How to Play Don't Fear the Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult (Guitar Lesson)

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David Wallimann

Don't Fear the Reaper

David Wallimann and Mark Lincoln team up for a two part lesson on "Don't Fear the Reaper" by the Blue Oyster Cult. Learn both an electric and acoustic version in this fascinating lesson.

Taught by David Wallimann in Songs with David Wallimann seriesLength: 81:49Difficulty: 2.5 of 5
Please note, this writeup covers Mark Lincoln's portion of the lesson, which is the second half. To view tablature and other material for David Wallimann's half please view the "supplemental content" section.

Blue Oyster Cult (or BOC as we will be referring to them in this document) is an American band that came out of the New York music scene in 1967 and continues to perform well-attended rock shows to this day. We'll be talking at length about the song "Don't Fear the Reaper" and looking at how you might be able to perform this masterpiece simply as a solo performer. The song coordinates strummed chords, arpeggios and bass lines to come together as what we all know and love as a classic rock masterpiece. Keep in mind that there are a number of separate and distinct parts to this song and I will be using different words such as break, riff and interlude to keep the whole thing straight. A number of the chords in "Don't Fear the Reaper" are power chords, while others are simply open chords that can be strummed. Let's take a quick run through the chords in this song to get started:



G (Type 2)

F5 - Please note this is not a true F5 chord because of the two open strings, however it is fingered as you would a regular F5.




Exercise 1
Play along with me as I go through all of the chords. Please watch closely which fingers I'm using for the power chords as this will definitely come into play when you're doing the signature riff.

Please familiarize yourselves with all of the chords paying attention as well to the two different types of G chords. One will be picked during the arpeggio section of the song while the other is used in the chorus and is strummed. Make sure that you are comfortable with the chords and are able to play each of them. You'll have plenty of practice with each set of chords as you'll soon see, as we go through each part of the song as well.

But first, let's take a look at the signature riff of the song that sets Don't Fear the Reaper apart from any other rock and roll song in the world. We'll be using the A5, G and F5 chords so get your power chords ready!

The Signature Riff (riff 1)
This melody line is probably the single most recognizable riff in the history of rock and looks like this in tab form:
    A5            G         F5       G

That's it! It really isn't a terribly difficult run to play through but can be mastered with a little practice and a couple of tricks. First of all, when you're playing the initial chord, the A5, you'll be lifting your second or middle finger off of the fingerboard after you pluck the G string. This gives you the extra microsecond that you might need to make it to the G-chord in time to continue the run and keep the time signature intact. The next move is simply going to the F5 chord and then right back to the G.

Exercise 2
Play the riff along with me and get comfortable with the circularity of the run as we go from the A5 to G, to F5 and then back again. In a sense, the progression is like a pendulum and as long as you can make the proper shapes of the chords then you shouldn't have any problem playing the run. Keep practicing this until you can make the changes smoothly and in time with me.

Exercise 3
Play the riff again only this time with your eyes closed. Yes, I am serious! Playing with your eyes shut can help to become more familiar with the fretboard, the distances between the strings, and the basic feel of the chord shapes intrinsic to this riff. Play the riff numerous times until you really start to develop a feel for the chords and the changes and watch me in the video for more insight as well.

The Verse Break
The verse break for Don't Fear the Reaper uses the chords F, G Am, and E and fits in seamlessly with the arpeggiated chords. But the break chords are strummed so there is a need to make a smooth transition between the break and arpeggiated parts without bringing the song to a complete halt. So let's look at the part that's strummed first shall we?

The strummed chords go Fmaj7, G Am, Fmaj7, E and Am, G in that order and then transition back into the main riff of the song (the pattern extends on the other verses but we'll discuss that when the time comes) which is arpeggiated of course. Keep in mind that the next chord that you will be arpeggiating is going to be the F5 chord because that's the point in the song where the riff comes back into play.

Exercise 4
Play along with me as I play the verse break. Watch carefully for the point at which I stop strumming and begin the arpeggio pattern. The smoothness of your transition is especially important for this part so please make sure you have this section down.

