Misirlou is the quintessential surf instrumental and Dick Dale’s sonic signature – or is that redundant? In any case, rock history acknowledges this tune as the first surf genre piece to feature the “wet” sound of Fender’s reverb unit. Coupled with Dale’s furious upside-down Strat attack through the immediately overdriven, 100-watt Dual Showman stacks, it is absolute dynamite. For most, the definitive surf sound. Misirlou has unusual origins for a seminal piece in American rock. Its roots are in Middle Eastern music, and it was a 1940’s pop hit in Turkey two decades before Dick revived and reinvented the piece in 1962 – when he gave it a high-energy twist by performing it on electric guitar with his Deltones band.
Tune up a quarter step. Probably the result of tuning to a sharp instrument at the session or of a faster moving tape machine.
Misirlou is a study in tremolo picking. In fact, it is an ideal introduction and application of the technique that provides an excellent picking warm-up piece for guitarists of all levels. Tremolo picking is fast and constant alternating picking – in surf guitar jargon “double picking” – largely confined to one string at a time. It has appeared in the playing of Ed Van Halen, Kirk Hammett, and Stevie Ray Vaughan, and countless other players over the years. To get a grip on the technique, choose an open string to double pick. The outside two are easiest (either the low E or high E) since they have only one adjacent string to avoid, and, not coincidentally, are the only two used throughout the main sections of Misirlou. Concentrate on producing a smooth alternating upstroke and downstroke motion when attacking the string. There should be no perceptible difference between upstrokes and downstrokes. Keep the articulation moving until you feel an even, purring sort of effect take place in your pick stroke.
The theme, found at letters A, B, and E, is the central focus of the piece. It is a classic case of a linear melody played solely on one string, which favors the tremolo picking attack. The scale of the theme melody has a decidedly ethnic sound, which gives Misirlou its haunting Middle Eastern quality. Called a “synthetic scale” in our Western culture, it has an unusual symmetrical layout which uses two augmented second (1.5 steps) intervals (F to G#, and C to D#) and four minor second (1/2 step) intervals (E to F, G# to A, B to C, and D# to E) in its structure [Fig. 1]. This is a great alternative to the more typical modes like Phrygian or Phrygian Dominant [Fig. 2], which are more conventionally used against the E to F chord progression. Budding composers, take note. These sorts of melodies yield striking results in a rock context as players like Vai, Satriani, Holdsworth and many others have already discovered.
The bridge melody is a simple, singing line in A minor, originally played on trumpet and arranged in this transcription for guitar. Compared with the aggressive tremolo picked attack of the theme, it provides nice contrast with its slower-moving melody and more legato approach. You may want to apply a smooth, fuzzy distortion and use your bridge pickup to emulate the trumpet tone. The guitar re-enters at D with a slightly different melody in A harmonic minor (A-B-C-D-E-F-G#), again played with tremolo picking on the 6th string.
Part (a large part) of the charm of Misirlou relies on the heavy reverb effect which colors the guitar tone throughout, and enhances the surf and roll attitude of the piece. For those of you out there with reverb on your amps or in your effects chain, crank it up! Your guitar should sound like it’s gurgling underwater. Surf’s up.
It’s a part of Dick Dale Misirlou guitar lesson.
Below you can download PDF guitar tabs and sheet music of
Dick Dale Misirlou with backing track
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