Learning how to play “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd on guitar is a dream acoustic guitar song for many aspiring guitar players. It’s not strictly classed as an easy song due to the fact that there are short guitar licks which are performed in between the chords (which involve hammer-ons and pull-offs) plus there fact that you don’t strum the chords but rather use a technique called arpeggio picking to play them. No guitar capo is required to play the song.
The song requires only 3 chords which are G, Dsus2 and Cadd9 – you can read about suspended and add9 guitar chords here. These are considered beginner open chords and are quite easy to play in sequence with just a little bit of practice. As you’ll see on the video lesson, keeping your 3rd finger as an anchor point on the B string plays an important role in making the song that much easier to play. In fact, most people will find that the it’s the guitar licks (or fills) which present the greatest challenge. Through the verse and chorus the chords and structure of the song remain essentially the same, it’s only a change in how you play the chords which separates the two sections.
The track is rightly regarded as a classic rock guitar song and was a huge hit for the band in 1974. Rolling Stone Magazine later confirmed the iconic status of the guitar riffing when it made it into their top 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. The song was written in response to a couple of songs written by Neil Young, namely “Alabama” and “Southern Man”. Ronnie Van Zandt, the singer of Lynyrd Skynyrd, wrote some of the lyrics of the song in response to it. You’ll find the song used in a number of films including Forrest Gump, Con Air and even the Texas Chainsaw Massacre!
The Iconic Intro
The intro guitar part to the song is the signature piece which everyone will recognize, once you learn how to play it you’ll also have learned all the verse sections by default as there isn’t any change. Beginning with the Dsus3 chord you palm mute the 4th string and hit the D bass note two times followed by arpeggio picking the 2nd and 3rd strings, this pattern is then repeated on the Cadd9 chord expect that the bass note C is now on the 5th string. Getting your bass notes to sound right with just enough palm mute is important. If your muting is too heavy you’ll kill the note altogether while applying too little pressure with not mute the sound. The only way is to practice and eventually you’ll develop the delicate touch of knowing how to apply palm muting in a way which is just right.
The last chord in the sequence is the G chord and once again you hit the bass note twice (now located on the 6th string) before hitting the 2nd and 3rd strings once more. As you can see, the opening riff of the song follows a logical pattern with each chord being put through the same basic sequence. This is always a help in guitar lessons for beginners as you need only learn the riff on once chord and then simply transpose the pattern to the remaining chords.
Beginners can also strum through the song and the best one to use is an Accent Strum which can be maintained from start to finish.
The Right Guitar Sound
The guitar sound for the song is only slightly distorted and players must be careful not too apply too much distortion on their amps. What you’re aiming for is a sound that is essentially a dirty clean tone that breaks up with a stronger pick attack. This gives the riff the bite it needs to cut through and be noticed while still sitting comfortably behind the vocal parts. A tube amp is the only real way to achieve this kind of pure in-between tone that naturally reacts to the pick attack of your playing with a delivery of extra distortion. Digital effects have made good ground in trying to emulate this natural feature of a tube amp but a still a long way short of the real thing. Setting your guitar to its middle pickup or position 2 -3- 4 on a Fender Strat will help you achieve this kind of gritty clean sound and you can also experiment with your guitar’s volume knob.
Learn More Songs
- Time Of Your Life – Green Day
- Tequila Sunrise – The Eagles
- Stand By Me – Ben E King
- Norwegian Wood – The Beatles
- Lyin Eyes – The Eagles
- Wonderful Tonight – Eric Clapton
- Knockin On Heavens Door – Bob Dylan
- Heart Of Gold – Neil Young
- Have You Ever Seen The Rain – CCR
- Eight Days A Week – The Beatles