Heathers The Musical – Detailed Notes on the Guitar Book
In this article I provide a detailed review of the Heathers Guitar book, including a song-by-song review of my approach to playing it. Let me start by complimenting the orchestrators: this is the most detailed and accurate guitar book I have ever seen. Just about every note you hear on the cast recording is faithfully transcribed. The parts are interesting and challenging, and the book feels like a guitarist was involved in putting it together.
Since the parts themselves are so well defined, my comments focus on my observations on the songs, details of the electric guitar tones and tunings used, technique tips, departures I made from the score (and why I did so) and errata that I found.
These detailed comments are mainly intended as a resource for guitarists who have the book in front of them and are learning to play it. The casual reader may find the level of detail soporific. See here for general observations on the guitar book, the show itself and details of the equipment I used. I don’t intend this to be an “instruction manual” for the show; rather I hope that sharing my approach to the music will provide pointers and inspiration for other guitarists working out their own approach to the material. I would love to get feedback from anybody who has played Heathers.
The production I played was one of the last to include the number “Blue”. For this reason my notes do not address “You’re Welcome”, the song which has replaced it. I also don’t discuss the Heather Duke song “Never Shut Up Again”, which was added for the London production at the time I was writing this article. If I ever play Heathers again, I plan to update this article with details of the new songs.
GENERAL NOTES ON PLAYING THE BOOK
There’s a lot of music in this book! It’s very busy, with few breaks or scenes between musical numbers, so you have to keep focused all the way through. There are a few guitar changes, some of which need to be accomplished fairly quickly, but no super-fast changes. There are several difficult page turns, and I repaginated the score to remove all of these. The book also calls for a lot of different electric guitar sounds, and I discuss my approach to these in detail in the song-by-song review below.
The parts use many interesting and unusual chord voicings and inversions, and a lot of spread chords. There’s a great deal of fast jumping around the fretboard. It’s worth spending time to work out the most “ergonomic” way of playing the book to improve accuracy.
BASIC ELECTRIC GUITAR SOUNDS
After experimenting with various pickup settings, I used Position 4 (Middle and Bridge pickups) on my Anderson Drop Top Classic for the whole show. This setting provided an attack and brightness which suited the material. I used the following basic tones dialed into a Line 6 Helix; all of the other tones used were built using these as a starting point:
Clean: a classic punchy Strat tone. I added a little compression, and adjusted EQ setting to suit particular songs, and reduce resonance from the stage set (the band was on top of the multi-level set).
Distortion: I based this on a patch I found on the Helix which attempted to replicate the crunchy rhythm guitar on Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”. I tweaked it, added a little compression and cut mid-range tone slightly.
Overdrive: I added an effects block based on the Fulltone OCD overdrive pedal to the clean tone, together with a little compression and an EQ block. The OCD is one of the most versatile overdrive pedals around, and Helix version of it is very good. I used a variety of overdrive settings for different songs, but they were mostly based on this combination. I also used a Tube Screamer-style overdrive block in a few places.
SONG-BY-SONG DETAILED REVIEW
#1 & #1a: Beautiful (Parts 1 & 2)
Tones: I used my basic distortion for most of this song. The two other sounds for this number are a clean chorus sound (I added a quiet single-repeat 340ms delay to get a sense of space), and a big chorus/delay/reverb sound for the harmonics in #1a m.6-13, just after the Heathers make their grand entrance.
Technique: in addition to markings in the score I added the following.
- Palm-mute m.11-13
- Palm mute m.74-76
- Fast volume swell into m.80 (smeary gliss.)
Errata: the effects changes are not correctly marked. I added/modified the following effects changes:
- #1 m.40: clean, chorus
- #1 m.45: distortion
- #1 m.108 distortion (beat 2 onwards)
- #1a m.6: clean, chorus, delay reverb (for harmonics)
- #1a m.22: clean, chorus
- #1a m.39: distortion
- #1a m.84: you should already be on distortion from m.39 so the “distortion” marking is superfluous.
#2: Candy Store
Tones: I used the basic distortion for the intro section (m.1-7). For the main sound starting at m.8, I used a light overdrive, with a hint of rotary (no chorus), and a very short slapback echo to get that “boomy room” sound. For the reggae section (m.68-73) I used a warbly chorus sound (fast rate and fairly high depth).
Changes: as with most of this book I played the number almost exactly as written, making only the following changes:
- B5/F chord, m.1-6: I played this an octave lower than written. It sounded crunchier and less shrill.
- Beats 3 and 4 of m.57: I replaced the notes written with an 1/8 note run from low E up to C, leading into the C# downbeat of m.58 (so, E, F#, G#, A, B, C).
