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Fender Play Live: Learn to Play Like Nirvana

The episode covers Nirvana's catalog and style, as well as some of frontman Kurt Cobain's favorite guitars.

Fender Play Live is a weekly studio show that dives deep into the Fender's legendary gear and the iconic music that was made by it over the years.

In this edition of the program, it's all about one of the most influential bands of the 1990s - Nirvana. Hosted by Aquabats guitarist (and Nirvana enthusiast) Ian Fowles and special guest Cole Becker of SWMRS, the episode covers Nirvana's catalog and style, as well as some of frontman Kurt Cobain's favorite guitars, namely the Fender Mustang and Jaguar. Missed the show? You can watch it on Fender’s YouTube, Facebook and Twitter channels.

To accompany the Nirvana-focused Fender Play Live, check out a few lesson lists that dive into some of the band's biggers hits and how to play them below, all from Fender Play. Not a Fender Play subscriber? Start your free trial here.

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"Come as You Are"

Exercise: Power Chords to a Rhythm

Creating a rhythm using power chords is an important aspect to Nirvana songs. This lesson utilizes the E5, A5 and D5 chords to demonstrate how important playing in time is. After all, you'll need to play in time so you can jam with others.

Watch how to create a rhythm with power chords in this video.

Riff: "Come as You Are"

"Come as Your Are" was Nirvana's second single off the seminal 1992 album Nevermind, and it catapulted them to stardom, essentially changing the face of music in the early part of the decade. And it was driven by a chunky Cobain riff using single-note downpicking. Nail this riff and embark on your grunge journey in this lesson.

Full Song: "Come as You Are"

Now that you've got the riff down, you can venture on to the entire song in this lesson by Fender Play instructor Dan Ellis.

"About a Girl"

Course: Combining Power Chords and Standard Chords

Combining power and standard chords is a simple way to expand your chord vocabulary and is essential for many styles of music. And there is a differnece between them. Open position chords sound chimey and full. They're great for strumming when you need a big sound. But if a song calls for a punchier and tighter sound, you might want to use a power chord.

Learn how to meld standard chords and power chords in this course.

Exercise: C-Am-Em with an 8th Note Strum

Switching between chords is also important for any guitarist, and you'll need to know how to do it with an 8th note strum for Nirvana's "About a Girl."

See how this is done using the C, A minor and E minor chords here.

Full Song: "About a Girl"

"About a Girl" was an early Nirvana classic that uses the power chords and open chords talked about above. While it originally came out in 1989, an acoustic version was featured on the band's MTV Unplugged performance and reachd No. 1 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart.

Learn how to play "About a Girl" here.

"All Apologies"

Exercise: Slides

Working on your slide technique will help you master some of your favorite tunes while also making your playing style more expressive. Get a refresher on slides here.

Course: Drop D Tuning

Now take another course about Drop D tuning. This alternative tuning will extend your guitar's range and make power chords a breeze. Side note: it's also a good tuning for singers with deeper voices.

Full Song: "All Apologies"

Nirvana's "All Apologies" was the 12th and final song on the band's third and final studio album, In Utero, which was released in September of 1993. This lesson will put your chops in slide technique and Drop D to the test (even though the original recording is actually tuned a whole step lower).

Learn how to play "All Apologies" here.


Exercise: Chord Anticipation, Palm Muting and Arpeggio Picking in E

To play Nirvana's "Lithium," you'll have to use arpeggio picking and palm muting.

Run through this lesson in chord anticipation, palm muting and arpeggio picking.

Exercise: Arpeggios with Palm Muting

Take your arpeggios and palm muting to the next level by combining them alongside Fender Play instructor Kevin Thrasher in this video.

Full Song: "Lithium”

"Lithium" is Nirvana's third single from Nevermind, which dropped in 1991. The anthemic track was a concert staple for the trio, as fans would sing along to the quiet verses before unleashing the fury of the shouted chorus.

Learn how to play "Lithium" here.

"Heart-Shaped Box"

Exercise: Play in Drop D Tuning

Another Nirvana song that uses an alternate tuning is In Utero's "Heart-Shaped Box." In Drop D, the single is ominous and emotional in the verses while building to a heavier chorus.

Brush up on Drop D tuning in this lesson.

Exercise: D-G-Em-A Chords in D with Arpeggio Picking

"Heart-Shaped Box" also make liberal use of arpeggio picking. With this technique, you can really hear the individual notes of of the song, giving it added texture and dimension. Take this lesson for more on arpeggio picking.

Full Song: "Heart-Shaped Box"

Finally, have a go at "Heart-Shaped Box" and join the countless artists around the world who have covered it. The track was yet another Nirvana hit, as it reached the top 10 in several countries and spawned a massively popular music video.

Learn how to play "Heart-Shaped Box" here.

For more Fender Play Live, go to Fender’s YouTube, Facebook and Twitter channels. And if you're not a member of Fender Play yet, click here for a free trial.