Wish You Were Here – The Intro Solo – Pink Floyd

David Gilmour in concert

I’m assuming that many of you read the “Easy Songs for Beginners” lesson that just went up a little while ago on this same song, Wish You Were Here, from the Pink Floyd album of the same name. In this Intermediate’s lesson, we’re going to go over how to play the second acoustic guitar part in the introduction. Originally, I thought I’d throw in a few other things that you might find interesting, but I’m thinking at this point that perhaps a “part III” is in order. That will cover playing both parts at once and some additional nifty ideas for you solo guitarists/singers. Maybe I’ll give you a teaser at the end of this lesson…

I have to assume for the sake of this lesson that you are familiar with the structure of the song, not to mention that you are very familiar with what the song sounds like. That’s a lot of assuming on my part (and yes I do know what they say about what happens when you assume something…). But I do think that it’s a safe bet at this juncture.

As we discussed in the Beginners’ Lesson, the introduction of Wish You Were Here consists of two acoustic guitar parts. The first one is pretty much all strumming and (hopefully) we learned that part in that particular lesson.

Speaking of that lesson, many of you wrote and asked me why the MP3 was different from the notation I wrote out. Well, the main focus of that lesson was to get you to not worry about copying a strumming part exactly. All I was doing was adding an extra bass note (an eighth note in duration) usually in the second half of the first beat of each measure. In case you’re wondering, here it is written out:

Takedown Notice

What happens in the song is that, after the first guitar has played the complete intro once through, a second guitar comes in and plays some very tasteful fills. It’s a short lead, if you prefer to think of it that way and it’s very much in the style of “call and response” that we’ve discussed in numerous lessons here at Guitar Noise. The first guitar plays the short riff and then the second guitar answers while the first guitar is strumming.

In this lesson, we’re going to learn to play that second guitar part. It’s actually not that hard at all and it is a great way to start learning some of the various aspects of soloing. In fact, since it combines hammer-ons, pick-offs, slides and bends, I probably should have used it as the showcase example in my old column, Tricks of the Trade. And since I’ve gone and brought up that old column, you might want to take the time to read it, especially if you have no idea what a hammer-on, pull-off (I called them “pick-offs” when I wrote it!), slide or bend is!

As always, let’s take a minute to figure out how best to approach learning this solo. This second guitar part can be broken down into four distinct phrases, each phrase being a “response” to the first guitar’s “call.” It would make the most sense, then, to examine each separate phrase, learning each one well, and then put them all together as a finished product. Remember, again as always, to learn each part as slowly as necessary. Clarity and smoothness are our goals. You will see that we’ll even end up tackling segments of each phrase separately in order to get a better handle on things. Are you ready to start?

Before we do, let me give you a few quick tips that I hope will help you out. There are lots of different ways of learning solos. I’m certain that you knew that one was coming! If you are reading off of music notation or TAB (instead of sussing it out by ear, which, by the bye, is how I initially learned this piece), take the time to read it without playing first. Look at things like the range of frets in a particular phrase; this will often give you a good guide as to which fingers you’ll want to use and where. More importantly, be open and observant of making changes. You may find that you cannot make a certain stretch or that your fingers work smoother in a different combination than the one you first used. By experimenting, you fill ultimately find what works best for you.

Phrase One

We’re in luck already because the first cluster of three notes not only starts off phrase one, but phrases three and four as well! How about that?

As I mentioned earlier, having the TAB in front of you gives you the opportunity to plan ahead. This first phrase is an excellent example of this. If you’ve read some of my other lessons, you might already know that my first instinct would be to play the first two notes on the G string with my middle finger, since I often plant it there when doing little fills like this. And that would serve me fine up to a point. I would then use my ring finger to fret the E note (fifth fret on the B string) and my index finger to fret the D (third fret on the B string). But when I get to the last three notes in the first measure, I now find I’ve somewhat boxed myself in.

These last three notes comprise what is essentially a “double pick-off.” What we want to do is to have a finger planted on the second fret of the G string and the fourth fret as well. We strike the note with our strumming hand and then pull-off the finger on the fourth fret, which (because of the finger on the second fret) sounds the note of the second fret before we pick that finger off on get the note of the open G string. A bit complicated, perhaps?

Well, let’s take those last three notes first! Place you index finger on the second fret of the G string (the A note) and then place, preferably, your ring finger on the B note at the fourth fret. Use your pinky as an alternative if it works better for you, but do try to use the ring finger if you can. Strike the string, sounding the B note. Now pull that finger off (remember (and, again, refer back to Tricks of the Trade if you have to) that you want to pull slightly down in order to help sound the next note) and you should hear the A note. Now pull your index finger off and you should hear the note of the open G string.

This technique of the double pull-off is used a lot in rock, particularly in faster solos, so it’s a good idea to practice doing this. You only want to strike the string once and let your fretting fingers do the rest of the work. Practice this over and over, making certain you are hearing all three notes distinctly and evenly. Speed will come with repetition, trust me. And, for this song anyway, you don’t want to be that fast.

