Nobody’s Fault But Mine – Led Zeppelin […with tab]

If I leave my love behind, nobody’s fault but mine

Led Zeppelin - PresenceAnd so to the wonderful world of heavy metal harmonica. Use of the humble harp in big time rock’n’roll should not really be a surprise. It’s no secret the likes of Led Zeppelin, Cream, Aerosmith, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and their peers drew inspiration directly from the great blues masters. So a splash of harp is quite fitting.

On this note Otis, the Harp Surgery’s postman, delivered this lovely letter this morning. It brought a big smile to the Good Doctor’s dear old pre-breakfast visage (him being a life long dirty Leeds fan).

I was wondering if you can answer my question?? What key harp is Robert Plant playing on the Led Zeppelin track ‘Nobody’s Fault but Mine’???? I’ve been learning the harmonica for a few months now and I find your website very inspiring!

Thanks, Johnny. From Leeds.

Thanks for your question and for your encouraging compliment. Let’s see if the Harp Surgery can fix it for you. Now then, as it happens young Johnny, the Good Doctor has looked into the one and only Led Zep, you see, and the answer to your question is E of the major variety. Ah yes. But enough of the Jimmy Saviles

Finding the right key

If you listen to the start of the song and identify the underlying root note, it’s definitely E. Play the start and hum along to the repeated riff. “Carry it in your head and try to locate it on a harmonica”Robert Plant sings the riff in unison with Jimmy Page’s guitar which is immensely helpful. Copy him. That sustained closing note (the resolution) at the end of the riff is the one we’re after. Carry it in your head and try to locate it on a harmonica, or any instrument you have to hand (which is correctly tuned). You’ll find it’s an E. So, making several assumptions that we’ll look into in a moment, here’s that main guitar-vocal riff tabbed out for 2nd position cross harp.

5D..4D 5D..4D 5D..6B

5D..4D 5D..4D 3D’..4D

5D..4D..5D

6B 5D..4D 4B 3D

4B..3D 4B..3D

4B..4D 4B 3D 2D

If this didn’t give us the key of the song for any reason, another trick is to fast forward to the finish. Most tunes end on their root note and this reveals the key of the song. Unless you’re playing Cajun, but that’s subject matter for another time. This track finishes on E. So does Robert Plant’s harp solo.

Finding the right harp

Playing the song in E would make sense in general terms. It is the guitarist’s favourite key and the classic blues key. For both reasons, the chances are very strong that Robert Plant will be playing an A harp in second (cross harp) position, with the anchor point in draw two. This opens up all those fine blues licks. Of course there is a small chance it could be another position on another harp. An E harp in first for example. But the acid test is when you try “By learning to play in different positions, you will soon be able to detect them when listening to others”to copy the licks Robert Plant uses. Can you find them on an E harp in first? Or a D harp in third? Partially perhaps, but not fully and not comfortably. Once again, the best fit is an A harp played in the cross harp key of E.

You can use this method to determine the key of most songs. First identify the root note as suggested above. Now determine whether the song is major or minor in its structure. Does it have a happy or sad feel. Beware Ska and Reggae which often use minor chords but in an upbeat format. Finally, experiment and find the right position on the right harp for the correct key, best feel and biggest licks. By learning to play in different positions, you will soon be able to detect them when listening to others. Each position has its signature qualities. You can find more information about position playing in our Harp Skills section.

Why is this all a bit tricky on Nobody’s Fault But Mine?