Call and Response
Most of you are probably familiar with this expression which simply indicates a certain type of lyrical composition that emulates a discussion between two people. Don't Fear the Reaper utilizes this manner of lyrical construction which adds depth and ingenuity to the already brilliant composition. In the foreground of the verses you will hear (for example) "C'mon baby..." and in the background you'll hear "Don't fear the reaper." So in essence there are two vocal parts which can raise some potential difficulties especially if you're attempting to play the song as a soloist, as I'm doing. Subsequently, you'll need to make some decisions as to which lines you will be singing, unless you're going to sing both and crowd them in, so to speak. The call and response pattern follows each strummed portion or break where the lyrics go:

Primary vocal part - "We can be like they are, c'mon baby..."
Secondary vocal part - "Don't fear the reaper..."
Primary - "Baby take my hand..."
Secondary - "Don't fear the reaper..."
Primary - "We'll be able to fly..."
Secondary - "Don't fear the reaper..."
Primary - "Baby I'm your la la la la la la la la...."

On this part of the song it's fairly easy just to cluster the lyrics together and sing both primary and secondary parts as if they were one. But let's look at the lines in the second verse shall we:

Primary - "Romeo and Juliet are together for eternity..."
Secondary - "Romeo and Juliet..."
Primary - "Forty thousand men and women everyday..."
Secondary - "Like Romeo and Juliet..."
Primary - "Forty thousand men and women everyday..."
Secondary - "Redefine happiness..."
Primary - "Another forty thousand comin' everyday..."

This is an accurate assessment of how the call and response is structured in this song and it makes singing both parts difficult if not impossible. Hence, we have to make some choices as to which lines we'll be singing in order that we don't chop lines in half or sing it one way and then change it half way through the song. Having some forethought and planning your vocal choices can help keep the song sounding professional and tight. I choose to simply sing the primary parts until the lyrics come back around to the part that repeats or the "we can be like they are, c'mon baby" etc etc.

Exercise 5
Sing along with me as we coordinate the vocal parts together. Remember to avoid singing both parts of the call and response unless you can complete lines and keep the lyrics intact.

The Interlude
Because there are a number of parts and pieces of this song, the jam portion of the song we'll simply call the interlude. This is the instrumental portion of the song that occurs after the second verse and begins with an arpeggio which looks like this:



This is simply the introductory portion of the interlude and is best achieved by placing your first finger on the 10th fret and then use your ring finger and pinky (held together) to hammer on the G and B strings on the 13th. You can also use your ring finger to simply hammer the notes on the 13th fret. Watch me in the video for more on this simple lick. After, you've got that arpeggio down then try the next part which is actually a bass riff and looks like this:


           F5                                        G5

           F5                                        G5
Because I'm teaching you this as a solo piece, I am taking a few small liberties with the song as well as combining some elements together, like the bass line and the rhythm. Keep this in mind as we work through the ins and outs of Don't Fear the Reaper.

Playing the Interlude
Play along with me now as we put the two parts together that make the interlude. Try to make smooth and clean transitions as you go from the arpeggio into the bass run and finally into the F5 and G5 chords in the end of it . Focus on keeping time as well so that the whole section doesn't lose integrity as you play through it. After you feel you've mastered the interlude, try to go from the interlude back into the signature riff of the song. This is an important transition as it gets you cleanly (hopefully!) from the interlude back into the body of the song and prepares you and your audience for the remainder of the tune.

Ok, well I think we're ready to dive into this thing headlong! Without further ado, here it is...

Please open up "Song Chords and Lyrics" from the supplemental content section.

Exercise 6
Play the entire song along with me without the lyrics and see if you can keep up with the rhythm and the changes. Focus on getting the central riff down, transitions between arpeggiated and strum parts, and getting in and out of the interlude with smoothness. There is a lot to this one so take your time and make sure you have each section before jumping into the next.

Exercise 7
Now play the song all the way through with the lyrics and all! I know this can be a fairly daunting task but just relax and take your time and you'll get it. As usual make sure to warm-up your voice properly to avoid any problems today, as well as down the road (see my voice and performance series as well for more on this process).