Now that have the last three notes of the first measure, let’s go back and try out the first part of the measure again. Since I now know I want to have my index finger free to get set for the last three notes, I now opt to play the first two notes with my ring finger instead of the middle finger. I place my ring finger on the second fret of the G string, strike the note and then slide my ring finger up to the fourth fret to get that note. I also decide to plan ahead even more – I place my middle finger on the first fret of the B string at the same time I place my ring finger on the second fret of the G. Now when I slide the ring finger, the middle finger follows along and is in perfect position for its note on the third fret. All I have to do is place my pinky on the fifth fret of the B, play that note and then remove the pinky, leaving the middle finger ready to do its job when the time comes. Not too bad!

So let’s play the first six notes over again, slowly and evenly. Play it over and over until you’re ready to add the last three notes onto the whole thing. You should find that, since your index finger is free, you’ll have all the time in the world to set up for that part of the phrase.

The final grouping of notes in the second measure is one of those places where you can have fun experimenting. After striking the open D, take your index finger and place it on the first fret of the A string. Quickly slide to the B note at the second fret and then strike the open D twice more. I find that, instead of starting on the B flat note on the first fret, I like to strike the open A string and hammer-on to the first and second frets of the A string. This is “double hammer-on,” the reverse, if you will, of the double pull-off. Some people play this part of the phrase simply by hammering-on to the second fret of the A from the open A. Some play it as notated, but use a hammer-on instead of a slide. It’s truly up to you, as it should be.

Phrase Two

Most people consider this the hardest part of the introduction, but, like almost everything we’ve learned, it’s simply a matter of practicing and perfecting your technique before going all gung-ho.

Phrase two is all double-note sliding. And, once again, finger placement can make or break you here. Let me offer my suggestions, but do feel free to try out various combinations on your own.

First, place your ring finger on the third fret of the high E (first) string and your middle finger on the third fret of the B. Strike those two strings and then immediately slide up to the fifth fret. Sliding as soon as you strum is, no pun intended, the key to this part of the solo. Go over this as many times as you have to get a good feel for it. Then, with the same fingers on the fifth fret, strike the strings and immediately slide your fingers back to the third fret. Again, repeat this until you feel you’ve got it down. Then put the two parts together.

And that’s just the first two notes! The rest of the notes are on the B and G strings. Since my middle finger is already in position (planning ahead again!), I use my index finger on the G string, placing it on the second fret, and away I go! If you keep your fingers in this position, you’ll find this whole section a lot easier than you thought it was going to be. I usually do more of a pull-off to get the sound of the open strings. Some people like to strike them instead. Also, many notations and TAB indicate that the final notes should be on the G (fourth fret) and D (fifth fret) strings instead of the open B and G as I’ve notated. They are the same notes. After all that sliding, I like to give my fingers a break by getting them off the fretboard! Also, that frees me to play a bit of harmonics…Oh, sorry, that’s for Part III ! Anyway, it’s totally up to you.

And, just to prove the same point (albeit in another way), this notation isn’t written in stone. If you’ve read my piece, Applied Science, which deals with the middle solo (the slide/dobro) of Wish You Were Here, then you’ll already know where I’m headed with this. When I first learned this solo, I did it by ear. As a result, I initially played it like this:

Why? Because it didn’t involve my changing strings! My fingers could stay in the same position and play the exact same notes. I’ve gotten a bit faster since those days, and if I’m not playing with an alternate tuning for this song in order to play the slide part (read the whole article!) , I do tend to go with the first notation I’ve given you. But, again, the choice is yours.

Phrases Three And Four

Okay, we’re almost home! Since phrases three and four are fairly similar, not only in notes and phrasing but also in that they employ bending techniques, let’s take them both on at once. But now I have to make a huge confession: I’m not great at bending strings (especially on an acoustic!) with my pinky. So, keeping that in mind, I now have to totally change my approach to those first three notes again!

Since my ring finger is the best bender of the bunch, it’s important for me to approach these phrases in a way that allows me to play to my strengths. So I’ll start out with my middle finger on the second fret of the G string (which is what I tried to do in the first place!), and again for good measure, place the index finger on the first fret of the B string. I strike and slide on the G string and find, to my delight, that the index finger is right in place for third note (the D on the third fret of the B string). Now I hit the B note again (fourth fret G string) and place my ring finger on the fifth fret of the B; I’m ready to bend!

This also turns out to be a smart move for a couple of other reasons. First, I can keep my index finger on the third fret of the B string and use it to help me do the bend. This isn’t cheating! In fact, using more than one finger on a bend can help you have more control of the tone of your bending. Secondly, I see that after I release the bend, all I have to do is remove the ring finger and my index finger (since it hasn’t left the third fret) is already to sound its note. Also, since my middle finger hasn’t moved, it is also ready to play its note.

