Guitar Challenge: What Can You Learn From Dick Dale’s Misirlou?

Dick Dale

Read Time 2 Minutes

Wanna turn some heads and scorch some eardrums? Want to steal your lead singer’s thunder?

“Misirlou” is Your Go-To Song

You may know “Misirlou” as the theme of the classic flick Pulp Fiction, or you may recognize the melody from a brief cameo in an episode of Mad Men.

But originally, this shredding tune was a 1962 single from surf rock legend Dick Dale and his Del-Tones. In case you don’t know Dale’s work, he collaborated with Fender to design the first 100-watt guitar amp. Not a bad item to have on your resume.

In some fields they say someone “Raised the bar.” Well, Dick Dale raised the volume. Dale’s concerts had become so popular that he needed 100 watts of juice just to be heard in the back row.

But the roots of the song “Misirlou” reach deeper than the sixties. Dale’s version is based on a folk song that actually dates back to at least 1927. This song spread from its origin somewhere in Asia Minor all throughout the Middle East. I

t’s been in heavy circulation ever since—a truly memorable and sticky melody.

Learn how to play “Misirlou,” and you’re learning a song that audiences love worldwide.

Why Learn It?

C’mon, just listen to it! This song shreds.

It’s a hot tune to play. It’s one of those rare instrumentals that can command the attention of an audience without lyrics.

Bonus points if you can get your audience to do the twist!

It’s a great exercise for working your way up toward super-fast, precise alternate picking.

The song has an exotic, haunting sound, yet the rhythm adds a sense of urgency and danger. It’s an intoxicating brew of adrenaline and intrigue.

5 Quick Tips for Learning “Misirlou”

  1. Dick Dale’s style is to play melodies up and down the neck on a single string. Note that Dale held his guitar upside down, like Hendrix did.
  2. Try a medium or hard pick, maybe even one of those little teardrop-shaped jazz picks. Floppier picks may give you trouble here.
  3. This one’s likely to give your forearm a workout, and you may find that your picking hand tires out fast. As your arm tires out, it may feel like you’re actually getting worse at the song as you practice…. But you’re not. Don’t be discouraged; simply rest your arm overnight and come back to it tomorrow.
  4. Use your bridge pickup, dial in some heavy reverb, and pick a bit closer to the bridge to get that haunting twang and echo.
  5. Practice this one at a slow tempo. Practicing at lower speeds will help you nail down the song until it’s smooth and accurate. I suggest setting your metronome somewhere around 110-120bpm to begin with. Go for flawless accuracy first, then slowly inch the metronome upward until you reach the recording’s tempo.

Good luck!

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Nicholas Tozier

Nicholas Tozier is a book hoarder and songbird from the woods of Maine. In 2012 he made a small cameo in Songwriting Without Boundaries by Berklee professor Pat Pattison, and was named one of CDBaby’s top 10 Songwriting Resources to follow on Twitter.

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