Learn how to play Soul Sacrifice, one of the classic hits from the 1969 Woodstock Festival, and the song that turned Santana into an instant success.
This is the start of a new series of articles in which we choose a song and then break it down harmonically to look at the theory behind it. Though we will show you how to play the song, and there will be tabs and music notation, these are not meant to be note-for-note tabs of the songs. These articles are meant to show you how to play the song, introduce you to music theory, and show you how you might apply it to your own music. This series might also be good for guitarists who are in a cover band and need to play these songs, but want to do it while retaining their own identity and originality. This time we are going to look at the song Soul Sacrifice by Santana.
Written in 1969, Soul Sacrifice was one of the band’s first songs. They performed it the same year at the Woodstock festival in Bethel NY and it was considered by many to be one of the highlights of the entire three day festival. The live performance of this song turned Santana into an instant success. This is an instrumental song loaded with powerful drums and guitars. We are going to look at the studio version of Soul Sacrifice from their debut album “Santana.”
Key and Scale
Soul Sacrifice is in A Minor Dorian, which is a mode of the G Major scale. Santana uses the Dorian mode quite a lot, and it can also be heard in “Oye Como Va,” “Evil Ways,” and many others.
A Minor Dorian = A,B,C,D,E,F#,G
G Major = G,A,B,C,D,E,F#
Soul Sacrifice song parts and analysis
This song has a few sections that repeat. Let’s take a look at them in more detail.
The song starts out with 10 measures of drums and percussion, after which the bass guitar enters, along with some ringing guitar chords in A Minor. The bass part repeats four times (Fig 1), for a total of eight measures.
Here is another look at that A Minor chord. Play this one in the fifth position and try to let the notes ring out as much as possible (Fig 2)
The next part is an eight bar section that acts as the main sort of “hook” to the song and sets up the melodic guitar/keyboard solo. (Fig 3)
Here is another look at the chords. We use the same A Minor chord that we have already been using, along with a C Major chord and a D Major chord. (Fig 4)
The third part of Soul Sacrifice is a 24 bar section in which a call and response guitar solo begins with the keyboard. This is where the main melody is introduced and it is played over the following bass line. (Fig 5)
The fourth part of the song is a return to a long drum solo for 40 bars.
The fifth part of the song is a return to the eight bars of Part 2. (Fig 3 and Fig 4)
The sixth part of Soul Sacrifice is 32 bars that are very similar to the third part with the guitar/keyboard melody, but this time they use a slightly different bass line. (Fig 6)
The seventh part of the song is 48 bars of mainly keyboard solo. It returns to the same repeating bass as Part 3, but adds a rhythm guitar part that goes under the keyboard. The rhythm guitar part alternates between an A Minor chord and a D Major 13 chord. (Fig 7)
Taking another look at those chords, we can see the regular A Minor 7 chord, followed by a D Major 13 chord. (Fig 8)
The eighth part of the song is 12 bars with a slight variation, but is still quite similar to Part 7. This is where the song begins to come to a close and as these 12 bars play through, the song fades out (but we’re not finished yet ). (Fig 9)
As you can see, this part uses the same chords that we use in Part 7. (Fig 8)
After the fade out, we get a nice A Minor Dorian run over an A Minor chord for four bars, and then four bars of a staccato A Minor chord, to bring the song back into full gear one last time. (Fig 10)
Taking another look at the chords above, we can see that we are playing an A Minor chord followed by four bars of staccato A5 Power chords (only two bars are pictured above). (Fig 11)
Part 10 is the final return to the hook of Soul Sacrifice in Part 2, for the first six bars. (Fig 12)
After those six bars, we get three bars of the following guitar fill. (Fig 13)
After this fill, the song ends with the classic banging drum solo, while the band hits an A Minor over and over, until the drummer decides its enough and ends the song — the routine that we all know and love, especially if we have had the pleasure of working with a live drummer in the past.
That should pretty much cover all of the parts of the song.
Guitar Playing and Analysis
Santana sticks to the A Minor Dorian scale for the duration of the song though he does use a few different positions for his solos and melodies.
For the first guitar solo (Part 3) he sticks mainly to the 5th position, with some jumps to the 8th position, until right before the end, when he jumps up to the 12th position. (Fig 14)
Both the 5th and 12th positions have the Pentatonic pattern built into them, making it very easy to improvise with, even if you do not know all of the notes of the Dorian scale.
For the second guitar solo, he still gets many of the melodic notes from the 5th position, but the more solo style playing gets notes from the 12th, 14th, and 19th positions (Fig 15). There is also some extensive bending that has some notes reaching higher than the 24th fret.
The 12th and 19th positions also have the Pentatonic pattern built into them, making for easy improvisation.
The entire song is basically just three sections. The Drum Sections – let’s call that A, The Hook Sections – let’s call that B, and the Solo/Melody sections – let’s call that C.
Song = A B C A B C C B
Below is the Tab (Figs 16 – 28)
Chart – Page 1
Chart – Page 2
Chart – Page 3
Chart – Page 4
Chart – Page 5
Chart – Page 6
Chart – Page 7