How to Play “La Bamba” on the Guitar

“La Bamba” is a Mexican folk song made famous by Los Lobos. It’s a great example of the I-IV-V chord progression on the guitar, the use of major scale patterns, and the technique of playing in 3rds.

The song is very simple from a theory standpoint — key of C, I-IV-V, and major scale patterns. You can’t get any more basic than that; however, you may have a hard time keeping up because of the tempo and the techniques involved.

The song opens up by using the C major scale in the open position, as shown here.

[Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna]
Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna

The riff outlines the chord progression C-F-G, which is I-IV-V in the key of C. Double-stops, which are groups of two notes, appear frequently in the form of 3rds (that is, two notes separated by three major scale degrees). You can complete the whole C major scale in 3rds by following the tab shown here.

[Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna]
Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna

Later, the guitar solo section makes good use of C major scale patterns, mainly in the open position but also by sliding up the neck into other positions. You hear some very fast alternate picking on single notes, called tremolo picking, and even the use of pedal point, applied here by repeatedly returning to the 3rd string open after sounding other scale notes at other frets on the same string.

Here is an example of pedal point in C.

[Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna]
Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna
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