- Switch back from Chorus to Overdrive at m.78: I moved this to the start of m.74. It’s a more obvious place to make the switch, for emphasis.
#3: Holy Shit! / Fight For Me
Tones: I used the basic distortion sound for the intro section (m.1-9), and the final section of the song. For the rest I used a heavily compressed clean chorus tone, with an EQ block to get the tone just right. Somebody commented that it sounded like “Purple Rain” and I guess that’s not too far from the sound I was looking for.
Technique/changes: I played the number almost exactly as written, with the exceptions noted below. The Allegro furioso run at m.1 is tricky and needs to be clearly articulated. We practiced this as an ensemble many times! I made the following adjustments:
- For the A(add2)/C# chord in m.28, I added an E above the root. Easier fingering, sweeter voicing.
- F(add2) chord at m.50-51: I found this voicing almost impossible to play accurately. I played F-C-F-G-C instead.
- Palm muting m.52-55: the notes are written as muted. I didn’t mute them.
- Grace note triplets at m.90: I didn’t play these. They sounded messy and I figured it was better to get a clean emphasis on the F for the downbeat.
- Switch to distortion at m.104: I moved this to m.100. it’s a more obvious place to put it. I palm-muted as written from m.100 to m.102, then gradually opened up through m.103.
#4: Freeze Your Brain
I love this song; its feel, the tightness of the arrangement, and the cool, interesting guitar parts and sounds. It’s one of my favorites to play.
Tones: the first half of the song uses acoustic guitar. I EQ’d the guitar to give a reasonably bright tone. The electric comes in halfway through the second verse. I used my basic distortion for verse 2, then switched to a classic Andy Summers-style tone (compression, chorus, flange, 70ms delay) for the second chorus arpeggios (m.63-70). For the big rock-out final chorus (m.71-83), I just added distortion and a slight clean boost to the Andy Summers tone and increased the delay to 400ms, with only one repeat. Finally, for the “Clean” tone at the end, I used a bright clean sound with some chorus.
Technique/changes: I played the number almost exactly as written, with the exceptions noted below.
- m.13-18: I didn’t play the 8va (octave higher) shown in the score. Instead I played this at the first fret. I believe this is what is on the cast recording.
- m.31-41: I didn’t try to make the optional quick switch to electric for the first chorus. I played acoustic to m.42 then changed.
- B(#11) chords at m.61: I tried a low B/F power chord voicing for this, but ultimately settled on just B5 power chords through m.61-62.
- 2nd Chorus arpeggios (m.63-70): I found the best way to play this fluently is to play it all on the D,G and B-strings. Start at the 6th fret and work your way up. It becomes quite natural with some practice.
- Power chords m.71-74: I tried and didn’t like the high voicings in the score for the big final chorus. Instead I played low power chords (D5, A5, F#5, A5 in m.71-72 for example), and played the (A, A, B, C#) runs at the end of m.72 and m.74 two octaves lower than written. This gives some real power to this section of the song.
- Final measure (m.93). I added an E above the octave A’s to get a dramatic A5 voicing to close the number.
#5: Big Fun
A massively energetic number, and a chance to let go for cast and band alike.
Tones: the score calls for a “clean with chorus” sound. I used just that, and added some compression and EQ to get the funk sound just right. For the “echo” section at m.81-86, I added more reverb, boosted the reverb to get a “spacy” sound, and added a harmonizer set to 1 octave down, to get a sound similar to the cast recording. For the single note Eb rhythm at m.88-93 I added a 300ms delay to the basic chorus sound.
Technique/changes: once again, I played the number almost exactly as written. There are a few slash marks in this number (a rarity in this book) and I explain what I did for these below.
- F#m and G chords in m.4-5: I played just low root notes rather than chords, and did this every time this pattern appeared in the song.
- Gb5 chord at m.54: I played just a low root note.
- Db chord at m.55: I played a Db5 voicing at the 4th
- Single note Eb rhythm, m.88-93: I played this slightly palm-muted.
#6: Dead Girl Walking
This is a big moment for the guitar; it’s also (by far) the hardest piece to play accurately in the whole book. The guitar is exposed throughout, and there’s a lot of “fretboard gymnastics” – jumping repeatedly from one end of the neck to the other. It’s easiest just to memorize this number, because you end up spending most of the time looking at the fretboard in a state of mild panic anyway.
Tones: I used 4 different sounds for this number:
- Clean, with echo on quarters: there are about 3-4 repeats in the decay, and it’s mixed fairly low. I used this for m.1-24 only (1st verse), then switched to a sound with less echo.
