Instant Keef

Play like Keef in no time!
Tune Your Guitar into an Axe Fit for a Keef
Nobody is sure exactly how or why, but some time in the late 60s Keith chose a new tuning for his guitars. Most chroniclers agree that Ry Cooder taught it to him while working with the Stones on the Sister Morphine solo… which seems strange because by that time Keith had already used it on Honky Tonk Woman. If a little drugs can play with your perceptions of time, perhaps the quantity that the Stones were consuming at this time was enough to rip the very fabric of the space-time continuum itself. Whatever exactly happened, the new tuning defined the distinctive Stones sound from that point forward… with even the early classics such as Satisfaction and Jumpin’ Jack Flash getting a retuned revamp for concert playing.

Introducing the Keef Open G
The secret to Keith’s playing is to tune 3 of your guitar’s strings down 2 semitones. You start out with a normally tuned guitar, and end up with a power axe: Original Open G E D A G D D G G B B E D

If you’re familiar with guitar tuning or music theory then you’ll already be reaching for the guitar and getting tuned up. For the rest of you, here’s one way to get your guitar ready for a Keef-a-thon…

How to Tune to Open G
Here are the steps I use… 1. Hold the b-string down at the third fret, and tune down the bottom e-string until it sounds the same as the held down b-string. 2. Drop the top e-string until it sounds one octave higher than the d-string. You can test this by holding the e-string down at the 12th fret and comparing that with the d-string, to see if they sound the same. 3. Drop the a-string’s tuning so that it’s the same note as the newly retuned top e-string, held on the fifth fret.
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4. Check all the strings and fine tune as necessary. The top a-string should sound like the top e-string held down on the fifth fret. The d-string should sound like the a-string held down on the seventh fret. The g-string and bstring should be as normal. The bottom e-string should sound the same as the b-string held down on the third fret. 5. Or, instead of 4, just strum the guitar without any fingering and if you get a nice sounding chord then you’re all set. If you are in tune, and you just strum the guitar without any fingering at all, you will be getting a G major chord. That’s why it’s called Open G: leaving all the strings open creates a G chord.

Keith and the top string
Keith often completely removes the top e-string (which we just tuned to a d), leaving him with a five string guitar. In his own words: "five strings, three notes, two fingers and one arsehole to play it". Removing a string is quite a bit of effort, so it’s best to leave it on but don’t play it much.

Basic Chords with One Finger
The best thing about the Keef tuning is that you can play major chords with just one finger. This is very useful if you are smashed off your face on some hideous cocktail of booze and pills and powders. Just barre your index finger across the guitar, and move it up and down the fret board… and remember that you only need to play the bottom five strings: Fret Chord 0 G 1 G# 2 A 3 A# 4 B 5 C

6 C#

7 D

8 D#

9 E

10 F

11 F#

12 G

Like most rockers, a lot of the songs Keef plays are based mainly around three chords. Lots of his chord sequences are mainly G, C, and D. Other favourites are based around C, G, and F. Some are based around A, D, E. Take some time to play some classic rock chord sequences using the new tuning. It’ll feel strange at first, but you’ll soon wonder why you bothered playing any other way. (Until you try to play a minor chord, that is.)

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The First Step to the Most Memorable Riff in Rock
One of the most memorable riffs in rock history is the main, repeating theme in Brown Sugar. It really is the epitome of Keef’s style… let’s take our first steps towards playing it… Fret Chord 8 D# 5 C 1 F 3 G 5 C

Take the time to practice that until you are making smooth chord changes. Play the D# for a full bar, the C for a full bar, the F and G for half a bar each, and then return to the C. Of course it sounds much more interesting when Keef plays it. What’s his secret? Let’s find out!

Keef’s Favourite Riff
The great thing about using Keef’s tuning while reasonably sober is that you can play the basic chords with one finger, and use the other three to add interesting extras. Using your pinky is hard work of course. The good news is that Keef rarely bothers with it. The interesting parts of Keef’s playing usually involve using the middle and ring finger to supplement the basic major chord that’s played with the index finger. Nearly all of the Rolling Stones’ rockers from the 70s onwards involve switching rapidly between a basic chord and the add9 chord 5 semitones higher than the basic chord. Sounds pretty scary? It’s not… it’s easy. To switch between a G and a Cadd9, just strum the open strings on your Keef tuned instrument, then put your middle finger on the second fret of the d-string, and your index finger on the first fret of the b-string: D|-0-0B|-0-1G|-0-0D|-0-2G|-0-0D|-X-XJust play around with that for a while… try a nice, relaxed strumming while switching your fingers on and off the d and b strings at different times. Then try some variations on the strum pattern too… you’ll start to recognise a Keef-i-ness to your playing already!

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Technically speaking, when you add extra fingers to the basic chord then it becomes a whole other chord. Referring to these by name makes Keef-style playing sound much more complicated than it really is. Most of the time we can dispense with chord names and just think of the extra fingers as variants of the root chord… different flavours added to make the chords more exciting.

Moving the Riff Away from G
That was easy, and only took two fingers. Now we’re going to play the same riff… only this time we’ll play it in C, not G. Because you can’t rely on open strings for the basic chord, you’re going to need to bring three of your fingers into play. First of all, get your index finger laid across the fifth fret as if you’re playing a basic C chord. Now put your middle finger on the sixth fret of the b-string, and your ring finger on the seventh fret of the d-string: D|-5-5B|-5-6G|-5-5D|-5-7G|-5-5D|-X-XAgain, try playing with different rhythm variations as you switch between C and (so we’re told) Fadd9. Once you’ve got used to doing that, you really will start to notice how Stonesy your playing is starting to sound. You’ve already learned the most important and distinctive part of Keith’s technique. The main task left is to take that pattern and move it around the fret board.

