The "Free Bird" lead pattern: who invented it?

A lot of lead guitar work, especially in blues and rock, involves variations of this thing that I like to call the “Free Bird” pattern (because of that 5-hour — and awesome — solo in the Lynyrd Skynyrd song):


Typically this is picked as
But it’s also common to see it played as

This is often one of the first “flashy” things that a lead player learns.

When you take the same idea, and apply it to different shapes, you get things like the Tornado of Souls solo by Marty Friedman, the solo of Rising Force by YJM, and a million others.

I’m pretty sure Buddy Guy used it too.

So… who came up with it first? :slight_smile:

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Interesting question! I’m interested on the answer but have no idea. I’d suspect it may be as old as blues solos themselves and could even have saxophone or piano roots. After all a lot of early guitarists were mimicking other instruments.

As a follow up thread we should investigate who was the first to use a ii V I chord progression. If nothing else it sounds like a good topic for a Masters thesis :slight_smile:

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There are nuances that give this a certain flavor when played on guitar, mainly because of the pulloffs versus picked notes, and as you said, there are variations on the basic idea.

But taken super literally, the lick as it appears in Free Bird is a pretty rudimental musical idea: just stepping up and down through a minor triad arpeggio over and over again. I’m guessing that some form of that must occur in classical music all the time. That doesn’t diminish the effect that it has, and playing it the way it’s played in Free Bird is subtly different from say, playing it using hammerons and pulloffs on a single string.


That is true! I guess that — based on what we consider the “essence” of it — there can be many different answers to my question.

In my mind, I’m thinking of this object as the combination of the notes itself + the particular layout and phrasing that is typically associated with them on a guitar.

TLDR: I would consider the “same notes all pulloffs / tapping” a different lick :slight_smile:

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@tommo My question is really even if you could find the answer to that, what would it matter? It’s pretty trivial without context.

Good luck on this one too. Prevalent in terms of academic function the tonal era, but likely predates it by a lot. Knowing the answer is really just a matter of trivia, and of benefit to no one with out the underlying thought process behind it.

Knowing the “when”, is really insignificant without and in respect to knowing the “why”. It’s all speculation at that point and doesn’t change anything or give it more meaning.

It’s hard to attribute this kind of thing to a single creator. The lick is simple enough to be discovered independently by different players, and often the first person to do something is not necessarily the one who popularizes the idea.
And how do you account for variations? Does it count as the same lick if it’s played with a different timing? What if it’s played once inside of a longer sequence, rather than being repeated?
Having said that, when I think of fast repeating pentatonic licks, I think of Lonnie Mack


I think the lick itself is secondary to the repeating nature of it. I’ve found in my playing as I get more competent, that repetition in a controlled manner is a way to squeeze blood out of a stone as it were… We have a very limited number of notes in a key to play with, and the juggling of those notes in interesting ways is what it’s all about. It becomes more about rythem and rhythmic patterns to draw out music from a limited number of options.
Drummers do this all the time, creating a rhythmic pattern rather than a melody. And it increases the musicality despite having very little to work with.

So I would say drummers invented it. :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes: As far as I’m aware drumming is our first instrument as a species? Minus the voice…


Interesting! There are a few of these guitar things we often learn early on. Usual because they are relatively easy and instantly recognisable.

I have no idea what the earliest recording of this particular idea is or even how to narrow that down in any way. Maybe start with some of the earliest blues players…?

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Excellent points! I guess the thing I have in mind is the looped version, which is the typical way you find this little pentatonic fragment played in a rock/blues context.

Darnell “Chicken Bone” Jenkins recorded on wax cylinder in 1912.

I’m surprised no one mentioned Michael Schenker. He’s the guy I learn this pattern from, as well as all his variations like doing a double hammer and switching positions while doing it etc. If one dude knew how to milk this lick, it’s him. And he’s so damn fluid and fast with it.


haha i had this similar question awhile back like where in the heck did santana hear this is this original or come from somewhere else cause the line is just too good did the keyboard player write it or is it from this culture of music? and the keyboard lines after it as well i wanted answers lol but i just let it ride man

Re-reading this thread, I just think it’s heartwarming that in almost 5 years, nobody on the forum ridiculed me for incorrectly describing the notes of the Free Bird pattern as a “minor triad”. :upside_down_face:

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