I’ll be honest; when I first heard James Bay on the radio I really didn’t think I was listening to a guitar playing genius. However watching interviews like this, it’s pretty obvious that the singer songwriter’s guitar skills are quite impressive. If you really want to check out James’ approach, I’d really recommend watching his episode on ‘That Pedal Show’ here. Brilliant stuff!

So, taking a look at ‘Hold Back the River’ and stripping it back to the verse guitar part, you’ll realise that it’s a beautifully simple part that just sounds amazing. It’s also a real delight to play.

Watch the video tutorial of how to play the verse here:

So, how do you play it?

It really couldn’t be simpler. The verse is constructed with a combination of major and minor intervals on either the 5th and 2nd strings, or the 4th and 1st strings. Just two notes per piece, it’s a great way to impress your mates without breaking a sweat!

The TAB:


If you watch videos of James playing the part live, you’ll probably notice that he’s playing in a different position (a full tone higher). That’s because he tunes the guitar down a step to D. Of course, you can do the same or alternatively play the part starting at the 5th fret (D minor).

To get that lovely chimey sound, you need to play through an amp that can give you a great clean sound. In the video above I’m using the Orange Micro Terror which does the job relatively well. Another great amp that will give you a brilliant clean tone is the Fender Deluxe. When playing live, James uses a Tone King Sky King and / or a Victory V40.

RELATED Guitar Strings, Open String Notes and Frets

Once you’ve got a great clean sound from the amp, add a dash of reverb and a short delay and you’ll be able to replicate the part very effectively.

Enjoy learning, and with a little practice you’ll have this fantastic piece nailed in no time!