May 21, 2013 in Tips & Lessons

Jimi Hendrix – Little Wing

Jimi HendrixOne of the style trademarks that Jimi Hendrix was known for was the ability to play what sounded like multiple guitar parts simultaneously. He was able to do this by bringing his thumb around the back of the neck to play bass notes. This freed his index finger from barring the entire fretboard and allowed his ring and pinky fingers a great deal of freedom. This flexibility enabled Hendrix to embellish different notes in the chord he was playing, which often made it sound like a second guitar was present.

While the novice guitarist generally doesn’t appreciate the technique that goes into making this classic Hendrix sound, as a guitar player learns and grows, so does his appreciation for this technique. While it can be somewhat difficult to get used to playing bass notes with your thumb, unlocking this ability can open up a number of possibilities to play some really cool songs. This style of playing can also be heard in “Under The Bridge” by Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Yellow Ledbetter” by Pearl Jam, and “Life Without You” by Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Little Wing

In 1967, the album Axis: Bold as Love was released by The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Track number six on that album was “Little Wing,” which Hendrix admitted was one of his favorite tracks on the album.

Hendrix described “Little Wing” as the feeling he got from playing the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 personified as a woman. In a 1968 interview, he discussed how much he enjoyed the feeling of that festival and how everyone was “really in a nice mood.” It is rumored that “Little Wing” could also be about his mother or his guardian angel. Clearly, there are some psychedelic influences as well.

The unique, almost wave-like, sound on the original recording is due to Hendrix playing through a Leslie speaker cabinet, which is designed for an organ. A Leslie speaker cabinet has a rotating baffle, which is what gives the sound that wave-like quality.

In a 2011 tribute to Hendrix in Rolling Stone, Tom Morello wrote: “It’s just this gorgeous song that, as a guitar player, you can study your whole life and not get down, never get inside it the way that he does. He seamlessly weaves chords and single-note runs together and uses chord voicing that don’t appear in any music books.”

Here is a video of Hendrix playing “Little Wing” live:



How To Play Little Wing

Like many Hendrix songs, “Little Wing” is based on basic chords and standard tuning. Even if you aren’t able to master playing the bass notes with your thumb, you can still play all of the chords normally and fake your way through the song. Once you are able to implement the thumb technique, each of the embellishment notes are based on the root chords.

The easiest way to learn this song the way Hendrix plays it is to master the chord changes using the thumb technique and then begin implementing the embellishments gradually. Once you master the intro and the verse, then you might be ready to start looking into the solo.

One of the best things about playing Hendrix songs is that he rarely played them the same way twice, so no one is going to notice if you miss a note here and there or make a few changes. Learn this one in whatever way feels right to you!

Here is a good video to get your started:

Buy a Hendrix Lesson Book from Amazon:

Jimi Hendrix Guitar TAB and Lyric books from Amazon

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