In this free guitar lesson, I have another installment of How Does This Song Work featuring “Ramblin’ Man” by The Allman Brothers Band. You get to know important details about the song’s composition including the key, scales, modes, chords, and progression.
First off, the song is played in standard tuning in the key of G, but from what I understand, the final mix was sped up to the key of G# (or Ab). I have used software to transpose the original recording back to G, and that’s what you hear me playing along with.
The open chords are G D C G. These chords are straight out of the G major scale. They are chords 1, 5, and 4.
The lead line played over top of these chords is based in G major pentatonic. The first part is simply a descending major pentatonic scale in G that begins in the 15th position and ends in the 12th. This is followed by a harmonized phrase that adds a 4th, C, to the scale. The lower part finishes on the 3rd of G, B. The upper part finishes on the 5th of G, D.
After the intro, the song jumps straight to the chorus. The first half of the chorus uses the chords G F C G and G C D. Here we have modal interchange, which is a composition technique that mixes notes and chords from parallel scales. Chords G, F, and C come from G Mixolydian mode. Chords G, C, and D come from the plain G major scale (also known as Ionian mode).
The second half of the chorus sticks in the plain G major scale and includes the vi chord, Em. The chords are C G Em C G D G.
The chords in the verse are nearly the same as the chorus. The only difference is, the second measure is entirely the IV chord, C. You do not use the bVII chord, F.
During both the chorus and verse, the rhythm guitar makes use of a partial “C form” G chord. The C and D chords are played using partial shapes that can be thought of as based on either the “A form” or “G form.” There are even times when the first string is fretted and played with C and D, creating the chords C6 and D6.
After a repeat of the chorus, you play a short interlude section that leads you into the first solo. This interlude section makes use of G major scales and G major pentatonic blues scales. The G major pentatonic blues scale has an added minor 3rd, Bb.
By ascending and descending the scales with two parts played in a similar fashion but starting on different notes, you get a harmonized lead line. Because the two lines are mostly a 3rd apart in the scale, you hear mostly 3rd harmony.
The first guitar solo in the song is played almost entirely in the G major pentatonic scale. There are just a few spots where you hear the 4th, C, which is not part of the pentatonic.
After the guitar solo, you play through another verse and chorus, then a new interlude is introduced. This interlude features more harmonized guitars that revolve around a G major arpeggio. The guitar in the lower voice makes use of the 4th, C, and b7th, F. The guitar in the upper voice plays a similar part a 3rd higher that makes use of the 6th, E. After these guitars repeat this part a few times, they both move up an octave and play the same thing.
The remainder of the song is an extended guitar solo played over the Mixolydian chords G F C G. The guitar solos are played mostly in G major pentatonic scale patterns, but the solos also make use of the F note from G Mixolydian mode.
Overall, “Ramblin’ Man” is in the key of G major and makes use of notes and chords from both the plain G major scale (Ionian mode) and the G Mixolydian mode (which is also called the dominant scale). The guitar solos are based in G major pentatonic patterns, but with notes from the full major scale and Mixolydian mode added at times. Combining plain major and Mixolydian mode like this is a very popular composition technique and The Allman Brothers Band makes use of it in other songs.