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How to Play Three of Jerry Garcia's Most Influential Grateful Dead Riffs

(Image credit: Screenshot from YouTube video)

Last year, in honor of the late Jerry Garcia's would-be 75th birthday (August 1), the wonderful lads and lasses over at came up with a few new lessons in honor of the late Grateful Dead frontman and guitarist.

The first video, which you can (obviously) check out below, focuses on a much-loved Grateful Dead medley—"Help on the Way" and the intricate and relentlessly building"Slipknot!"

As Joe at Reverb explains in his lesson, "Nearly everything that is played in this section is a 7th chord arpeggio, so if you are familiar with your 7th chord arpeggio shapes, access them. If you have never learned 7th chord arpeggio shapes, then this is a wonderful exercise for you."

Up next, Joe tackles the infectious country-rock anthem “Casey Jones.”

As Blair Jackson wrote in Guitar World in 2013, although Garcia’s original acoustic guitar-voice demo is strikingly similar to the way it ended up on Workingman’s Dead, the first several Grateful Dead versions in early summer 1969 have a different vibe. The main rhythm has an almost Motown feel to it (think 'I Second That Emotion'), and there are a couple of fairly lengthy guitar extrapolations. It wouldn’t be too long, however, before the song found its finished form."

The song is full of simple riffs, but that doesn't make them any less interesting or intriguing.

Up next, it's "Althea."

Back to Joe from Reverb: "I heard 'Althea,' I felt that a whole new sonic landscape of playing was unlocked for me. Not only did I love the riff, but I also thought I could pick it up pretty easily. B minor, A, E. Got it. Now, what’s the other stuff in there that makes it sound like Jerry? Similar to the "Casey Jones" lesson, this is simplicity."

If you're in the mood for another Garcia lesson, complete with tabs, check out The Acoustic Stylings of the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia. And while you're at it, be sure to read Plastic-Free "Ocean" Guitar Unveiled in Honor of Jerry Garcia's 75th Birthday and The Grateful Dead's 50 Best Live Performances. And let's not forget How 1970's 'Workingman’s Dead' Changed the Grateful Dead Forever.

For more information about this lesson, head here.

Damian Fanelli

Damian is editor-in-chief of Guitar World magazine. From 1998 to 2014, he was one third of Mister Neutron, an instrumental rock act that toured the universe and elsewhere and released three albums via Austin-based Deep Eddy Records. These days he performs with several New York City-area bands and can often be spotted with one of his many, many, many B-bender-equipped guitars. In past lives he was GW’s managing editor and online managing editor – and he still can’t believe he got to write the liner notes for the latest SRV box set.