- Clean, less echo: I reduced the echo mix from 65% to 40%. I used this for all other clean sections of the song (2nd and 3rd verses).
- Heavy Overdrive: I used this for all sections of the song requiring overdrive without wah.
- Heavy Overdrive with wah: I added in the wah for the distinctive, signature wails in the chorus. I set the wah so that the full range of the pedal movement was from 50% to 100% (i.e. a reduced sweep) and mixed the effected tone in at 90% so that it didn’t dominate the sound completely.
I adjusted the effects changes called for in the score, because some of them didn’t make sense to me, especially when comparing with the cast recording. I used the following:
- m.1-24 (1st verse): clean, echo on quarters
- m.25-39 (2nd verse): clean, less echo
- m.40-43 (lead-in to chorus): heavy OD
- m.44-57 (chorus): heavy OD + wah
- m.58-75 (3rd verse): clean, less echo
- m.76-79 (lead in to chorus): heavy OD
- m.80-95 (chorus) heavy OD + wah
- m.104-116 (bridge and lead-in to guitar solo): heavy OD
- m.117-128 (guitar solo): heavy OD + wah
- m.129-166 (rest of song) heavy OD + wah, with pedal close to the heel position (about 60%)
Technique/changes: I played the number mostly as written, except for the changes noted below.
- m.75, 116 and 152: I omitted the pick slides shown in the score as the tempo is too fast to articulate them properly.
- m.121-128 solo: I matched pretty closely what is on the cast recording (if you want tips, there is a YouTube video of the cast album being recorded, which shows the solo being played!)
#6a: Veronica’s Chandler Nightmare
With barely a pause to congratulate yourself for making it through “Dead Girl Walking”, you’re straight into Veronica’s nightmare, a straightforward piece of underscore. For the opening section (m.1-17) I used an echo to get a “spooky” feel (325ms delay with 84% feedback mixed at 40% wet).
#6b: Death At Dawn
More underscore. This recycles the reggae section of “Candy Store”, so I used the same warbly chorus sound. The rest of the number uses distortion. I added compression to get the notes to sustain longer, and used volume swells and slow finger vibrato for the “creepy ringing”, where marked.
#7: The Me Inside Of Me
I made no changes at all to this one, playing it exactly as written.
Tones: the first two-thirds of the song is played on nylon-string guitar; the remainder is on electric. I used a clean sound with light chorus for the first section (m.92-101). This changes suddenly to distortion at the end of m.101, and you have to hit the pedal at just the right moment. I used the basic distortion tone.
- m.19-22: I played the rolled chords with low voicings at the first fret, and did the same at m.43.44.
#8: Blue & #9: Blue (Reprise)
Blue was a fun number to play, and another highlight for the guitar. The tone of the auto-wah used for most of the number means the guitar is very prominent, so it’s important to play cleanly and accurately.
Tones: most of the song is just a clean tone, plus an auto-wah. The auto-wah drops out for m.27-32, then it’s back for the rest of the number. I added some compression to even out the level, and rolled off some high end EQ to make the wah tone a little less piercing.
Technique/changes: once again I played the number almost exactly as written, with the following adjustments.
- m.3 onwards: for the “mid-range, tight voicings” called for in the score, I played voicings around the 5th fret.
- m.11 & m.13: I played the A chord on beat 2, as on the cast recording, not the rolled chord on beat 1 shown in the score.
- m.41-44 solo: I copied what is played on the cast recording, which is very slightly different from what’s written in the score.
#8a: Blue Playoff / Ghost Heather
More underscore. I used a volume swell for the distorted harmonic E at m.10 (Heather’s entrance). For the melody line in m.12-15 I re-used the harmonizer sound from “Big Fun”, as it’s the same melody.
#9a: Blue Reprise Playoff (Freak! Slut!)
This is a very short number, but a pivotal moment in the show. There’s a vamp at m.1, then a sudden, fast jump into m.2, which is tricky to get right. We practiced this cue many times!
#10: Our Love Is God
I found this a really interesting end to Act 1. The opening section is a moving, powerful moment of connection between the two main characters (ballad on nylon-string guitar), which quickly mutates into something much darker (electric guitar, overdrive), leading to a dramatic, shocking finale (doom metal!).
Tones: the first third of the song is played on nylon-string guitar, the remainder on electric. I used a compressed, warm, clean chorus tone initially, switching to a fairly heavy overdrive for the middle section, and ending with a crisp but heavy distortion for the finale.
