Play 3 enjoyable licks and learn some of the secrets of Queen’s guitarist Brian May. Download the 3 free tablatures, the backing tracks, and get ready to make your guitar scream! This article was written by David Wallimman.

When I say “famous 70s guitarist”, who comes to mind? David Gilmour maybe? Jimmy Page? Eric Clapton? A cursory Google search gives those names and a dozen more. Among the best of the best is an astrophysicist perhaps best known for that time he spent a Night at the Opera. 

Brian May is an icon in the guitar community. Instantly recognizable, his tone, phrasing, and technique are all unique and innovative, both for the 70s and today! We could spend an entire book just examining the tone and gear of Brian May (treble booster, AC30s, Red Special, ten pence, and more…).

His phrasing is something else entirely (and just as unique). From the vocal way that he wrote to his extensive use of harmonies, to his incredibly unique vibrato and feel, Brian’s May truly has perfected a recipe that’s earned him the title of guitar legend.

In this article, David Wallimann has prepared three separate videos to get a flyover look at the style of Brian May. If you’ve ever wanted to understand what comprises his playing, or want to learn how to play in May’s style, read on.

(click on the picture to download the Guitar Pro 7 file)

Brian May Guitar Lick 1

To kick things off, we’re starting big. Bohemian Rhapsody: one of Queen’s most famous pieces, and perhaps one of the most instantly recognizable songs of the 20th century! While there is a “ton” of content we could examine in this song, what we’re looking at is May’s ‘vocal’ phrasing.

Freddie Mercury was an incredibly strong and unique vocalist, so it makes sense that May would need to have a strong sense of vocal melody in his own playing, just to keep pace! The choice of notes/intervals — as well as rhythm — complement Mercury’s own vocals, creating something truly unique and memorable.

To apply this to your own playing, use your voice! You’ll find that guitar parts built off of simple melodies that you can sing carry more musical meaning than licks from muscle memory.

In the style of Brian May – Example 1
(Click on the picture to download the Guitar Pro 7 file)


(Click on the picture to download the backing track)

Hammer to Fall. While not quite as iconic as Bohemian Rhapsody, this song is another great example of Queen’s anthemic style. In this video, David demonstrates how May utilizes harmonies throughout his playing.

Once you hear it, it’s immediately recognizable. Again, this is an almost vocal-based style of writing and playing, and it sounds great! In May’s case, you can build up these harmonies by playing straight lines up from different notes in the scale.

By layering the same scale and going straight up (just starting on a different note of the same scale), you’ll find that you can create the same effect. Surprisingly, this isn’t a technique that we hear as often in modern music and can really add a lot when used.

Brian May Guitar Lick 2

In the style of Brian May – Example 2
(Click on the picture to download the Guitar Pro 7 file)


(Click on the picture to download the backing track)

Who Wants To Live Forever. Turning the tempo down a little bit from the other two, Who Wants To Live Forever is more of an emotional piece. Written entirely by May (as well as containing his actual vocals), this song was written for the soundtrack of the movie Highlander.

As such, we can get a really great glimpse into May’s own musical voice and the emotion that he puts into his playing. Vibrato is one of the true fingerprints of each guitarist, and this song has May’s fingerprints all over it.

This feel and interaction between the guitarist and his instrument is something that David highlights in the playthrough video. Another small touch is Brian May’s use of a ten pence and how even that really alters the feel and tone of his playing.

Brian May Guitar Lick 3

In the style of Brian May – Example 3
(Click on the picture to download the Guitar Pro 7 file)


(Click on the picture to download the backing track)

Hopefully, we’ve provided something interesting for you to work through in looking at the style of Brian May. If you can follow the playthroughs (or actual songs) with the unique characteristics in mind, you should be able to easily expand your musical arsenal and develop your own musical voice on the instrument.

David’s Youtube channel:


Ray - janv. 5, 2020

do you have these riffs for Guitar Pro 6 ?


Thomas Duflos - janv. 17, 2020

Hi Ray, you can download Guitar Pro 7.5 for free here to open the files: Thanks

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