How to Play Heartbreak Hotel by Elvis Presley (Guitar Lesson)

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Chris Liepe

Heartbreak Hotel

Chris Liepe is back with a huge lesson on an American classic. Elvis Presley presented "Heartbreak Hotel" to the world over 50 years ago and still to this day it is a staple in classic Rock & Roll sound. With this lesson you will learn the standard version made famous by Elvis himself, as well as an improvised version that Chris has written himself to coincide with the songs melody's. This is jam packed with music theory as well as great information as to how the original song was written.

Taught by Chris Liepe in Songs with Chris Liepe seriesLength: 65:44Difficulty: 2.5 of 5
-Recorded in January of 1956.
-Performed and co-written by Elvis Presley.
-Elvis played the electric guitar you hear on the recording.
-Was the song that introduced Elvis to popular American culture.

Song Structure
-Simple Verse Form: songs with a repeated verse, not really a chorus.
-Variation on an eight bar blues: meaning the entire blues chord progression takes 8 measures to complete before it starts over.
-Chord Progression: Key of E: I I I I IV IV V I...(explained in the next section).

Scale Harmonization to Create Chords
-To create a chord in any given key, you pick a note in the scale, then skip every other note. Stack them on top of the first note, play them together, and you have a chord.
-Basic major and minor chords are made up of three notes. Here is an example:

-In the key of E major the notes in the scale are E F# G# A B C# D# E.
-Each note in the scale is assigned a number E=1 F#=2 G#=3 etc.
-When you play the 1st note in the scale "E," and you skip the notes between the 1st and 3rd scale degrees as well as the note between the 3rd and 5th scale degrees, an E major chord is formed (E, G# and B).
-This chord is called "one" in the key of E major. Typically, chords and their functions are denoted with Roman numerals. Thus, the E chord functions as the "I" chord in the key of E major.

-Capital Roman numerals are used for chords built from a major triad. Lowercase Roman numerals are used for chords built from a minor or diminished triad.

-If we were to build a chord from the 2nd note in E major, we would have the notes F#, A, and C#.
-In a major key, the chord built from 2nd scale degree is always minor regardless of the tonal center. An F#m chord is assigned the Roman numeral "ii" when used in the key of E major.

-If you take the major scale, in this case E major, and build chords on top of each note, a series of major and minor chords is established.

-Here is the breakdown for the key E: Emajor F#minor G#minor Amajor Bmajor C#minor D#diminished and then back to Emajor.

-The general makeup and order of major, minor, and diminished chords is the same for EVERY key based on the major scale. In terms of Roman numerals, the chords in major keys, always follow this pattern: I, ii, iii, IV, V, vi, vii, and back to I.
-Looking back to the 8 bar blues progression in Heartbreak Hotel, we see that in the key of E major, we are using the "I" chord for 4 measures, the "IV" chord for 2, the "V" for one measure, and then back to the "I" chord.

-Based on what we just learned about the major scale in E, our chords for Heartbreak Hotel are E, A, and B.
-We're going to add a 4th note to the A and B chords to make them "7th" chords.

Playing Chords for the Song
-12th fret E major chord: Basic E form, moved up 12 frets and barred.
- A7 -two different variations.
- B7.
-Two End Chords Fmaj7 and Emaj7.
-The only chord that is strummed in full is the E major chord. The rest of the chords have selected notes that are picked for texture in the song.
-Playing the chords in the progression we covered earlier is easier to follow when playing with the backing track.

The Solo
- Based on the E minor pentatonic scale in 12th position.
- Techniques: the "double stop" and the unison bend.
- The 2nd brief solo lick is played at the 12th and 14th frets on the top three strings.

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.

troy1gtroy1g replied

Chris thanks for this lesson. I may have missed it. But WHERE in the measure are those E chord strikes. Or beats, is that on " well since my baby left me" Da Da is that on the fourth beat. Please explain thanks.

TroyGarrityTroyGarrity replied

Hoping to get a reply, where in the measure do you strike the E chord? after " well since my baby left me" both down strokes?

tennisemetenniseme replied

Enjoying your lesson Chris, but I am having trouble finding the scale charts for the mixolydian scales? thanks

hawkeye_123hawkeye_123 replied

i have that guitar! although mine has the pickups it came with lol, lovely guitar ;)

GuitarLibManGuitarLibMan replied

Chris, can you explain why you play A mixolidian on the 11th fret? Why not on the 12th? It seems odd you're playing an A flat. Thanks in advance.

Chris.LiepeChris.Liepe replied

my positioning is based off the 11th fret, but the scale is still based off of A. make sense?

carpetguruscarpetgurus replied

Good song good lesson but lot learn.But I will get there. Thanks Chris

alshyalshy replied

thanks chris awesome lesson keep up the good work

keybankerkeybanker replied

If the skill rating of this lesson is 2.5, I am a beginner guitarist.

ry_naylorry_naylor replied

Elvis PreslEy

nessanessa replied

You're right! You have a good eye. I'll have Tyler fix it today.

jimmjimm replied

Great,great lesson. Having the backing tracks and being able to download them is wonderful. Clear and concise lesson. Having lot's of fun with it.

gone workingone workin replied

Something great to work on! I love this. I daresay beyond straight copying Scotty Moore's licks. Really telescopes it into right here and now. It makes me feel like I'm participating in the art of it. Thanks Chris! Awesome lesson. To steal an old advertising slogan for the phonograph, with all the possibilities with the backing tracks and improv ideas, this lesson's like "The gift that keeps on giving."

zuckuss00zuckuss00 replied

Blah blah bla bla blah blah bla Blah! Dadadaddada da da! Best part! lol

Brendan.BurnsBrendan.Burns replied


Nick.KellieNick.Kellie replied


mgaurav5mgaurav5 replied

wow Chris, great lesson. I am going to try this over the weekend :) Thanks a lot.

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Chris Liepe

About Chris Liepe View Full Biography Chris Liepe was born on September 17th, 1981 in Portland OR. His first instrument was piano which he pursued until discovering his love for the electric guitar in high school. He became fans of such groups as Soundgarden, Collective Soul and U2 inspiring him to start singing, songwriting and helping others in their musical endeavors with teaching, co-writing and album production.

Having moved to Colorado with his family, he began gigging, recording and teaching in a number of music stores as well as out of his apartment until deciding to pursue music full time. He moved to Denver, CO to complete a Bachelors in Music Technology and was then hired on by Sweetwater Productions, a division of Sweetwater Sound and one of the largest, most successful recording studios in the Midwest.

Chris spent nearly 4 years at Sweetwater as a producer, recording engineer, studio musician and writer. During this time he had the privilege of working with many artists including Augustana, Landon Pigg, Jars of Clay, and Mercy Me. He also wrote for and played on numerous independent albums and hundreds of radio/TV commercials.

Wanting to get back to his favorite State in the world (Colorado) and feeling the urge to 'go freelance', Chris moved to Greeley, CO and opened his own recording and teaching studio. He continues to write and produce music for artists and agencies and is happy to be among the proud instructors.

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