Don't Fear The Reaper Guitar Lesson

Don’t Fear The Reaper by Blue Öyster Cult (Fingerstyle Guitar Lesson)

Don't Fear The Reaper was recorded in 1976 by American rock band Blue Öyster Cult and appears on their album Agents of Fortune. The song was written and sung by lead guitarist Donald Roeser.

Don't Fear The Reaper is no. 52 on my Top 60 Fingerpicking Songs of ALL TIME list. If you've not seen the list be sure to check it out and sign up to my weekly email lesson. That way you won't miss learning any of these great fingerstyle songs.

As we know, Don't Fear The Reaper isn't a fingerstyle song, it's far from it. But having said that, there's no reason why we can't turn it into a fingerstyle arrangement and that's exactly what we're going to do here.

I've always loved the concept/challenge of trying to play two parts at the same time on the guitar. My goal here was to combine the classic riff with the melody and get the two to merge together seamlessly. The way it's achieved is by practising both parts in isolation and then joining the two together, just like a puzzle. It can be incredibly hard to do but the payout is very often well worth it.

Don't Fear The Reaper Song Details:

  • Tuning - standard
  • Key - A minor
  • Tempo - 140 bpm
  • Difficulty - advanced

The Lesson:

The riff remains unaltered throughout and you need to add in the vocal-line without getting in the way.

Moving into the second half of the verse/chorus now and I've employed a right hand strumming technique whilst simultaneously picking out the melody. This can be very difficult to do if you've not done it before. I go into great detail on this technique in my Complete Beginner's Guide to Fingerpicking course.

Verse 2:

The 2nd verse is very similar to the first, just with a few alterations.

Bridge (part 1):

Watch out for the first half of the bridge because it's harder than it seems. It's the repetitive picking pattern that makes knowing exactly when to change chord hard, and on top of that the bar of 5/4 time in bar eight makes things really quite challenging.

Bridge (part 2):

The second half of the bridge I've left reasonable straightforward. Please remember that this is just my interpretation of the song, and in all honesty I'd much rather you came up with your own thing and just used this as a rough guide.

  1. Dan Cuprill left a comment on 2nd March 2019 at 10:43 pm

    I’m a little confused with what you’re calling the F chord. This must be a different variation than what I learned it as B&E String Frist Fret, G String Second Fret, and D string Third fret. Can you clarify? Thank you.

    • Six String Fingerpicking left a comment on 7th March 2019 at 11:10 am

      Hey Dan, I can see why you may be confused there. As you progress further with guitar you’ll learn that all chords can be played in many different ways all over the neck. How I show you F in this lesson is just one of many. It’s just a slight more advanced version in this case.

  2. mark left a comment on 27th June 2020 at 9:33 pm

    Are you on Patreon?

    • Six String Fingerpicking left a comment on 3rd July 2020 at 9:46 am

      Hi Mark, no I’m not on Patreon. Possibly in the future I will be.

  3. Ivan left a comment on 18th September 2020 at 12:46 pm

    Shame you don’t offer private lessons via zoom, hope your in-person students appreciate how lucky they are to have such a great teacher. I’ve been playing for about a year and was able to get this down pretty well. Thank you so much for all your amazing lessons.

    • Six String Fingerpicking left a comment on 24th September 2020 at 11:32 am

      Thanks a lot Ivan, appreciate it.

    • Jerome left a comment on 26th January 2021 at 7:17 am

      Hey so long story. so a week ago I was learning this full arrangement when I was really depressed and thinking about death and all like when the original songwriter either Dharma or Bloom (can’t remember) discovered he had some organ problems but mainly because I had just gotten into college the week before and lost some friends but anyway.
      Well, I got through the first few verses quite quickly but I was really lost on the “come on baby take my hand” part which you said was the hardest part and I gave up for a few days but the week after, today, I came back to figure it out and write down the full tablature of it.
      Well, I first thought you were just giving the tabs for the melody line and that I had to superimpose the riff line over it on my own. I also thought that the riff and vocal lines were alternating, or at least not in sync, so I would have to figure it out myself. However, after only about 10 minutes of work; I figured that the riff was already included in everything you said and I would just have to fingerpick the seperate strings, so it all clicked into place and I wrote down everything immediately, I have now reached the 10 minute mark of your second video. It was surprising how quickly it clicked and how fast everything made peefect sense, and I was rather proud that I could get this down after only a few weeks of fingerstyle. There was some trouble on which chord of the sequence to start with – I knew was Am/G/F/G, simple enough, but I realised that it kinda started with G instead or Am (at least in my version of tabs) so I had to synchronise that and put it as G/F/G/Am in my head, then put down tabs with the notes of the riff in different colour.
      Anyway thanks a lot!!!! I probably improved more on guitar today compared to all of my previous 4 months of learning. Great video, though it confused me endlessly for a week. Probably going to work on my picking skills next, but now I’m in the fingerstyle phase.

      • Six String Fingerpicking left a comment on 30th January 2021 at 9:08 pm

        Hi Jerome, sorry to hear you’ve had a tough time lately. I’m so glad that you’ve figured out the song and it sounds like you’ve made some great progress! Keep up the good work and you’ll have the whole thing down in no time! Cheers, Chris

  4. Russ left a comment on 7th October 2020 at 6:33 pm

    How do I get the tabs for don’t fear the reaper?

    • Six String Fingerpicking left a comment on 9th October 2020 at 5:15 pm

      All TABs will be available again within a few months Russ.

      • Jerome left a comment on 21st January 2021 at 1:02 pm

        So I started learning fingerstyle only a week ago. I managed to get through about 20 minutes of the videos before I was completely lost at the “come on baby, take my hand” part. However, I would like to nail the whole thing, so could you please upload the whole thing… though I’m probably out of my depth here, but I have to start learning something difficult..

        • Six String Fingerpicking left a comment on 23rd January 2021 at 10:19 am

          Hi Jerome, yeah this is a pretty advanced song. I’d recommend doing something a little more straightforward first. Keep it up though, clearly you’re very keen!

  5. Jasmin left a comment on 3rd November 2020 at 2:43 pm


    last time I checked, there where tabs and bars showing on this site, or am I mistaken? I don’t like to learn via video (its annoying to rewind again and again) – I love your explanation and showcasing of the piece; but for learning itself I just need to repeat a few bars again and again by myself..

    Will there be these tabs for every step in future again?

    Thank you so much.

    • Six String Fingerpicking left a comment on 6th November 2020 at 10:54 am

      Hi Jasmin, the TABs sadly had to go due to copyright laws. They’ll all be back but only after going through legal publication. My plan is to get all remaining scores published by the end of the year.

  6. Brian left a comment on 14th January 2021 at 12:30 am

    We need the tab for this and for Big Love pronto!

    • Six String Fingerpicking left a comment on 17th January 2021 at 7:32 pm

      Coming soon!

  7. Jerome left a comment on 21st January 2021 at 1:04 pm

    Also, I think it’s kind of funny how learning really difficult songs kind of spoils my enjoyment of them. But it’s a pretty good time right now for me to muse over my impending death and the inevitable passing of time and all, so I had to learn it.

  8. Matthew left a comment on 17th February 2021 at 9:36 pm

    Hey Chris! This arrangement is very tough but it sounds great! Ty for the lesson and for challenging us to learn on our own.

    • Six String Fingerpicking left a comment on 21st February 2021 at 7:33 pm

      Cheers, glad you’re enjoying it!

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