You've probably noticed by now the importance of having fluidity of motion in your arpeggios as well as your strumming, especially when it comes to the A5 G F5 riff. Because it occurs frequently throughout the song and carries the melody it is of the utmost importance that this riff is smooth as silk. If you're having problems playing and singing at the same time then you may want to go back and work on the intro riff until you feel super comfortable with it.

Video Subtitles / Captions


Member Comments about this Lesson

Discussions with our instructors are just one of the many benefits of becoming a member of JamPlay.

jerryismailjerryismail replied

Good structure and chorus. But solo is a vague approximation. Why not teach it as it as played?

matthaines1369matthaines1369 replied

How do I get back to the homepage? smh

theschwantztheschwantz replied

I loved the cowbell move!!

dylanponydylanpony replied

why are there missing parts , or "scenes" as you call them. i can't access scene 2 or scene 25

lighttowermusiclighttowermusic replied

Just a suggestion. Just saying the rhythm is odd in the bridge/solo is really a disservice to your students. You shouldn't be afraid to explain the multi meter 3/4 to 2/4 and then back again. It's much easier to count, and FEEL, the multi meter than trying to count the 5 figures and the 6 figures. In fact counting the figures without understanding the meter is just confusing.

billysbillys replied

Awesome teacher

cazzacazza replied

great lesson guys from cazza melbourne australia

sdelleyazsdelleyaz replied

David, what kind of guitar are you playing?

sdelleyazsdelleyaz replied

found's a Parker Fly

adanidoradanidor replied

what guitar are you using just out of interest? ty

sdelleyazsdelleyaz replied

Parker Fly

metalmethodmetalmethod replied

Yeahh! Ha that made my night guys.

kevinpickellkevinpickell replied

Great job Mark and David. What a team!!!! I'm putting this on my list to do soon!!!

joeyaltmanjoeyaltman replied

I would like to see that all lessons be filmed with a guitar that has fretboard dots. It just makes it a bit easier to see where notes are being played. Just a thought. Thanks!

littlemountainguitarlittlemountainguitar replied

I don't use my Parker to teach with for this very reason. Great guitars, but my students can't see where I'm playing.

otisnovaotisnova replied

On the second arpeggio of the bridge..the 10 8 7 progression, I am unable to get my ring finger and middle finger to stretch from the 10 to 8th fret. I have fairly long fingers too. Is this normal or maybe my hand is at a wrong angle . I keep watching the video and you make it look like there's no effort. Is that a difficult reach for you?

cyanide cloudcyanide cloud replied

It feels a bit odd to be honest. But I'm sure after you practice it a bunch, it'll feel normal and your finger will be more used to stretching like that. I recommend either keep practicing it that way till it is comfortable or to just go with whatever finger is comfortable for you.

gone workingone workin replied

Monster work, gentlemen. I really like the both of you bringing your respective skills together. I play my guitar and sing, 'I will become like they are. . .' Hey, don't be afraid. Hahah. That opening was kick booty. Talk about a hook. I'm very inspired. :-)

sparky4jcsparky4jc replied

totally awesome lesson video guys! This song is a monster classic rockin' guitar masterpiece! My only problem was that the cowbell solo could have used MUCH more volume in the mix. Guitar down - cowbell up! GOT IT! From the top guys...... and MORE COWBELL! LOL

Mark.LincolnMark.Lincoln replied

So you're saying you'd like ....MORE cowbell, am I hearing you correctly? Hey David, crank up the cowbell!

stratmusicstratmusic replied

REALLY good guys! I am having a great time working on this song...I am even going to try to sing it Mark!

Mark.LincolnMark.Lincoln replied

I'd love to hear it Jill, can you make a U-tube? Mark

tazzietazzie replied

Love it guys!!! GREAT JOB!!!

joel13joel13 replied

I was the one that suggested this =) Thanks for doing a video on this song, and it was a great lesson.

