Play Jeff Beck's "Two Rivers" the Right Way

Learn how Jeff Beck's "Two Rivers" should really be played.
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Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop, released in 1989, marked the maestro’s dazzling return to action following a four-year hiatus. Recorded with Tony Hymas and Terry Bozzio, the album also documented Beck’s first entirely pick-less recording and featured the first appearance of a number of innovative techniques that have since become regarded as Beck trademarks, including the use of whammy-bar manipulated natural harmonics to play entire melodies. Besides the obvious showcase “Where Were You” (which I transcribed way back in the February 1990 issue of GP), Beck’s gorgeously lush ballad “Two Rivers” provides a great example of this technique.

Ex. 1 shows the way most of us probably perceived the song’s Dsus4-D-based, A-G-F#-D-A-G and A-G-F#-D-A-E melodies played over a Gmaj9-G6/9-F#m7-Bm7 progression before witnessing a Beck concert that revealed every note was actually generated from a natural harmonic inflected with bar magic. But even after this revelation, one detail that many players seem to get wrong is how Beck really plays the first two notes of the six-note pickup to each two-bar phrase.

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Ex. 2 sets the record straight, illustrating how the first note of each phrase is actually a third-string/5th-fret harmonic (G) that has been pre-bent up a whole-step to A by pulling up on the bar to pitch. (Tip: The floating whammy bars on Beck’s signature Fender Stratocasters are set up to accommodate raising the G string at least one and a half steps, or a minor third.) Beck hits the pre-bent (and, later in the song, audibly bent) A, and then rhythmically releases the bar to sound the G at its point of origin before outlining a descending D triad on the second, third, and fourth strings at the 5th fret and wrapping up with a third-string/12th-fret G harmonic. I’ve seen YouTube videos where this is demoed with an A harmonic played on the 3rd fret of the D-string and bent down a whole-step to G, but scrutinizing any live video of Beck playing “Two Rivers” proves this is incorrect. It’s a tiny detail, but one that makes all the difference in the world.

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Beck’s second pickup in bar 2 is virtually identical, but swaps the last A note for a target E, which he gradually bar-bends up to F# to coincide with the F#m7-Bm7 backdrop. The repeat of the four-bar melody features two variations—an eighth-note triplet replaces the straight sixteenths on the arpeggiated D triad in the second ending, and the final E (now played squarely on the downbeat) is bar-bent down one-and-a-half steps to C# and partially released one half-step to D. Make it sing.