Become a more creative guitar player!

"Under the Bridge" - 

3 Musical Secrets

We'll have a closer look at "Under the Bridge" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. You'll learn 3 great and very useful secrets out of this article that you can immediately apply and turn into action.

"Under the Bridge" is one of the most successful songs by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It was released back in 1991 on the album "Blood Sugar Sex Magic". [source: Wikipedia]

The guitar lick has turned into one of the most iconic and popular riffs ever. In this article, we'll not only teach you how to play that riff but also go into how to mimic that style generally.

Fun Fact: Fun Fact: In the music video, John Frusciante plays a Fender Jaguar. Kurt Cobain also has played the same model very often. But that's not the only common thing between the two; both did lots of drugs. [source: Wikipedia]

From Big to Small

We will get into the chord progression and the guitar lick in a minute, but first, let's have a look at the chords from that key - E Ionian.

Letter E shows all of those big chord structures and how to play them on the guitar. Take into account that we play all six strings almost all the time - except for the 7th step.

Let's watch TC demonstrate those chords on the guitar. All of those chords are basic major and minor structures but pay attention to how we play the chord over the 7th step.

  1. E major
  2. F# minor
  3. G# minor
  4. A major
  5. B major
  6. C# minor
  7. D# diminished7 (or B dominant7 as a substitute)

Practice those barré chords so that you can play them fluently. That's a great way to control the density of the chords later because it's always easier to get rid of some notes in case you don't want to hear them. That's one of the golden secrets of arranging:

Create dedicated spaces for individual instruments so that they complement each other in sound and frequency spectrums.

Side-note: When you spend some more minutes on creating a transparent arrangement in the first place by putting the instruments in free spots, you'll save hours in the process of mixing later. Professional musicians are trained to listen to what their bandmates play and respect their parts by not competing with them in the same register.

We want you to be able to make those decisions on the guitar as well. So, let's take the top four parts of the chords and see how this sounds.

Please note that you don't have to go with the four top parts, you could pick the inner voices as well. It won't change your chords but the register that you occupy. Choosing less-occupied spaces always increase overall transparency. 

Play through the 4-part structures in all the different positions so that you can evaluate your emotional reaction to the sound.

We can even reduce the parts even more. Especially the top two strings are excellent for that, and you find this playing in many different genres like Funk or R'n'B, even Rock.

Of course, you can also go with three parts to give a bit more body to the sound. These are choices so that you can vary for guitar playing a bit.

"Under the Bridge" - The Chord Progression

Now that you know the basic chords that are being used in that song, let's have a quick look at the progression. To get you going, here's the (simplified) intro to the song.

We've created a simplified version of the whole song that you can even download right here. Please note that we've included a bass part, so you know what the root tone is. The PDF is an excellent way to jumpstart into the chord progression before you go into the secrets.

In the video below, TC demonstrates the beginning and also gives some ideas of how you can creatively extend the notes of those two chords into larger musical building blocks.

Please note that all tabs you see on this page and the videos are included in the downloadable PDF.

Secret #1: The Magical Key of E on the Guitar

E is one of the most natural keys on the guitar. The lowest and the highest open strings on the guitar fall on the root tone. That makes it into one of those magical keys on the guitar, which leads to great opportunities.

That means we can play the entire scale with simple barré chords except for the D#dim 7th at the end of the scale. This last chord leaves the pattern but is still quite simple to play, and these chords are great for songwriting.

All of the examples shown in the video use elements from the big barré chords that we've introduced at letter E.

You can even continue using the open strings while you leave the key of E. The continuing sound of the open strings maintains the tonal center, and you can easily switch to another scale. And also, never forget that you can go back and forth between strumming and finger-picking on the guitar.

Secret #2: Create Licks out of Chords

The lick that you hear most often in this song is one of the greatest things that you can play on the guitar. Make sure that you know the basic chords first as the lick heavily uses chord tones in conjunction with other scale tones.

We advise you to learn the lick step-wise. First, focus on the chords only. Then, go into the decoration that embellishes the progression.

Once you know how to enhance those chords, make this technique a part of your artistic toolbox. You'll see that you can decorate any chord progression in this style - it's simply a matter of knowing the scale and the musical key that you are in.

As seen in the video above, TC also shows how to use these techniques to create even new musical ideas. An elegant example of this is to move the lowest part of your Emaj7 chord. This lets you also create new chord progressions.

Secret #3: The Power of a Chant

This part starts at letter D (see below), and it's the moment where everybody begins singing over and over the same or similar lyrics. It almost becomes hypnotizing. This part is going to stick in your head the most because of the repetition. Also, the choir is unique to this section and separates it clearly from the rest.

In case, you've missed it, here is the whole PDF with all letters included.

Another thing to note is that the scale has changed. It's the Am7 that sets up the new scale. G major and F major only work in this context because of the A major (which is in the key of E) going to the A minor 7 (which is NOT part of the key of E).

Having those scale changes in songs is a commonly-used technique to re-focus the listener's attention to a new part of the song. It's about creating a contrast to previous sections, and it also works to set up the form.

Getting inspired by Mixing up some of the Chords

We want to encourage everybody to express their musical ideas and emotions. That's why we don't focus heavily on pure reproduction of those famous songs but go into those elements that will enable you to start telling your own musical story.

Let's watch TC having some fun with those chords from letter E.

History of "Under the Bridge"

In 1988, Anthony Kiedis was free of drugs at this time but was feeling isolated. His experiences, while being addicted to Heroine, were the catalyst for the lyrics of this song. He had lost all his friends, family, and indeed as the song says, "I gave my life away". The actual bridge he sings about remains unidentified, but what does that matter anyway? The very descriptive lyrics, "is where I drew some blood", is really scary when you think how the life of a musician can be so successful and yet so utterly devastating to all around them.

An interesting fact is that Kiedis, Flea, and Slovak all went to Fairfax high school. It's fair to say that their base was a high-school band attitude that developed into "complete
Punk Rock Knuckleheads" band. The important thing here is not to regurgitate the sad and drug-influenced behavior of these musicians. Our goal is to extract the real musical secrets the song contains so that you may have some gathered material for your own compositions or songs.

Among many exciting things, we advise everybody to listen for three things song.

  1. the tempo of the introduction
  2. the off-beat groove of the chorus
  3. the R'n'B guitar licks which break up the chord changes


There are many things that we can extract and learn from this great song. Here's what we've covered so far and what you should put into your 'bag of tricks'.

  • Download the PDF, so you have all the materials in place
  • you know how to break down bigger chord structures into smaller segments
  • you know how to combine these segments to create new musical ideas
  • you've learned about how to create transparency in an arrangement
  • you know why the key of E is magical on the guitar


If you want to go deeper into the style of the guitar lick, have a look at "Little Wing" by Jimi Hendrix. Almost all of these licks are based on scale-tone movement and use two or three parts to create a contrast to the bigger chord structures.

Thomas Chase Jones

Co-founder and instructor at Music Interval Theory Academy