The tricky part to this phrase is moving my index finger from the third fret of the B string to the second fret of the G. Tricky, but not impossible. And, after doing it slowly, slowly, slowly for a couple of hundred times, I find I can do it with ease. Which is good, because I have to reverse this maneuver in the second measure of this phrase.

So, let’s go over this again: Middle finger on the second fret of the G string, index finger on the first fret of the B string. Strike and slide on the G string, strike the D note (index finger on the third fret of the B string), strum the B note again (fourth fret G string). Now, ring finger on the fifth fret of the B and index finger on the third fret of the B, do a full bend to get the next note, release the bend and then pick off the ring finger for the D note (index finger again). Strum the G string (still covered by the middle finger), then the B string again and then jump with the index finger to the second fret of the G string and voila! we’ve done the first two thirds of this phrase.

And this is a good time to add another important point – I don’t know how many times I’ve played Wish You Were Here and simply ignored the next to last note in this section. If you’re having trouble getting both notes, try leaving it out. Chances are that you’ll find it sounds just as good and I’ll bet you anything most people won’t even notice it (unless, of course, you point it out!).

For the last grouping of notes, the bending is on the G string and I do that using my middle finger (with an assist from the index finger again, since it’s right there!). Do take the time to make certain there’s a difference between the first bend, which is a half-bend (the B note should rise only to C) and the full bend at the end (B to C#). It may not seem like much to you, but if you listen to it, it makes a lot of difference expression-wise. Think of it as an ear training exercise if you like.

Phrase four starts out exactly as phrase three does, but then gets much easier. After the full bend on the B string, pick off the ring finger to play the D note on the third fret (covered by our trusty index finger), then put the ring finger back on for the E note at the fifth fret. Now you have ample time (and freedom of fingers!) to get the index finger onto the second fret of the G string for the final measure.


But wait! There’s more!

Before we put this all together, I’d like to give you two small gifts. Actually, it’s one gift – freedom of expression. We’ve just learned how this part is played on the recording. But if I were to hear you play it, I would want to hear you play it. I can hear David Gilmour anytime I put on a CD.

So when you play it, don’t worry about being note-for note perfect. There are all sorts of things you can do to make a piece of music, even a “signature” piece such as this, more of a personal interpretation. Here are a couple of quick (and relatively easy) things you might want to try to get you going:

“Bonus one” is a very simple use of a hammer-on and pull-off that I play at the end of phrase two. After hitting the open B and G strings for the final time, I strike the open D string, and then strike it again, this time quickly hammering onto the second fret and holding my finger (usually index) there. I hit the open G string and then return to D string where my finger is still on the second fret. I do a pull-off to the open D string and then strike the open G string once more to complete the phrase. It’s very basic and, since it’s reminiscent of the riffs that the first guitar plays, creates a nice sense of unity.

My second “bonus riff” comes at the very end of the intro solo and is another use of the double pull-off, only this time I stick a hammer-on in front of it. If it sounds familiar, it’s because I lifted it from Led Zeppelin’s Over the Hills and Far Away:

Now don’t go thinking that this is too hard for you! It’s a great exercise, if nothing else. Your index finger is already on the second fret of the G string. Hammer-on the fourth fret with your ring finger and then immediately pull-off back to the index finger, which in turn does a pull-off to the open G string. Sounds pretty nifty, no? Now repeat the exact same process only playing on the D string and finish with a strike on the open G string. It may take you a while to get up to speed on this, but once you set your fingers in motion, you should find that you catch on pretty quickly.

Finally, I simply do an arpeggio on the G chord at the very end, simply in order to not duplicate the first guitar part. It’s primarily even upstrokes on the first three strings, in case you’re wondering.

Alright then, let’s do the whole introduction now. I took the liberty of recording both guitar parts, so you’ll first hear the basic strumming all the way through and then the second guitar will come in. I’ve also thrown in the “bonus riffs” into this MP3. By the way, I did this on my old Yamaha guitar, since at the time of this recording, my Seagull (which I used to record the Beginners’ Lesson) was already in Massachusetts. My apologies that the intonation is a bit off in places. I’m hoping it doesn’t detract too much from the lesson at hand.

I hope you had fun with this lesson and learning the intro solo to this beautiful song. As this year progresses, we’ll be looking more and more at soloing, what it involves, what makes an interesting solo, the little techniques that can help you a lot. A great way to learn how to solo is to take apart ones you know and examine what went into them.

More importantly, I hope that you begin to get a feel that, with practice, patience and persistence, you can play things that you may have only yesterday thought to be beyond your abilities. It doesn’t happen overnight, so don’t get discouraged. Even if all you manage to get down today is the first three notes, that’s more than you could do before. Playing the guitar is a wonderful process and I hope that you enjoy the journey almost more than the destination.

As always, please feel free to write in with any questions, comments, concerns or songs (and/or riffs and solos) you’d like to see discussed in future pieces. You can either drop off a note at the Guitar Forums or email me directly at [email protected].

Until our next lesson…