HowTo:Play Freebird On Guitar

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What's more American than apple pie? A baseball wielding a handgun and Freebird. Woooooo... Freebird!
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The life of a musician is full of absolutes: absence makes the heart bang groupies, always fall back on bird analogies when your wife smells groupie sweat on your heart and, unless your name is Leonard Skinnerd, you will never be accomplished enough to play Freebird on guitar. Never! Especially not the epic solo and especially not that one note. Aww... don't look so broke up, buttercup. You can still settle for the next best thing: heckling other musicians into playing it during their sets, no matter what type of music they play, in the hopes they will sound worse than you.

So put that guitar down — you won't be needing it. All you need is an insatiable hunger for embarrassing tradition and some concert tickets. How do you play Freebird on guitar? Coax someone else into playing it.

Materials for playing Freebird[edit]

You really want to move forward with the tutorial thing? Fine, fine. This is what you need to play "Freebird":

  • A guitar
  • Blind hope
  • A bunch of practice
  • Mild frustration
  • Much more practice
  • Bitter resentment
  • More practice
  • A LOT more practice
  • Wild rage
  • A broken guitar
  • Concert tickets

Okay, now that we've all acknowledged you will never play "Freebird" with your hands, let's practice playing "Freebird" with your mouth. Inhale deeply, like five foot bong deep, and channel your voice from the center of your frustrated soul. Now hold your breath in your diaphragm for a moment and then release: "Wooooooooooo... Freebird! Play Freebird! FREE! BIRD! Yeah! Woohoooooo. FREEBIRD!"

How did that feel? Pretty good, right? Now practice yelling like that for another six minutes and you'll be ready to play. Man, you can really belt out some Freebird. You remind me of myself in the flannel-clad nineties.

The Freebirdin' Bob Dylan[edit]

I went to see Bob Dylan, I think it was '95. It was a small venue, which was convenient, because the guy's voice was a muffled sack of inarticulate magpies by that point. He opened with a new version of one of his classics; hard to tell which on account of the garbling. But the crowd seemed to appreciate it, which leads us to the first important rule of Freebirding — pick your moment. Why settle for being a single note in the crowd's cacophonic chorus? How will any musician hear your request for Freebird over fans requesting songs that are actually by the artist and women offering up their wombs for insemination? When you ask for Freebird, you'd better mean it. I meant it at that Dylan concert, so I waited. He started wheeling out work from his Christian period in the eighties. The cheering clearly faltered; my moment was fast approaching.

I remember there was this lull in the crowd's murmuring, possibly because everyone was listening intently to a story that old clown was telling. It may have been the meaning behind whatever song he was about to play or something concerning the importance of wearing a motorcycle helmet. I don't know; I wasn't paying attention. I could never understand him, anyway. All I understand is Freebird.

"Wooooooo. FREEBIRD!" I told Dylan as he stopped mid-sentence, glaring through his dark sunglasses. I said it again. "FREEBIRD!" He ignored me and started playing his damn harmonica, but I would not be deterred so easily. I tried a pleasant chant, hopeful others would join in. "F-R-E-E-B-I-R-D! FREEBIRD! C'mon Bobby! Gimme a F. Gimme a R. Gimme an E. Gimme..." And with that I was escorted out by security. I'm not sure if he ended up playing Freebird or not.

Practicing your guitar work[edit]

There is no finer way to express the impermanence of love than permanent ink. And Freebird. Woooooo... Freebird!

Are we honestly back to this? You sure are intent on making a fool out of yourself. I bet you can't even hold a guitar properly. Look, you're playing it upside-down, you idiot! Nobody does that! What the hell is that you're reading? Tablatures? I don't see how those will help you scream for "Freebird". It will be so much easier on your psyche to watch somebody else fail at playing it, rather than fail yourself. Trust me.

Freebird Games with Jewel[edit]

Remembering the look Dylan gave me and my pleading, I decided to modify my approach when I saw Jewel perform in 1997. Yes, Jewel. There a problem? Anyway, my previous attempt to play Freebird, though classic, had come up short on results. I wondered, how would a nonverbal request fare? My front row seat and I were about to find out.

Jewel took the stage and launched right in to stories of living out of a van in L.A. and how it still beat the igloo she grew up in. Well, stories are great and all if I'm at an erotic puppet show, but if she wasn't even going to sing then I was going to put in my request early. I unbuttoned my trenchcoat, exposing my jewels. She stopped her awkward story and stared at my junk, but it didn't seem as though she got the message. Nonverbal wasn't cutting it. "FREEBIRD! Yodel Freebird!". She stood there, frozen in place. What, was she dense? Why wouldn't she play Freebird? I never got to find out if the Alaskan chill had given Jewel permanent brain damage because, once again, security escorted me outside. This time they were much more forceful about it and they waited with me for the police to arrive. I hummed Freebird in the back of the squad car, which was ironic because indecent exposure landed me 180 days in county.

Learning to play Freebird without shouting Freebird[edit]

No. It's impossible.

Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthing Ta Freebird[edit]

Back in 2000, I attended a record release party in New York City. The album was The W by the Wu-Tang Clan and, though I wasn't on the guest list, I managed to sneak in. I was walking down 34th Street and noticed a side door to the Hammerstein Ballroom was left ajar, so I decided to have a peek at their bathrooms. They were pretty luxurious and I had eaten a street falafel, so I spent the better part of the afternoon in there.

It was nearing 11 o'clock when I heard a mass of applause. I ran to the ballroom and arrived in time to see the entire Wu-Tang Clan assembled on stage, including Ol' Dirty Bastard, who had just escaped from jail. This was the Freebird opportunity of a lifetime. The crowd was amped as the Wu began a set off of their new album, but after a few songs it was obvious what everyone wanted to hear. Well, everyone but me. They wanted "Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthing Ta Fuck Wit". You know what I wanted.

The room fell quiet and suddenly a call sprang forth — Tiger Style! It repeated itself. Tiger Style! The crowd went nuts. RZA responded with, "Wu-Tang Clan ain't nuthin' ta..." as I rushed the stage and ripped the mic from his hand. "Woooo... Freebird! Play Freebird!"

The Wu-Tang Clan did not play Freebird, and luckily I was able to slip away from the angry mob when the cops came in looking for ODB. Man, they weren't kidding when they said they ain't nuthin' ta fuck wit.

The best method for playing Freebird[edit]

Shout it at a Skynyrd concert... it's like all they play.

When not writing HowTo's, Keith Brantrager works at a Guitar Center. After eleven years as a cashier, he has learned a lot through eavesdropping on the salesmen running the floor. His free time is spent playing Rock Band 3. Despite his considerable musical expertise, he is unable to score more than two stars on Freebird.