How Angus Young’s “Back in Black” Riff Tricks Your Ear

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PHOTO: Karl Walter | Getty Images

AC/DC’s “Back in Black” is a rock classic, written in 1980 as a tribute to the group’s late singer, Bon Scott. Lead guitarist Angus Young’s driving guitar riff is, likewise, one of the best known in rock and a staple in any rock guitarist’s arsenal.

Guitar instruction Sean Daniel refers to the “Back in Black” riff as “a masterclass in using the E minor pentatonic scale,” and in this video, he deconstructs the riff to reveal the magic behind it.

As Sean demonstrates, Angus built the riff in large part from basic power chords within the E minor pentatonic scale. In the first half of the riff, Angus plays a melodic run consisting of the minor pentatonic scale played from high to low.

It’s in the second half of the riff that things become interesting as the song’s tonal center is revealed to be major, not minor, via the riff’s chromatically ascending run.

Take a look at the video. You’ll not only learn the riff but also get some insights into the magic behind it.

If you like this video, check out Sean’s video in which he deconstructs Randy Rhoads’ “Crazy Train” riff to demonstrate how it can teach you the power of scales.

Be sure to check out Sean’s YouTube channel for more of his great videos.