“I can play it at home okay, but in the heat of the battle…”: Brian May still finds the Bohemian Rhapsody riff hard to play
“It’s one of the most unnatural riffs to play you could possibly imagine.”
Credit: Jim Dyson/Getty Images
Despite being heralded as one of the greatest guitarists of all time, ranking among the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page and Eddie Van Halen, Queen’s Brian May admits that even he struggles with the odd riff here and there.
Speaking to Total Guitar, the guitar god revealed that Queen’s magnum opus rock opera, Bohemian Rhapsody, continues to be his Achilles heel. “It’s not a riff that a guitarist would naturally play. And that’s a double-edged sword,” he says. “It’s difficult for the guitar to get a hold of it, but once you have got hold of it, it’s very unusual… to be honest, I still don’t find it easy!”
“I can play it at home okay, but in the heat of the battle…” he continues. “When we’re playing it live, and there’s huge adrenaline, it’s the climax of the show and that riff comes along, it’s not the easiest thing to play.
“I’ve got to keep a part of my brain cool just to handle where the fingers have to go because it isn’t natural. It’s one of the most unnatural riffs to play you could possibly imagine.”
The notoriously challenging riff involves a “lot of stretching of the fingers”, as May notes. But the challenge has always been worth it; “That’s the joy of it, really, because it’s so unusual.”
May goes on to explain that it was Freddie Mercury’s often avant-garde songwriting that led to him creating riffs even he found hard to play.
“Freddie had a habit of writing in E♭ and A♭, so it was always a challenge for me to find places on the guitar to make that work,” he explains. “But it obviously contributed a lot to the way I developed as a player. It was a good thing, even if it was… strange!”
Queen + Adam Lambert are due to play a trio of shows in Japan this month. For a list of dates, head to the band’s official website.