How To Play The 11 Slick Led Zeppelin Licks In “Stairway To Heaven”

Learning Improvisation Techniques From The Greats

I’ve worked hard and spent a lot of time trying to learn to improvise.

I’d hear great guitar players create excitement on their records with their solos so I wanted to learn how to create that excitement myself.

But also what was behind those great musicians that gave them the ability to improvise and whip up a storm in a solo.

I’ve learnt a lot of solos from recordings over the years to develop my playing but then I wanted to help my students also learn how to improvise.

(Image Courtesy of Amazon)

For me the solo that most concisely represents and sums up the spirit of improvisation on the guitar is the 11 licks from “Stairway to Heaven” and here is the lesson I did for Australian Guitar Magazine a few years back.

I recently read Brad Tolinski’s excellent book “Light & Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page”; it gave me greater insight into the musical evolution of Led Zeppelin.

I also went back and listened to all of their CD’s in order and watched through their DVD’s including “The Song Remains The Same”.

It was really interesting to observe the development of the band and it’s clear that it all happened quite quickly, over a short period of time but on the back of Jimmy Page’s experience and drive.

The Led Zeppelin Album Chronology (My Song Picks To Get Started)

From playing in dance bands as a teenager, to then working his way through the busy London recording session scenes, to joining an internationally recognised band, The Yardbirds”, Page turned every gig, recording session and tour into a valuable learning situation and apprenticeship and all that experience would come to fruition as The Yardbirds morphed into Led Zeppelin.

It’s hard for us today to appreciate the impact that the first Led Zeppelin album had on audiences at the time but it was incredibly popular.

It fused Rock, Blues and English acoustic folk music which was something new.

Jimmy Page (right) and Robert Plant (left) of Led Zeppelin performing in the U.K. in 1975

Led Zeppelin’s second album is an amazing tour de force of guitar masterpieces with all time classics like “Whole Lotta Love”, “The Lemon Song” and “Heartbreaker” each with solos that are genre defining.

They definitely established Jimmy Page as one of the worlds great guitarists especially his performance on “Since I’ve Been Loving You” which is a Blues masterpiece.

He plays a classy slide guitar solo on “What Is & What Should Never Be”.

The third album was also hugely popular but the fourth album was one of the most popular albums of all time and is still today in the top 10 selling albums ever and Stairway To Heaven is the album’s showpiece.

Tracking The Iconic Chord Progression Through Time

The opening acoustic guitar statement is one of the most iconic and recognisable from the Classic Rock genre.

With the descending chromatic bass line under the A Minor chord I first came across that chord progression in the Beatles song “Something”.

At the point where George sings “I don’t wanna leave her now, you know I believe in how” so I assumed that Page got the chord progression from the Beatles.

The band Spirit in 2014 actually sued Led Zeppelin for plagiarising that guitar riff from their instrumental “Taurus”.

They ultimately lost in 2016 because that chord progression was so common, Duke Ellington had built his song “In A Sentimental Mood” around the same chord progression in 1935.

The Brazilian singer Moris Albert also had a worldwide hit with his song ” Feelings” using the same chord progression.

What A Great Solo Can Tell Us About The History Of Rock

In composing “Stairway To Heaven” Jimmy Page sewed several commonly used chord progressions together seamlessly to create his monster hit.

It’s kind of a guided tour through and summary of what Rock music was about.

In fact the guitar solo at the end is over the same chord progression as Jimi Hendrix’s version of “All Along The Watchtower”.

Bob Dylan originally wrote the song around two chords, A Minor to F Major, but Hendrix put a G chord between them and that’s what the solo for “Stairway” is played over.

So we can see that background story behind the chord progression for “Stairway” is a big one but it’s solo is equally an enormous work of art and that’s what I’m exploring here in my lesson “Page’s 11”, the 11 licks that make up Stairway To Heaven’s solo.

You’ll learn so much from it! And it will help you develop a sense of how to construct an improvised solo for yourself.

Page did 3 improvised takes and he chose this one for the record.

I’ve often wondered what the other 2 takes are like…?

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