Learn the rhythm and soloing styles of Pearl Jam's Mike McCready

Mike McCready
(Image credit: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

Grunge legends Pearl Jam formed in the now legendary music city of Seattle, Washington in 1990. Along with Nirvana and Soundgarden, they are probably among the most famous of all the grunge bands and have enjoyed a career that has spanned over 30 years and gone on to influence thousands of other rock and pop bands.

The group’s long-running, best-known line-up consists of guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McCready, bass player Jeff Ament, vocalist Eddie Vedder and drummer Matt Cameron (formerly of Soundgarden.) Pearl Jam have never been particularly visible as rock stars, and have often shied away from making music videos or doing interviews. 

Their 1991 debut album, Ten, has become one of the most legendary rock albums of all time, having sold over 13 million units in the US alone. Although not perhaps viewed as quite so instrumental as Nirvana in taking grunge into the mainstream, it should be noted that Pearl Jam’s Ten album has actually sold more copies than Nirvana’s seminal Nevermind in the US. Pearl Jam have since gone on to sell over 85 million records worldwide and become one of the biggest selling rock outfits of all time.

Although often associated with the other grunge bands of the early 1990s, Pearl Jam’s sound is noticeably less heavy than some of their peers, and leans more towards the classic rock of the 1970s. Mike McCready was influenced by Jimi Hendrix, while Stone Gossard’s style has influences from funk intertwined with rock. Other artists that influenced Pearl Jam include Led Zeppelin and Neil Young.

Our track this month features blues-rock influenced riffs, grungy chords and pentatonic scale soloing. The initial guitar part is more in keeping with Stone Gossard’s funk influences, while the McCready-style solo is more akin to the Hendrix-inspired style that has been around since the 1960s. 

Our piece this month is in the key of A Minor (A-B-C-D-E-F-G), and the solo and many of the chords are built from the notes of that scale. However, there are a number of non-diatonic chords in the rhythm guitar part – notice that the A chord each time is actually an A Major (A-C#-E), and you’ll also spot a D Major chord (D-F#-A), also from outside the key of A Minor. 

Get the tone

Amp settings: Gain 7, Bass 5, Middle 6, Treble 7, Reverb 3

Stone Gossard and Mike McCready use classic guitars such as the Gibson Les Paul and Fender Stratocaster, and it would be good to aim for a humbucking pickup sound if possible. If you are using single-coil pickups, roll the treble down a touch if you find the sound too bright. For guitar amps, it's classic Marshall style gain, but not too overdriven. Add a hint of reverb.

Example 1. Rhythm

There’s much lively 16th-note funk style strumming in the rhythm guitar track. While some of the muted strums haven’t been written in the notation, it would be good to practise the part adding percussive strumming and keeping 1-e-&-a, 2-e-&-a, 3-e-&-a, 4-e-&-a movement going. 

You’ll find it makes rhythmic sense to play the longer dotted eighth-note rhythms with a ‘down’ stroke and the shorter 16th-note rhythms with an ‘up’ stroke.

Example 2. Solo

There’s nothing too taxing here, as it’s mostly pentatonic classic rock-style vocabulary. However, you might find it best to play the fast section in the third bar using strict alternate picking. But feel free to experiment, as grunge was never an absolute science and much more about youthful angst and attitude. 

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