Cream’s “Sunshine Of Your Love” has one of the most familiar and distinctive guitar riffs in classic rock, played by a young Eric Clapton. The song is a great place to start exploring the 60’s blues-rock style.
The song follows a modified 12-bar blues form. A standard blues structure might go something like this:
1 1 1 1
Phrase Repeated or completed
4 4 1 1
Same phrase, new setting Original phrase returns
5 5 1 5
Resolving phrase Turnaround sets up repeat
In this case, our 2-bar riff is repeated once before the entire figure is transposed up to the 4 chord and then returns to its original form. The departure is at the 9th bar, when we reach the 5 chord. Instead of continuing the riff as we might have expected, a new rhythmic figure is introduced using sliding power chords. This new chordal figure is repeated three times, then ends on a drawn-out 5 chord to set up a resolution back to the top of the form:
1 1 1 1
4 4 1 1
Transposed riff———– Original riff——————
5 (b7 4) 5 (b7 4)
Power chord riff———— Repeated———————
5 (b7 4) 5 5
Repeated again————- Hold chord and build to set up next verse
The riff itself uses three fingers within a comfortable 3-fret reach in the 10th position, coming straight out of a D blues scale:
We begin with the fret hand ring finger on fret 12 of the 4th string, setting up the 10th position. As you may know, “position” is determined by the placement of the fret hand index finger. Following a basic model of assigning one finger to one fret, then, placing the ring or 3rd finger on the 12th fret puts the index finger on fret 10. For the last three notes, drop down two frets to the 8th position. So the riff is fingered like this:
Fret: 12 12 10 12 – 12 11 10 – 10 8 10
Finger: 3 3 1 3 3 2 1 3 1 3
Pos: 10th ——————————————————————- 8th ——————-
Here’s the riff in tab.
This is the opening figure, played twice at the intro. The riff is then modified, replacing the opening four notes with a sliding chordal figure using an “E-shape” barre. However, the barre finger should mute the high E and B strings instead of holding them down:
Notice the final three-note gesture. The 12th fret double-stop is played with the ring finger, flattened into a partial barre on strings 3 and 2. Add vibrato to the 10th fret note played with the index finger to make it “sing” before resolving to the 12th fret of the D string.
When the vocal begins, signaling the beginning of the form, the riff continues in its modified form with the sliding chords and resolving double-stop. This is played four times before the original riff returns, shifted over one set of strings to the 4th and 3rd strings to fit the 4 chord G:
The chordal version of the riff returns twice more, before our final chordal figure is introduced. Just like the opening chords in our verse variation of the main riff, this is also played as a moveable barre chord form with the high E and B strings muted.
Eric Clapton’s guitar solo is noteworthy for the use of string bending, and the musical quote from Elvis Presley’s “Blue Moon” at the opening gesture. But that deserves a lesson of its own! For now, concentrate on making the notes ring out clearly, and pay attention to how the position-based fingerings fall neatly under the hand.
Check out the full lesson on YouTube:
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