The Number of the Beast album is the one that really cemented Iron Maiden as Metal Gods. It also introduced the world to Bruce Dickinson’s voice which launched a 1000 imitators.
This is one of the all time great metal intro’s. It’s in the key of Dmaj with a Lydian vibe to it (if that’s of interest to you):
1 – 2 – 3 – 4# – 5 – 6 – 7
D E F# G A B C
It’s been tabbed out many ways and many of them are way more complicated than they have to be.
What follows is the right way to tab it out and the right way to play it compared to the way it’s broadly tabbed out across the internet using Ultimate-Guitar’s “official” tab as a reference which looks like it’s been lifted note for note from the official version that’s for sale on sheetmusicdirect.com!
Maiden is a tough band for me to analyse and breakdown because I’ve been playing Maiden on bass since I was 13 and I’m now 48! It’s all muscle memory now rather than conscious attention to picking patterns and making shapes but I’m determined to make sure that you’ve got the tools to play these riffs the right way so here we go…
I don’t usually include the lyrics in the JTR tabs but sometimes adding them in shows exactly where they are in relation to the riff and can help put things into better context.
In this instance I’ve added everything from what’s more or less the 1st verse but each lyric is on it’s own numbered line of text to show how it starts and how it wraps back to the beginning.
It’ll all make more sense when the whole tab is reproduced below with the audio!
Below are the UG and SMD tabs for you to look at.
You can see that they’re essentially the same thing (alternating bars of 6/4 and 4/4 which adds up to 10 which, at half the tempo, is 5/4!) and that suggests to me that some copying has gone on without actually listening to the isolated bass track and doing some work.
Both the UG tab and the SMD tab have the tempo beween 195 and 200bpm. I’ve tabbed it at 99bpm using 16th notes.
Remember, just because a song sounds quick doesn’t mean the tempo is high. Please take a moment to read through my thoughts on tempo here. Sometimes the tempo marking is there more to make sure that the score is readable…
This intro is in actually 5/4. That’s a big scary time signature for most people but this riff kind of feels like it’s got 2 parts to each bar: the riff and the pick up.
More on the pick up elements of this riff below.
Enough blah, let’s get into it!
We need to take a quick look at the right hand fingering/picking pattern for this riff.
Playing a lot of Iron Maiden over the years I’ve noticed the common shapes and patterns that Steve Harris uses.
One particularly common one, used here in this intro riff, is the “picked power chord” pattern going from the major 3rd to the 4th to the 5th (D/F#, D/G, D/A in this case).
Another great example of this very shape and note choice is the intro to The Clairvoyant on the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son album but there are dozens and dozens of them dotted across their entire catalogue in different keys that you’ll notice once you’ve got the hang of it.
Harris is also famous for only playing with 2 fingers, even on fast gallops! This brings with it something that you’ll need to be conscious of when playing his bass parts when they use this patter: your lead finger will change each time the riff repeats.
In this it’s due to pulling across the strings and playing 2 notes with the same finger in some places (marked M-M and I-I) because it’s more economical than trying to alternate pick every note or assigning one finger to each string which could be done but dang, it would take some concentration!
Practice the second bar below with the red boxes, nice and slow, to get the switching of the fingering. Just practice tapping out this pattern on the table or on your leg (or someone else’s leg if they’re game!) until you’ve got it down and then move on to the bass.
The boxes outline the accented groups which have a false “triplet feel”; they’re not trip’s though because they’re groups of 3 notes inside 16th notes groups of 4… It’s complicated!
Now, let’s take a closer look…
This riff is built on pick up notes, notes that come from the tail end of the previous bar. This concept really matters as it’s the anchor for the verses as we’ll see…
Bar 1 is a “bar for nothing”. It effectively can be counted in from 1 but you’ve got 3 beats and a 16th note to count which isn’t that easy!
It’s probably easier to count 4 8th notes at tempo and then just start it even though that’s not musically accurate (and makes my music nerd brain hurt…)!
Note: bar 1 has one extra note in it that the pick ups across the rest of the riff don’t have so it kinds of stands alone and should just be played and rhythmically forgotten.
Here’s how it sounds with an empty bar of 5 to count in and a click running through it:
The riff has a very heavy accent built into it; when you’re into the meat of the riff you can count each accent out and if you do you’ll notice there are 5 of them and the 1st 4 form a type of triplets:
After that we’re into the pick up part of the riff to start it all looping around again:
Note: this is where the vocals begin.
They start on the & of beat 4 and it’s the same for all 4 repeats of the riff under the lyrics.
Think of the pick ups almost as a separate riff to the main part of the riff; it has it’s own accent and feel where it’s NOT using the false triplet feel. It kind of straightens up for 1 and half beats!
So the lyrics begin (1.) at the end of bar 2 and each phrase of the verse begins at the end of bar 4 of the riff as it loops around to begin again.
Take a look below:
Can you see the pattern and how it slots into the riff?
The pick up melodically follows the first 3 notes of the lyric’s melody which helps anchor the musical turnaround and the vocals.
Here’s the whole riff (with a click count in and click all the way through so you can feel where the accents are) with all the repeats right up to the big Ds!
Play it and read the lyrics along with the music (you know the melody, of course you do!)
How does that feel? You getting it?
I was tempted to use an instrument to outline the melody of the vocals but thought it would make things too crowded as all you really need is the lyrics and the bass part to get it.
The last part of this riff is the big, sustained D and C chords with the tom hits that run us into the next verse.
These are “loosely” to time but still in the area of being in 5/4. Live, Nicko puts in a hi-hat hit to indicate when to start the next group of 4 but that’s not on the record…
To help though, I’ve included the hi-hat hit so you can really feel the riff (it’s in a very odd place when you actually examine it; it’s on the off beat of 3).
Below is the tab and the audio of this section with a click.
And there it is: Iron Maiden’s classic Number of the Beast Intro bass part the right way.
I hope you can follow along. I’ve got so many Maiden songs tabbed out that there will be lots more of these analyses coming because I wouldn’t be a bass player if I hadn’t heard Steve Harris.
One of the most important and consistent elements of my entire life from the age of 13 is entirely down to hearing him play.
So, until next time, bye from Jack the Riffer.