"Tears In Heaven" first appeared in the 1991 film "Rush", and was later included in Eric Clapton's "Unplugged" collection.
Clapton has admitted that part of the inspiration for the song came from the death of his son, Conor. After Conor's death, Clapton rediscovered the acoustic guitar, and much of the writing he did in that period was for the acoustic guitar. This lesson breaks down my rendition of this lovely, but haunting piece.
"Tears In Heaven" is a beautiful song and features a chord progression that is a clear departure from Clapton's blues roots. The use of chord inversions and a fingerstyle approach gives "Tears In Heaven" a complex, and multi-textured sound. On the "Unplugged" recording, Eric Clapton played a nylon-string acoustic and was accompanied by Andy Fairweather Low, also playing a nylon-string guitar.
The transcription featured here is my rendition of the song, which combines the "best" of both guitar parts into a complete arrangement for one guitar. The majority of this arrangement is of Clapton's accompaniment but features a few of Andy Fairweather Low's lead lines to add interest to the part.
Approach to learning this song
When learning a new song, style, or technique, I find it's best to approach it in a methodical and systematic manner. That's why I've broken the main parts of the song down into bite sized examples and performed each one slowly for you to learn. As always, it's best to be able to play the entire song slowly and smoothly instead of at normal tempo but choppy. Refer to the video if you have any fingering questions, but keep in mind, this is how I play the song. It's slightly different from some of the fingerings Clapton uses, and if you find something easier or more comfortable for you, I suggest you go that way.
The song is in the key of A, but briefly modulates to the key of G for the bridge. Example 1 illustrates the intro. It's important to really get this under your fingers and be able to play it with conviction as this part is repeated between all the verses. Notice, that by using inversions of the E, A, and D chords, Clapton was able to create a smooth descending and ascending bass line. If you were to play each chord in root position, you would get a bass line that jumps all over the place.
Example 2 is the first half of the verse and features our first Andy Fairweather Low fill. The fill features some tasty double-stops for an almost R&B/Hendrix vibe. Really work on nailing the fill in the second bar as it really fills out the solo guitar arrangement.
Example 3 is the second half of the verse and features our second lead fill. This time the fill is made up of diatonic sixths and fits in between the accompaniment perfectly. Notice this time in the third bar we have an open first string that rings between our D/F# and A/E chord. Very simple additions like this add some texture and complexity to the piece.
Example 4 brings us to the chorus. The chorus features a lovely chord progressions that borrows a few chords outside of the key of A. First, notice the descending bass line in the first 3 measures. The C# major triad is not found in the key of A but adds an almost haunting sound to the progression. By playing the 1st inversion of C#, Clapton is able to create a bass line that descends by half steps. Also, notice the forward motion we get in bar 4 by moving from F#7-F#7sus4 and then to Bm7 in bar 5.
Example 5 features a single note run that links us to the beginning of the second verse. Although all of these notes are out of the A major scale, you could view this lick as being played out of the F# minor pentatonic scale with the addition of the D note (3rd fret of the second string).
As I mentioned earlier, the song briefly modulates to the key of G for the bridge; however, it starts on the IV chord (C). Again, Clapton uses the musical device of descending and ascending bass lines in the bridge of "Tears In Heaven". The bridge is 8 bars long. In bars 1-4, the bass line is: C-B-A-F#-G-F#-E-F#-G. In bars 5-8, the bass line is: C-B-A-F#-G-F#-E. See if learning the bass line pattern helps to learn the the chord changes in the bridge.
Examples 7-8 are the accompaniment during the interlude. The interlude features another guitar playing an 8 bar "solo". The accompaniment illustrated here in examples 7-8 are very similar to the intro, but feature a second triplet figure over the A chord.
Example 8 is almost identical to example 7, but the picking pattern of the E/G# to F#m chord in bar 1 is slightly different.
"Tears In Heaven" is almost a master class in composition. It features chord inversions, non-diatonic chords, descending bass lines, modulation, and a whole lot more. Take your time learning this song, learning one section at a time until you can put it all together. Once you have each section under your fingers, see if you can play the song from beginning to end at a slower tempo. Once you can play it smoothly at a slower tempo, slowly increase the speed until you can play it along with the recording, or my video.
Download the transcription below for the complete transcription of my rendition and for the complete form of the song. If reading musical notation (repeats, endings, codas, etc) is new to you, check out my two blog posts on reading rhythm charts. Enjoy!
Download the transcription
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