Voodoo Child, by Jimi Hendrix – How to Play

voodoo child by jimi hendrixVoodoo Child, has, over the years, been one of the most popular songs around, encouraging many different versions, but here, you can just make it your own.

Voodoo Child, by Jimi Hendrix, was first recorded in 1968 for the record Electric Ladyland, and is said to have evolved from the song Catfish Blues, which Jimi played regularly, to honor Muddy Waters.

Key And Scale

E Minor Aeolian is used for the bulk of the song. E Minor Aeolian is a mode of the G Major scale and it is one from which both the Pentatonic and the Blues scales are created. Jimi uses the Blues scale for all of his playing in this song.

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

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Part 1- Intro

The first thing to take note of is that in Voodoo Child, the guitar is tuned down a half step to D#. To play along with the recording you will need to tune yours to D# as well.

I would also like to note that as I scan the internet, I see a lot of effort spent on getting every single note exactly perfect, and while doing this will certainly make you a better player, this is a blues song and to play it right you have to feel it and “make it your own.” Many versions of this song have been released, and Jimi plays every one of his quite differently.

Despite Jimi’s (and the rest of the band’s) out-of-this-world playing, the song only has a few parts to it and it is very possible to do an “around the campfire version.” Because we will do the solos and the lead in a future article, I wrote this to be that campfire version, and although it might sound strange at first, I think that with a little playing around with it, you can get it to work.

Opening Wah Effect

Voodoo Child begins with some sound effects that are created by the Wah pedal and some muted guitar strings. To create the effect, use your fretting hand to prevent any tone from getting through as you pluck the guitar strings. When the Wah is “closed,” pluck the heavy strings and when the Wah is “open,” pluck the thin strings. As you rock the Wah pedal back and forth while you pluck the strings, you will be able to achieve this effect, and you will get a feel for making it sound like it does on the recording.

Famous Guitar Lick

After a few bars of the effects, Jimi plays one of the most well-known guitar parts ever recorded. It is just a few simple but very memorable notes, played while using the Wah pedal. It’s the same phrase played four times, with very slight variations. (Fig 1)

Fig 1

There are no chords to look at under this melody, but we can take note of something. This melody uses two different positions: the 5th position and the 7th position. These are not very common positions for playing the E Minor Blues scale, but they start to show how well Jimi knew the fretboard. (Fig 2)

Fig 2

Beginning Rhythm Guitar and Solo

Immediately after playing the opening phrase four times, Jimi switches to this opening rhythm before starting to play his first solo. When taking out of the context of this song and stripping away the overdrive, the opening rhythm is a fairly common blues rhythm. (Fig 3) This is (can be) played eight times under the solo.

Fig 3

1st Solo Breakdown

For these eight bars, Jimi uses either notes from the rhythm or notes from the 12th Position of the E Blues Scale for the Solo. (Fig 4)

Fig 4

Verse Rhythm

The main rhythm of Voodoo Child begins right after the intro rhythm and it looks like this. (Fig 5)

Fig 5

This looks simple enough, but remember that Jimi is playing some amazing things between (or instead of) these chords. Let’s take another look at the chords. (Fig 6)

Fig 6

Playing the E7 chord this way is a staple of the way Jimi played. This rhythm is simple enough to get if you play along with the recording. During the first verse Jimi switches to a guitar part that follows along with his voice, instead of this one. You you can play this one along with it, however, and it would still be considered the rhythm for this part. It repeats 14 times before the next change.

Solo Breakdown

There is no solo in this part but Jimi does expand upon the rhythm above, and in the first verse the guitar follows the voice, using first the 5th and then the 1st positions of the E Blues Scale. (Fig 7)

Fig 7

One interesting thing to take note of is that he is playing the E Blues Scale — which is a Minor scale — over Major chords. This is a very common thing in Blues that you don’t see very often in other genres of music.

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Pre Chorus and Chorus

Pre Chorus

The next part is the Pre-Chorus, and this comes immediately after the last section. It is a four-bar section that looks like this. (Fig 8)

Fig 8

Let’s take another look at those chords. (Fig 9)

Fig 9

The first chord can be considered a D Diminished 7 chord, but in the context of this song it is probably better to consider it an Inverted B Minor. The next chord can be considered a D Major 9 chord, but in the context of this song it is probably better to consider it an Inverted A Major 11 chord (A Major Suspended 4). This is another example of the Blues style of using a Major chord, where a Minor one would ordinarily be used.

The next two chords are the same ones that we use in the verse. We play one bar from the verse and then we stay on the E Major 7 for one bar, to set up the chorus.


Now we move to the next four bars and they look like this. (Fig 10)

Fig 10

Here is another look at those chords. (Fig 11)

Fig 11

The first chord is a F Suspended 4 chord and that one is followed by a G Suspended 4 chord. These chords are very similar to standard power chords, but without the bottom root note. These two chords are followed by the same E Major and E Major 7 chords that we have been using for the verse.

Once we have learned these parts we know everything we need to know, to play the song.

Guitar Solos And Analysis

Jimi Hendrix uses extensive Wah in this song, along with some other sound effects, including rapidly switching his three-way switch at the beginning of the song. I have seen many players try to replicate this effect with a Wah, but it is somewhat difficult to accomplish these days, since Strats are equipped with the five-way switch, instead of the three-way. There was also a very pronounced difference in the tone between his neck pickup and his middle pickup, which made the effect created by switching between them more dramatic.

After the second solo the song lightens up and gets mellower, going into the second verse and there is a lot of first position fills added to the verse rhythm

For the 3rd solo, the music gets fairly psychedelic and during it, Jimi does play some chromatic notes.

For all of the solos, Jimi takes it easy on us by sticking to the 12th position of the E Blues scale for all of the high notes, and when he is expanding upon the rhythms he sticks to the 1st position of the E Blues scale. (Fig 12)

Fig 12

Song Form And Structure

A = The opening Wah and Guitar part.
B = Beginning Rhythm
C = Verse Rhythm
D = Pre Chorus
E = Chorus

So the song goes:

A = Intro
B (8X) = 1st Guitar Solo
C (14X) = 1st Verse
E = 1st Chorus
C (12X) = 2nd Guitar Solo
C (18X) = 2nd Verse
E = 2nd Chorus
B (24X) = 3rd Guitar Solo

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