There are two additional details which may have thrown you out. Just ahead of the solo, Robert Plant hits a high-end screech on 9D and 8D, which makes the harp key indeterminate at that point. It’s not until he launches into his full solo that he gives the game away. It starts:

5D..5B..4D..3D rapidly

2D 3D’..3D’..3D’

2D..2D”

The second detail is the main riff itself. It changes from major to minor. That flattened 3D’ in line two of the main riff tab (top) is the culprit. In the second half of the riff it becomes a straight 3D. If you draw 2D-3D-4D on your A harp, you have a triad E major chord. If you could play the same three draw reeds but bend the middle reed (draw 3) “Think of it as adding the best ingredients to your blues stew”down a semitone, you’d produce the triad E minor chord. Because this is a physical impossibility, we have to hit the flattened third as an individual or passing note when going minor. Robert Plant uses the 3D’ a lot throughout the song, even as his point of resolution for certain major phrases, because you can do this in the blues idiom without jarring. It’s what we call a blue note. It’s the magic ingredient in blues and it’s allowed; think of it as the best herb or spice for your ¬†cordon bleu¬†blues stew. As an aside, I recommend any cross harp blues player to practise ending their phrases on 3D or 3D’ instead of the standard 2D root, for variety and musical development. This also expands your comfort zone for harmony playing.

Flattening the third and sixth notes of any major scale by a semi-tone changes the major to a minor scale. From a happy to a melancholy feel. You can play in minor keys on the diatonic harp by using alternative positions such as third and fourth, but then you’d be unable to change to the major chord which this song needs without significant overbending ability. It would probably get messy. So on this occasion, once again it has to be cross harp. You just need to make sure all your draw bends are up to scratch for that flattened third and those essential blues licks.

Origins

From the opening riff, you could be mistaken in thinking Led Zep were on some kind of Far Eastern trip. Failing this, “it’s their interpretation of what started life as a Negro Spiritual”you might recognise a Mississippi blues groove and assume it was something evocative they’d thrown together themselves. In actual fact it’s their interpretation of what started life as a Negro Spiritual. The earliest known recording is by US blues guitarist Blind Willie Johnson from around 1927 and was later popularised by the Grateful Dead in the late 1960s. Led Zeppelin had already featured an image of Willie Johnson on their groundbreaking Led Zeppelin II album in 1969 and now they used his music as inspiration for what was to become a favourite feature in their live performances.

Tab

I am working from the debut version recorded in 1976 on Led Zeppelin’s Presence album. The harp solo cuts in half way through the track at around the three minute mark and lasts for about 45 seconds. It is raw and unsophisticated, but effective. To play it, you’ll need to grab an A major diatonic and play cross harp in the key of E major (and minor). You can listen to the song here.

Prelude

An impassioned 9D with shades of 8D

Solo

5D..5B..4D..3D rapidly

2D 3D’..3D’..3D’

2D..2D”

6D 6B 5D 5B 4D 3D’

4D’ 4D 4D’..4D 3D 2D

6D 6B 5D 5B 4D 3D’

3D’..3D 3D’..3D 3D’..3D 2D..2D”

6D 6B 5D 5B 4D 3D’

3D’..3D 3D’..3D 3D’..3D 2D”

1D..1D..1D..1D..1D

1D 3D’..3D 3D’ 3D” 2D

1D..1D..1D..1D..1D

3D’..3D’..3D’..3D”

4D..5D…..

5D 5B 4D 3D..3D’ 2D

4D..5D…..

5D 5B 4D 3D..3D’ 2D

6D 6B 5D 4D 4B 3D..2D

3D’ 3D’ 3D’ 2D

6D 6B 5D 4D 4B 3D

4D’……….. 3D..2D

6D 6B 5D 4D 4B 3D..2D

3D’ 3D’ 3D’ 2D

6D 6B 5D 4D 4B 3D..2D

3D’ 3D’………

2D..2D 2D..2D

2D 2D 2D..2D

3D’..3D’ 3D’..3D’

3D’ 3D’..3D’..3D’..3D’…..

3D’..3D’ 3D’..3D’

3D’ 3D’ 3D’..3D’

3D’..3D’ 3D’..2D 2D

6D 6B 5D 4D 4B 3D..2D

3D 2D”

6D 6B 5D 4D 4B 3D..2D

2D 2D..2D”

6D 6B 5D 4D 4B 3D..2D

2D 2D..2D”……….. portamento up to 2D

And finally

Here’s footage of Led Zep’ playing Nobody’s Fault But Mine live at Knebworth in 1979, complete with that raw harmonica solo at around 2:16.