WheelerWheeler replied

Great lesson. Well taught. Mark, your vocals really fit this song well.

dino2009dino2009 replied

i've got a fever.. and the only cure... is more cowbell ! Nice job guys, hope to see more in the future.

dfrye4dfrye4 replied

stick with me and you'll all be wearing gold plated diapers

Tyler.RughTyler.Rugh replied

Super High 5 to Jeff for the edit on this one! Spot on Gent!

mattbrownmattbrown replied

Hey everybody! I just thought I would fill you all in on how I organized the chord charts in the Supplemental Content section. Basically, the chords are listed in the order that they are demonstrated in the lesson. The chords for David's section run from the first Am chord to the G7 chord. The remaining charts are for Mark's half of the lesson.

mattbrownmattbrown replied

Yeah! No kidding! Jeff nailed this one. Everything about this lesson is exceptional! - the editing, teaching, playing, etc.

Mark.LincolnMark.Lincoln replied

Hey everybody thanks for all of the fantastic feedback on this! We really enjoyed putting it all together and hope to do more lessons like this in the future.Thanks allll!!! Mark

jaysonjohnjaysonjohn replied

What an amazing lesson. I might have to take the day off work to practice this one ! If Marks' Goo Goo doll lesson is anything near this, I'll be taking the rest of the week/month off. Many Thanks

jboothjbooth replied

Mark's lesson is VERY in depth, but it's just mark, not a "combo" lesson with both teachers. It is good though :)

J.artmanJ.artman replied

This needs more cowbell!

eduartboudewijneduartboudewijn replied

Oh wow, wonderful. Best lesson yet in my book ;)

aleshaalesha replied

Amazing song! Mark and David, your lesson is awesome!

flyrerflyrer replied

Nice job Dave and Mark you nailed it !!!

viterviter replied

damn this song is awesome! :D thanks alot for this

YucatanEdYucatanEd replied

I got a fever! And the only prescription is more cowbell!

Mr.BlakeMr.Blake replied

Fantastic Guitar I love it. the backing track Could of used a little bit more cow bell tho. ;)

zuckuss00zuckuss00 replied

Great Job! Good vocal by Mark! Iv always wanted to learn this solo! I did notice that its way hard for me to follow the position shifts on that guitar neck because of the lack of inlays on the Parker Fly. Still good job! Awesome tune!

kamihamsterkamihamster replied

This is an awesome lesson! Great job both of ya guys its freaking killer!

Brendan.BurnsBrendan.Burns replied

This is incredible! Great job guys!

jboothjbooth replied

Hey guys , just so you know, there is a small greenscreen error in this lesson (basically a small dot in the topleft of the screen at times). I already have a fix rendering that will fix this, but I wanted to leave the lesson up for now since it doesn't effect learning. Enjoy!

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David Wallimann and Mark Lincoln team up for a two part lesson on "Don't Fear the Reaper" by the Blue Oyster Cult. Learn both an electric and acoustic version in this fascinating lesson.

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David Wallimann

About David Wallimann View Full Biography David was born in Aix-en-Provence, South France in 1977. At the age of 15, he picked up the guitar and started developing a true love for instrumental music and composition.

In 1999 he was recognized by Ibanez for his promising musical achievements and received an artist endorsement. That early recognition in David's musical career encouraged him to consecrate more time on crafting his musical art and apply to the school of modern music Artist' in Cavaillon, France. He received a full scholarship there where he graduated with honors.

In 2001, David won first place for the Tal Farlow French national jazz contest which gave him a full paid scholarship to the CMA school of modern music in Valenciennes, France. He graduated specializing in advance guitar with honors.

Following his school years, David spent the next 5 years working with several bands recording, writing and playing shows in France and Belgium. It's during that time that Wallimann was exposed to the world of progressive rock which opened new doors to his musical creativity.

Deep inside the Mind is his first release as a solo artist in which he exposes his Christian faith. The album was well received in the specialized press and was compared several times to some of Frank Zappa's approach to music adding an element of humor to deep subjects.

In 2005 he joined the internationally renown progressive band Glass Hammer based in Chattanooga, TN. He released several studio albums and live DVDs with the band.

David is today working on his next upcoming solo release and is also spending quite a bit of time teaching guitar in his studio and online at JamPlay.

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