Smells Like Teen Spirit guitar TAB grunge guitar lesson for beginners

Welcome to this beginner guitar lesson on Smells Like Teen Spirit. Here, I will be providing the full Smells Like Teen Spirit guitar TAB and guiding you through this grunge classic from start to finish.

Smells Like Teen Spirit is a track that’s suitable for guitar players of any level. It’s a track that’s fairly easy to play as it’s based around 2 simple parts, making it ideal for beginners. It’s also suitable for any guitarist who’s already through the beginner stage thanks to its insane popularity amongst rock fans and there’s also the small fact that it’s really fun to play.

Smells Like Teen Spirit – a song loved by all

smells like teen spirit guitar tab

Smells Like Teen Spirit is the lead single and opening track from Nirvana’s second album Nevermind which was released in 1991. The unexpected success of the track helped launch Nevermind to the top of several album charts and the track was also a factor in pushing the grunge genre into the mainstream.

The track was a chart success in many countries and is by far the most well known Nirvana song. It gained widespread critical acclaim and was dubbed an anthem for apathetic kids and it continues to receive praise to this day.

Smells Like Teen Spirit was included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of the songs that shaped rock and roll and the RIAA ranked it number 80 in their list of songs of the century. NME ranked it highly in their list of the 100 greatest singles of all time and Kerrang ranked it at number 1 in their list of the same name. Rolling Stone also included it highly in their list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.

Smells Like Teen Spirit – the building blocks

The unanimous love for Smells Like Teen Spirit is turned up to 11 in the guitar world thanks to the accessibility of the track. The song is based around a section consisting of 4 power chords and a section consisting of 1 power chord broken down into an arpeggio.

There are other elements there too which we’ll get to but for the most part, as a guitarist, you only have to learn a couple of different parts to play the bulk of the track. Let’s start that process now. Once we’ve learned those parts, we will look at the other elements that make up the track.

Smells Like Teen Spirit guitar TAB guitar lesson and guide

The first thing that I’m going to show you is the most important part of the whole song, the main guitar riff. The following TAB is first heard during the introduction with a clean tone. The 2 bar riff consists of just 4 power chords. The F power chord, the B flat power chord, the a flat power chord and the D flat power chord.

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Considering you’re looking up song tutorials, I’m assuming at this point that you’re already aware of how to play power chords. If you aren’t, you’ll need to learn what power chords are before continuing with this lesson.

Smells Like Teen Spirit guitar TAB main guitar riff 1

The rhythm shown in the TAB shows you how to play along to the record. Those who aren’t able to dissect the rhythm instructions can figure it out by listening to the track. In all honesty, the rhythm isn’t that difficult to figure out once you know what the chords are, even if you’re a beginner.

Now some of you may have noticed that the TAB above was headed with a number 1 at the end. There’s a reason for that. Next, you’ll see the same TAB but with another note added to the power chord. As I’m sure some of you know, performing the note below your 3rd finger with your 4th finger gives you a bigger power chord. Here’s the TAB

Smells Like Teen Spirit guitar TAB main guitar riff 2

Before we move on, I’d just like to explain the “X” notes seen in the TAB. For those who already know what this is, just skip the next paragraph.

The Xs are instructing you to mute the strings but still strum them. This creates a percussive effect. This is achieved by lifting your fingers from the frets but still touching the strings. Finger the chord as normal and then strum to hear the full chord. Slightly lift your fingers and strum again. If you hear a percussive sound, you’ve got it. Touching strings without pressing down will always produce this percussive sound. It’s a very useful trick that’s used a lot in guitar playing.

The clean sound of the intro soon turns to extreme distortion but the good news for you is that what’s actually being played doesn’t change. You’d continue to play that same riff using those same chords. The only difference is that you’d switch to a distorted sound rather than the clean tone. Naturally, to achieve this, you’ll need the ability to switch from clean to distortion with your gear. Perhaps with a distortion pedal.

You could at this point change up the strumming. If you wish to do so, the TAB below shows you how this can be done.

