It’s the ‘May I help you?’ riff for guitar store. It’s the first song people ask you to play when they hear that you are learning to play guitar. *Everyone* learns it, and there’s some good reason for learning it. It’s Led Zepplin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’.
My friend, Rick, has been learning to play guitar. He’s doing a good job, too! Recently, he asked me about learning to play ‘Stairway’. This question started me thinking about ‘WHY’ ‘Stairway’ is the ubiquitous ‘first song’ for guitar players. After a few moments of careful thought, I came up with some ideas.
My idea as to why ‘Stairway’ is so popular is because the song contains many disparate parts. Each part is usually only a measure or two, and is easily learnable. The song also jumps through almost *all* of the different styles in rock.
The song starts out with an acoustic guitar, fingerpicking arpeggios, with a little bit of strumming with the fingers. There are basically two main ‘theme and variations’. The voice movement and chord changes are a little bit of a challenge, but they can be learned fairly easily. Getting the chord changes to be smooth and seamless is a excellent exercise.
The next sections are a mix of strumming guitar and picking arpeggios. The chords shapes in this section are very interesting, because of the location on the fret board that they are used. Two skills can be worked on here, strumming and switching between strumming and single note lines.
The ‘heavy’ guitar section is the blueprint for many of today’s rock songs. The section is driving powerchords (root + 5th) with a couple of single note riffs thrown in. The skills that are learned from this section are power chords, percussive playing with palm muting, and just generally how to ‘rock-out’.
The solo is one of the most classic guitar solos of all time. It’s one that you can hum and easily hear in your head. There’s not a lot of background noise, and it’s mixed so that you can hear *everything* that Jimmy Page did. Plus, it’s a fairly easy solo, it has a lot of the building blocks that most solos use, including hammer-ons, pull-offs, string bending, arpeggios, and even a little bit of slide guitar. Being able to master this solo opens up the ability to learn *many* other solos.
So, there’s a little bit of the breakdown of *why* guitar players learn or should learn ‘Stairway to Heaven’. It’s virtually an encyclopedia of ‘rock ‘n roll’ guitar playing!