15 thoughts on “Nobody’s Fault But Mine – Led Zeppelin […with tab]

  • September 13, 2009 at 2:56 pm
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    A great detailed piece of information!

    Thank you Doctor.

  • September 14, 2009 at 12:17 am
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    My pleasure Johnny. Thanks for the inspiration and for dropping in to the Surgery.
    Keep in touch and tell all your friends!

    The Good Doctor

  • September 21, 2009 at 12:07 am
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    Thanks Stuart for this heads up. As you say it it definitely has echoes of the NFBM solo. Like everyone, RP has his comfort zone licks. It’s one thing playing in a bedroom, you can work on the fineries and hear yourself, but it’s a whole nother thing up on stage!

  • September 26, 2009 at 2:53 pm
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    Really enjoyed reading that. Just an aspiring beginner, who was researching Tony Eyer and found a link to your site on his HarmonicaTunes feed. Also an old Dead Head, so really loved the whole history of the song. Thanks for the wonderful share.

  • October 11, 2009 at 2:06 am
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    Hey Wilf,
    Thanks so much! i love being able to play, well semi play the harp and this page helped me learn one of my more favourite songs!

  • December 18, 2009 at 11:59 am
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    My sons are established musicians playing west coast punk in the main but have been brought up on a diet of all things Zep. They are going into the studio early next year and have asked me to contribute with a solo based around NFBM – gulp. so wish me luck

  • December 18, 2009 at 12:04 pm
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    Have you ever noticed hoe RP holds his Harp?

  • December 18, 2009 at 1:05 pm
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    Give it large my man (and make sure you choose yourself a nice rune motif for the occasion! Or else a nice Mohawk). Hope the above tab and info helps a bit. What did you notice about RP’s hand hold?
    Doc

  • December 18, 2009 at 2:05 pm
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    Its not the traditional “hold in left hand between thumb and first finger” Its more like Oliver asking for more soup!!! Hands held together with both thumbs pointing outwards

  • December 18, 2009 at 2:51 pm
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    Ah yes the ‘Melon Eater’ handhold!

  • December 19, 2009 at 10:20 pm
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    In my teenage days, I thought it didn’t get any better than a bit of harmonica from the likes of Steve Tyler, Rojer Daltrey and Robert Plant.

    But now I am… highly ambivalent about these fellows.

  • July 13, 2013 at 7:53 pm
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    Many thanks for the granular, gritty, great teaching post. Just found it Googling, when my local cable tv Classic Rock played the NFBM tune. (I don’t think Zep played that when I caught them in ’70, on the 7th row, in my hometown Memphis, where their encore was Whole Lotta Love, segueing to one giving-local-props Elvis tune, then a Jerry Lew Lewis, then a different Elvis hit, and then a total-surprise nobody-saw-it-coming segue 20 minutes later back into Whole Lotta Love, driving the whole house batshit.) (Now, to try to catch a ticket to one of his less-rare gigs, here in Austin, TX.) (Where I got to give props last night to James Cotton, checking out in the same grocery.)

  • August 17, 2013 at 7:20 pm
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    So after reading your post I tried to play with the Zep video provided and if it is an E harp and I think it is… He is bending the 1 blow a lot… I am having trouble doing this on the old E harp I have…

    In your tab I am not sure how you indicate a bend.

    1D….

    Thanks for the great post and the video link…. The Presence cut is my favorite harp ever… The live cut is very helpful too…. I’m gonna tweak my 1 reed now;)

    .

  • September 16, 2013 at 7:28 am
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    Hi Shinyred. Yes you’ll need to dig into those 1 draw bends. In my tab:
    1D’ is 1 draw bend.
    2D’ is first bend in draw 2
    2D” is second bend in draw 2
    1D…. means sustain this note.
    If you haven’t already woodshedded all the bends available, it’s important to map out and memorise your draw and blow bends accurately, approaching each as an individual note. Like keys on a piano. Once you have your mind map, you’ll be working from a stronger knowledge base.

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