Exploring the Style
Moving around the fret board is easy… just slide your index finger until you’ve got the desired basic chord, and keep your other fingers in about the same position relative to your index finger. If you’re starting on the fifth fret (in C) then here are the other fret positions and chords you’ll most likely want to go to: Fret Chord 0 G (1) (G#) 3 A# 5 C 8 D# 10 F
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12 G
4

(You probably won’t go to fret position 1 very often when playing in C… which is why it’s in brackets.) Once you’ve played around a while, you’ll start noticing familiar riffs. For instance, playing variances on the fifth fret (C/Fadd9) for two bars, then moving down to the third fret (A#) and playing fewer variants will sound just like the introduction to Start Me Up.

The Most Memorable Riff in Rock Revisited
Remember the first attempts at playing the main riff from Brown Sugar? That must feel pretty boring after playing variations all over the fret board… but now try it again with variants added (just improvise the rhythm and switching between variant and normal until you like what you hear): Fret Chord 8 D#/G#add9 5 C/Fadd9 1 G#
/C#add9

3 A#
/D#add9

5 C/Fadd9

You should find that it now sounds much more authentic now. The only slightly tricky addition is that for the final two chords (fret three and then the return to fret five) start on the variant and then return to the basic chord, rather than starting on the basic chord before going to the variant.

More Handy Variants
There are other useful variants that you can use to make the chords sound even more interesting. If you want to be like Keef then you’ll need to know them. Here are the two important ones. The good news is that they easier than what you’ve already done… they require exactly half the work. Use your index finger to play the chord as normal, then let the middle finger do its work on the b-string, or your ring finger do it’s work on the bstring… but not both. The example is in C again but you can move it where you like: D|-5-5-5B|-5-5-6G|-5-5-5D|-5-7-5G|-5-5-5D|-X-X-X-

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Have a play with those two variants, mixing it in with the one you know already. You’ll find that these two have a similar but more subtle effect than the first. You can usually use them in the exact same situations.

Other Riffs to Use with Caution
So far, the variants we’ve seen will pretty much always work. If the rest of the band is playing a C, or the song uses a C, and you play around using the variants we’ve seen so far then the chances are it will sound good. On average, people will be more impressed with you than ashamed of you when you do that. These next two are not such a safe bet, but in the right situations it can sound great. With the first one, you put your index finger on the g-string, two frets forward from the basic chord: D|-0-0B|-0-0G|-0-2D|-0-0G|-0-0D|-X-XUsed in the right places, this produces are surly, wailing sound. The other is very similar, but you put your middle finger back in its familiar place on the b-string: D|-0-0B|-0-1G|-0-2D|-0-0G|-0-0D|-X-XOf course, you can move these around the fret board so that it can supplement other basic chords… just use your index finger to provide the basic chord, and add these enhancements. If you try this on the Brown Sugar riff then you’ll find that sometimes it sounds great, other times it sounds OK, but other times it sounds pretty rubbish. Such is the danger of this variant. Only use it if you know for sure it will work.

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Some Theory to Bring it Together
Often in the song Happy, Keith uses this riff (or variations on it): D|-5-5-5-5-5-5-5-5 B|-5-6-6-5-6-6-6-5 G|-5-7-7-5-5-5-5-5 D|-5-5-5-5-7-7-7-5 G|-5-5-5-5-5-5-5-5 D|-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X Although to play (and hear) this really seems like variations on an C-chord, there are actually 3 different chords being played here in the sequence C, G7sus, C, Fadd9, C. This is one of the reasons Keith’s style sounds so rocky… extra mini chord sequences appear woven into his rhythm parts.

On the Exile on Main Street album, Keith plays Happy with a capo on the fifth fret… moving the riff from C to F.

Get Your Right Hand Working
So far we’ve only really looked at what’s going on with your left hand (unless you’re left handed). Now let’s look at how to get a Keith-style strum going. On lots of his rock songs, Keith doesn’t really strum at all. Instead he uses riffs based on the variants we’ve seen already to drive the song forward. If you listen to his playing, particularly live rockers, you’ll rarely hear a regular strum pattern from one bar to the next.

Timing
Keith claims that the secret to timing is to play something just when people least expect it. Listen to his recordings, and you’ll hear that every sound he produces is a bit of a surprise, and consequently a bit exciting. Here are some tips for getting similarly exciting and surprising timings: • Don’t be afraid of playing nothing. Let the sustain carry for a while, then surprise everybody with an energetic power chord. On the verses for Brown Sugar, for example, Keith really doesn’t do very much… but everything he does do is exciting. Look for chances to emphasise or counterpoint the drums and melody. On lots of songs, the singer will emphasise some notes and words more than
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others. Use the guitar to give the lyricist some extra oomph… or wait for a break between lines and fill the gap in the vocal with some muscular riffing. • Change the timings between verses… and consider switching chords just before or just after you’re supposed to. When using variants, don’t always switch between the basic chord and a variant at the exact same time in each bard. Move from the basic chord to variants while the strings are still ringing from the previous strum Try two strums in rapid succession, the first one just before the beat

• •

Another Right Hand Trick
Don’t always play all the strings. Most of the time, you’ll be concentrating on the five strings Keith uses… but even with in that, look for variations. Sometimes play only the top three notes, other times the bottom three, and other times the middle three. These will bring out different aspects of the chord. Combine switches between strings with variants and the timing tricks above, and you can play what will sound like lead runs… but will be just as easy to play as the chords.

Useful Sites on the Net
www.olga.net – loads of tabs. Search for the Rolling stones.

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