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 on May 23rd, 2014

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 on June 15th, 2014

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 on July 7th, 2013

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

hawkeye_123hawkeye_123 replied on January 16th, 2013

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

GuitarLibManGuitarLibMan replied on December 24th, 2011

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 on January 3rd, 2012

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

carpetguruscarpetgurus replied on December 2nd, 2010

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

alshyalshy replied on November 28th, 2010

thanks chris awesome lesson keep up the good work

keybankerkeybanker replied on July 4th, 2010

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

ry_naylorry_naylor replied on February 19th, 2010

Elvis PreslEy

nessanessa replied on February 19th, 2010

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

jimmjimm replied on February 19th, 2010

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 on February 18th, 2010

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 on February 17th, 2010

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

Brendan.BurnsBrendan.Burns replied on February 17th, 2010


Nick.KellieNick.Kellie replied on February 17th, 2010


mgaurav5mgaurav5 replied on February 17th, 2010

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

Songs with Chris Liepe

Found in our Beginner Lesson Sets

Chris Liepe is an amazingly versatile player and teacher. With a background that includes professional recording and mixing, piano playing and guitar Chris brings a unique perspective to his lessons.

Lesson 1

Carol Of The Bells

Ladies and gentlemen of JamPlay, we are proud to introduce a new instructor by the name of Chris Liepe. Chris has masterfully crafted a wicked rendition of "Carol Of The Bells" for this lesson. Here he...

Length: 25:00 Difficulty: 4.0 Members Only
Lesson 2

Where Did You Sleep Last Night

Chris brings his ingenuity to this lesson on the American folk song called "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" Also known as "Black Girl" or "In The Pines," this song provides a great opportunity to add...

Length: 26:06 Difficulty: 2.5 FREE
Lesson 3

Heartbreak Hotel

Chris Liepe teaches both the original version of "Heartbreak Hotel" by Elvis as well as his own improvised version.

Length: 65:44 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 4

Love Someone

Chris Liepe brings forward this monster lesson on his original song entitled "Love Someone."

Length: 73:18 Difficulty: 3.5 Members Only
Lesson 5

Inside Out

Chris Liepe teaches the EVE 6 song "Inside Out." Here, Chris demonstrates every aspect of the song.

Length: 93:59 Difficulty: 3.5 Members Only
Lesson 6

At Least We're Dreaming

Chris presents an explosive and extensive lesson on the EVE 6 song entitled "At Least We're Dreaming." Here Chris covers the main guitar parts as well as the additional overdubs. Also included is an acoustic...

Length: 54:22 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 7

Here's To The Night

Chris Liepe breaks down "Here's To The Night" by Eve 6. Here, Chris uses the acoustic guitar to replace the orchestral sequencing featured in the original recording of the song.

Length: 57:06 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 8

Little Drummer Boy

Imagine the music stylings of Switchfoot, Queen, and Audioslave all wrapped up into a timeless holiday favorite.

Length: 68:28 Difficulty: 3.5 Members Only
Lesson 9

You've Got Another Thing Comin'

Chris Liepe breaks down this classic Judas Priest song.

Length: 61:01 Difficulty: 3.5 Members Only
Lesson 10

Breaking The Law

Chris Liepe teaches a classic Judas Priest song entitled "Breaking The Law." Chris introduces this very catchy song in a way that is perfect for beginners. If it's your favorite song and you already know...

Length: 39:17 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Lesson 11

I Hate Everything About You

Welcome to Chris Liepe's demonstration of "I Hate Everything About You" by Three Days Grace! This is a fantastic beginner song that introduces drop D tuning.

Length: 43:14 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 12

Long Way Down

Chris Liepe takes an in depth look at the song "Long Way Down" by the Goo Goo Dolls. This song is a great example of how to write simple, powerful, guitar-driven songs like those that were very popular...

Length: 53:14 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 13

Living After Midnight

Chris Liepe demonstrates this fantastic 80's rock song entitled "Living After Midnight" by Judas Priest. This song has some great entry level information for anyone who is looking to step up his/her rock...

Length: 34:54 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 14

How You Remind Me

Chris Liepe teaches the classic Nickelback song "How You Remind Me" from their 2001 album entitled Silver Side Up.

Length: 35:58 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 15


Chris Liepe teaches this acoustic Plain White T's song simply titled "1,2,3,4". This is a simple song, however it offers a great opportunity to work with a second acoustic player to add layers and character...

Length: 37:03 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 16

Hip To Be Square

Welcome to Chris Liepe's rendition of the song "Hip To Be Square" by Huey Lewis and the News! Chris utilizes this song to show how playing sax lines on guitar can result in a rockin' guitar solo. Enjoy!

Length: 51:50 Difficulty: 3.5 Members Only
Lesson 17


The song "You" by the artist Candlebox was released in 1994 and presents some very catchy rhythm parts as well as a wicked guitar solo that will allow a beginner player to get a taste of some intermediate...

Length: 56:54 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 18

Let it Go - Frozen

Chris Liepe has created a very unique guitar rendition of the song "Let it Go" from the movie Frozen. This offers a great look into the world of adapting guitar like sounds into a song that was never originally...

Length: 47:07 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 19

America the Beautiful

What happens when you combine a beautiful, classic melody with modern guitar tone and technique? You get Chris Liepe's version of America the Beautiful! Join Chris as he shares his unique, delay driven...

Length: 28:55 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only

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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