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Riff Breakdown: Slow Dancing in a Burning Room Intro – John Mayer (Tabs & Chord Diagrams)

Slow Dancing in a Burning Room is one of John Mayer’s best songs, both lyrically and musically. Musically, it’s rather simple. But the simplicity is what makes it so great. In this lesson we’ll break down the intro to the song and take a look at the chord progression and the riff he’s playing over top of the progression.

Chords for Slow Dancing in a Burning Room

The chords for the intro Slow Dancing in a Burning Room come straight from the key of E major. The progression is a vi IV I progression using the chords C#m, A, and E.

Key of E Major
IiiIIIIVVVIVII
EF#mG#mABC#mD#dim
Chord diagrams for slow dancing in a burning room

Now that we know the chords, let’s take a look at the riff. Before we do, however, it’s good to give it a fresh listen: Slow Dancing in a Burning Room – John Mayer

The Riff

The riff for Slow Dancing in a Burning Room starts off utilizing the first position of the C#m pentatonic scale. It slides in with a two-note lead-in sequence before landing on C# on the one beat. The next notes are dead notes, or a “chuck”, before it begins a descending sequence of double stops. The double stops are based mostly out of the C# minor pentatonic, but also grab the major 2nd of the C# minor scale.

Guitar tab for first bar of intro riff to slow dancing in a burning room

The next part of the riff shifts to the A major chord and plays a hammer-on from the major 2nd to the major 3rd of the chord, then back to the 2nd and 5th before transitioning to the E major chord.

Over the E major he plays a similar hammer-on lick from the major 2nd to the major 3rd of the E chord. The riff then proceeds back through the sequence again.

Guitar tab for second bar of intro riff to slow dancing in a burning room

The second time through the riff is mostly similar, but starts off sliding in on the 4th string up to the C# root note instead of the 5th on the 5th string. It continues from there as it did the first time through, but lands differently on the A and E chords.

This time through, over the A chord he’s playing out of the G shape CAGED chord and hammers from the major 6th to the major 7th, creating a major 7th triad. He then goes back to the 6th before resolving on the E major chord.

Guitar tab for last bar of intro riff to slow dancing in a burning room

There’s something pretty cool going on with the way the riff ends. If you noticed the first time through, with the transition from the major 3rd of A (fret 6 of string 3) to major 2nd of A (fret 4 of string 3) to the major 3rd of E (fret 6 of string 4).

In the second sequence, he plays from the major 7th of A (fret 6 of string 4), to the major 6th of A (fret 4 of string 4) and resolves to the root E, over the E chord (fret 7 of string 5).

Slow dancing in burning room chord melody

Essentially, we’re just walking down the C shape E major pentatonic scale:

Descending E major pentatonic sequence in slow dancing in a burning room

It’s a subtle difference, but it creates a nice little melody within the chord changes that leads to a stronger resolution on the second pass.

Full Intro Tab

Putting it all together, we have the whole intro riff for Slow Dancing in a Burning Room.

Guitar tab for intro to slow dancing in a burning room by John Mayer

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