How to Learn Eric Clapton’s Unplugged Classic ‘Layla’

Our arrangement is streamlined for a single guitar and captures Clapton's solos note for note.

In 1970 Eric Clapton, pining for George Harrison’s then-wife, Pattie Boyd, wrote what is arguably one of the greatest rock songs about unrequited love: “Layla.” Clapton’s original recording of the song, with the blues-rock band Derek and the Dominos (on the album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs), has a palpable urgency intensified by Duane Allman’s electric slide guitar.

When Clapton revisited “Layla” for his 1992 MTV Unplugged appearance, he transformed the song into something much more relaxed, singing it an octave lower, decelerating its tempo, and ditching the original extended piano coda. But Clapton’s fiery guitar work is still present on the Unplugged version, and in this stripped-down setting, the intensity of his playing is even more noticeable.


Clapton recorded the Unplugged version with a co-guitarist, Andy Fairweather Low, but the arrangement here is streamlined for a single guitar. The notation captures Clapton’s solos note for note, while giving a sampling of the riff that powers the intro, solos, and chorus, as well as suggesting chord voicings to play in the verses.

Begin learning the tune by focusing on the main riff, depicted in the first three measures. Key to nailing the riff is making sure you hit the chords on time. There are two chords per measure, and chord changes fall on the ands of 2 and 4, rather than squarely on beats 1 and 3. Also, note that Clapton plays the riff with lots of subtle variations—be sure to check them out on the original recording.

The solos both fall pretty much entirely within the D natural minor scale (D E F G A Bb C)—the first (bars 4–9) moving between the tenth and fifth positions, and the second (35–50) mostly stationed in the tenth position—and make extensive use of eighth-note triplets (three evenly spaced notes per beat). By all means learn these exemplary blues solos exactly as written, but use them as springboards for improvising on your own.

This article, along with music notation, originally appeared in the November 2018 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.

Adam Perlmutter
Adam Perlmutter

Adam Perlmutter holds a bachelor of music degree from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and a master's degree in Contemporary Improvisation from the New England Conservatory. He is the editor of Acoustic Guitar.

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