Main guitar riff version 3

To be completely honest, you’re quite fine to play around with the strumming / rhythm with this track to a point at least. For a song like this, it’s the groove of the track and getting into the performance that’s important. Following the TAB rhythm rigidly isn’t necessary. Just before we move on, here’s yet another way of strumming this main guitar riff. 

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Main guitar riff version 4

The next guitar part that you need to learn is what goes on in the verses. This is where things take a calmer turn. The guitar part or parts for the verses is based around just 2 simple notes. These notes are the same notes from the F power chord but instead of playing the power chord, we break it down into the individual notes. Here’s the TAB.

Smells Like Teen Spirit guitar TAB verse part 1

As you can see, this part isn’t very difficult at all. Simply knowing the correct notes and listening to the track to figure out where they come in is all you will need but the TAB above does show you exactly where to play them. You play the first note on the SECOND beat of the first bar and then follow it with the second note which rings out for the duration of that bar AND the following bar. This process is repeated until the change occurs which I’ll show you next. The note in bar 2 is tied to the notes in bar 1 which means you don’t pick them. They’re ringing out. You can hear this in the recording.

Before we move to the next verse part, a little word on tone. As you can hear in the recording, we move back to a clean tone. You can achieve a similar sound by using a chorus effect if you have access to it. It’s not that important but if you want to get close to the original sound, that’s how you do it.

In the recording, you will hear that the pace picks up a little as those 2 notes are played at a faster rate. The way you play that is quite simple. The notes are the same and they’ve evening spaced out as shown in the TAB below.

Verse TAB part 2

I’d also like to point out at this stage that originally, the notes played are the same as shown above, but they’re performed higher up on the fretboard. The pitch is the same but where you play the notes on the fretboard does have a slight impact on the sound produced.

I’ve shown the TAB with the notes at the first fret because a) this is labelled as a beginner lesson and that’s easier and b) this is how I’ve always played it. If you want to play the notes higher, go nuts but it doesn’t really matter.

Der ner ner ner ner ner hey

I mentioned at the start of this Smells Like Teen Spirit guitar lesson that the song is largely based around 2 parts. The good news for you is that if you’ve got to this stage, those parts are already learned.

If you want to learn the song in full, there’s just 2 parts to go. The second of those 2 parts is the guitar solo but we will get to that shortly. First, we need to learn the part that I call the der ner ner ner ner ner hey part. You know it I’m sure. If you don’t, listen to the track.

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As you can see in the TAB, this part is again based around distorted power chords. There’s an added open string in there too which actually makes things easier rather than harder. That said, some of you may find this part a little tricky thanks to the quick transition between chords at the end there.

Another part that some may find tricky is squeezing in that bended note. The note is bent with the second finger and to be completely honest, accuracy of the bend isn’t all that important here. It’s there for effect so don’t worry a great deal about how much you need to bend that note. The timing is the most important thing and you’ll get that with practice.

Smells Like Teen Spirit guitar solo TAB

For those of you who are at an intermediate to advanced stage, this is a guitar solo that you’ll get the hang of pretty fast. There’s not a great deal going on there. It’s just the melody played on guitar. Nice and simple and easy to follow.

Of course, there will be some out there who will need to dedicate more time to practicing this and that’s totally fine. In fact, I’ve chosen this track for a beginner lesson partly due to the fact that the guitar solo is an ideal candidate for a beginner guitar player. The rhythm is the melody so if you can follow that, all you need to do is learn which notes to play.

That about wraps things up for this Smells Like Teen Spirit guitar lesson. This is a really fun one to play so practice hard and you’ll master it in no time at all. If you’d like to learn another Nirvana song, check out my In Bloom Guitar Lesson. This one is a great power chord based heavy distorted track that’s easy and fun to play just like Smells Like Teen Spirit. If you’d like to try something of similar difficulty and genre from another band, I’d recommend my Black Sabbath Iron Man guitar lesson. 

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