = Part 1 Main Rhythm

B = Part 1 Verse

C = Part 2 First Section

D = Part 2 Second Section

E = Part 2 Third Section

So the song goes:

Part 1
Intro = A (6 X)
Verse 1 = B
Chorus = A (4 X)
Verse 2 = B
Chorus = A (4 X)
Verse 3 = B
Chorus = A (4 X)
Chorus = A (4 X)
Solo = A (12 X)

Part 2
Piano Part:
C, D (3 X), E
C, D (3 X), E
C, D, C (4 X), D

That should get you pretty close, and the tabs that will follow should help. Remember that these tabs are just meant to get you playing the song and are not meant to be note-for-note transcriptions.

Good Luck and HAVE FUN practicing!


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