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learn: Hell's Bells by Bruford

By Anthony Garone

Count to 19 and play weird chords? No biggie.

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What are we learning?

Let’s pick apart the catchy hook from the song Hell’s Bells off the 1979 release One of a Kind by the fusion/rock band, Bruford. (NOTE: It is not a cover of the AC/DC song with the same name… I think?) It features Allan Holdsworth on guitar, Jeff Berlin on bass, Dave Stewart on keyboards, and Bill Bruford on drums. The song’s intro alone contains odd time signatures and key modulations that make it weird.

Check out our Discover post about Bruford!

Instructional Video

I’ve put together an instructional video that illustrates everything in the charts below. Watch that if, like me, you don’t like reading.

Time Signatures

The time signatures in this song are ridiculous. It took me a long time to figure the signatures out, then it took me even longer to believe they were correct!

A section: 19/8 = 7/8 + 7/8 + 5/8

What this means is each phrase is 19 beats (eighth notes/quavers) composed of a bar of 7, a bar of 7, and a bar of 5.

B section: 19/8 = 4/8 + 4/8 + 4/8 + 4/8 + 3/8

This section starts with the Gb chord (fingers in the section below) and ends with the Am7.

C section: 19/8 ¿ 11.3/9 ≥ 17/3 ? (It's a joke)

Just kidding on that last one…

I highly recommend watching the video above to make sure you hear me play through each section and you can count it out yourself.


Obviously, this song makes use of odd time signatures, but what may not be obvious by glancing at the chords is that it also employs regular key modulations. What I find most interesting about the key modulations is the keys change between Bb major and E major, two notes that form a “tritone” interval relationship that sound pretty ugly when played together.

Here are the chords and fingerings:

      BbM7add2   Bb2      Gb      Fm7    Cadd2/E     C        Am7
  e   -10----   ----   -------   -----   ------   ------   --------
T B   ----10-   -11-   -------   ---6-   --8---   ----8-   -10p8---
A G   -10-10-   -10-   -----6-   -8---   ----7-   --9---   ------9-
B D   -10-10-   -10-   -6h8---   -6---   -10---   -10---   -10-----
  A   -13-13-   -13-   -9-----   -8---   --7---   -10---   --0-----
  E   -------   ----   -------   -----   ------   --8---   --------
         E2         Gb2
      -7-----   --9-------
      ---7-9-   -----9-11-
      -9-9-9-   -11-11-11-
      -9-9-9-   -11-11-11-
      -7-7-7-   --9--9--9-
      -0-0-0-   ----------

This Stuff Ain’t Easy, Folks!

There are several brave souls who’ve recorded covers of “Hell’s Bells” on youtube, often of varying quality. The song is quite complex and was proven to be a challenge even for Mike Portnoy, Billy Sheehan, Derek Sherinian, and Tony MacAlpine! (Skip to 1:50 to check it out)

Should you find yourself learning this song, let me know! I’d love to hear it!!

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