This “Bohemian Rhapsody” Guitar Riff Is So Complex That Even Brian May Struggles With It

A brilliant musician and real-life astrophysicist, it would seem there is little Sir Brian May can’t do. However, Queen’s lead guitarist says he has met his match in one of the rock band’s most iconic songs.

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“But In the Heat of the Battle…”

In a recent interview with Total Guitar magazine, May admitted that the “Bohemian Rhapsody” guitar riff sometimes still gets the best of him — even after nearly a half century of playing it live.

[RELATED: Revisiting the Meaning of “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen]

“I’ve got to keep a part of my brain cool just to handle where the fingers have to go because it isn’t natural,” May said. “It’s one of the most unnatural riffs to play you could possibly imagine.”

Many artists know the pain of performing a piece flawlessly in the comfort of your own home, only to struggle mightily when you add a stage and audience into the mix. It was no different for May during The Rhapsody Tour, the British band’s worldwide tour with American singer Adam Lambert.

“I can play it at home okay,” said the musician, 76. “But in the heat of the battle, if you like, when we’re playing it live, and there’s huge adrenaline, it’s the climax of the show and that riff comes along, it’s not the easiest thing to play.”

The guitarist has Freddie Mercury to thank for that. The late, great Queen frontman originally wrote the riff on piano.

“Freddie had that riff in his head and he played it on the piano, which is quite difficult because he plays in octaves,” May told Total Guitar. “I just worked off that and slightly adapted it to the way a guitar needs to play it.”

Brian May Originally Hated This Queen Song

While May struggles most with “Bohemian Rhapsody,” there was another Queen hit he initially didn’t love.

May admitted in a June 2019 interview with Guitar Player that he “didn’t really take” to the band’s 1979 single “Don’t Stop Me Now.”

“I didn’t feel totally comfortable with what Freddie was singing at the time,” May said. “I found it a little bit too flippant in view of the dangers of AIDS and stuff.”

Fortunately for Queen aficionados, Mercury’s unique flair eventually won May over on the track.

“I had to give in. It’s a great song – there’s no way around it,” the guitarist said. “I think that’s what Freddie had an amazing knack of doing: he could put his button on things that make people feel a bit more alive.”

Featured image by Eamonn M. McCormack/Getty Images

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