Technique/changes: I played the part as written, with the following adjustments:
- m.11-12: I played only the upper (melody) notes, omitting the lower (harmony) notes for clarity of tone.
- m.23-24: the score shows a Bb chord, with an ascending run from D up an octave to F as the top note of the voicing. I omitted the chord for clarity and just played the run (this happens several times in the song and I took the same approach each time).
- m.56: I used a volume swell for the high Ab.
- m.61-62: I used volume swells for the high G# and A (creepy ringing).
- m.82-85: rest. I tuned the low E string down to D here for the remainder of the song. The score has the re-tuning in the rest at m.89-92, but because of the dialog in m.82 (marked as a fermata), you have more time to re-tune at m.82-85.
#10b: Prom Or Hell?
This short number acts as a “story so far” introduction to Act 2. It also introduces the theme for “Seventeen” as a sort of “(p)reprise” in the form of a lullaby. I used a clean, bright chorus sound for this section.
#11: My Dead Gay Son
Act 2 really takes off here, with a hilarious, up-tempo “gospel hoe-down” (kind of), ultimately underpinned by a strong message about love and tolerance, and a brilliant plot twist. This number always brings the house down.
Tones: I used a clean, warm-but-bright, slightly compressed tone, with a 80ms slapback delay throughout, adding autowah for the disco section in m.146-162.
Technique/changes: I played the song as written, except for m.23-27, where I played everything one octave higher than written (as per the cast recording). This number needs to be played crisply to land properly.
A big emotional moment in the show: a not-quite-eleven o’clock number, and one that makes everybody swoon. It’s a classic 80s rock ballad.
Tuning: the score calls for tuning the low E string down to D just for the last chord of the song (a lovely D inversion, and my favorite chord in the whole book!). I found that re-tuning for the whole number makes it easier to play, especially in the fortissimo climax at m.80-85. It also gives you the chance to play some lovely, low voicings in the quiet section at the end of the song, as described below.
Tones: I used the basic distortion and clean tones for the intro section and first two verses, switching to a fairly heavy overdrive (but not really heavy) for the second chorus, where the song really takes off (m.49 onwards). I added a little flanger as called for in the score for m.80-86 (the climactic wailing section!).
Technique/changes: I played the score mostly as written, with the following adjustments:
- Tuned low E down to D for the whole song, as described above.
- m.1: the Furioso opening comes suddenly and needs to be tight. We practiced this often to keep it precise.
- m.6 and 10: I played low voicings for the chords.
- m.14-16: the score calls for the notes shown to be the top notes of chord voicings. I played just the single notes for clarity. Chords don’t really help at this point in the song.
- m.33-47 (2nd verse): I played low, simple chord voicings, slightly palm-muted, opening out in m.47.
- m.48: I didn’t play the pick scrape shown in the score.
- m.63: I didn’t switch to distortion for third chorus. I stayed on the heavy-ish overdrive sound.
- m.68-70: I played a big B5 voicing instead of Bm (the vocal hits the minor 3rd).
- m.82-83: I played the tricky A and G chord voicings at the 7th and 5th fret respectively (easy if you have re-tuned the E down to D).
- m.96-99: I played the long D note an octave lower than written, and added in an open A-string above it.
- m.100-103: I added in a low E below the C# shown in the score (nice chord!).
- I waited until m.2 of the following underscore number (“Martha Suspects”) to tune the D back up to E, so as not to miss the segue.
#13: Shine A Light
This is a fun, uplifting moment in the show (even if it is cloaked in absurdity), which always gets a massive reception. The guitar part isn’t difficult, and as ever the chord voicings are written out quite precisely. I played the part as written.
Tones: I used a clean tone, with a little compression for most of the song, switching to a light, crisp overdrive for the “rap” breakdown in m.41-52. The key to getting the feel for this number right is to nail the Nile Rodgers-style funk rhythm.
The acoustic guitar is exposed throughout this number, so it’s important to get it right. I offer the following tips on technique:
- To play this number accurately, you really need an acoustic guitar with a cutaway body.
- First two verses (m.1-38): I played these at a 10th fret position.
- Loud middle section (m.39-55): I played voicings on the D to high E strings at the 1st and 2nd
- Third verse (m.56-79): back to the 10th fret, jumping quickly to a 13th fret position right after beat 1 in m.64 to get the high A’s, then back to 10th fret m.68.
- Outro (m.80-85): I played this at the 13th fret position.
#14a: Shine A Light (Reprise)
I played the part as written. The grace notes in m.16-17 are tricky but should be played accurately as they are exposed. I played these little runs on the A, D and G strings starting at the 7th, 9th and 10th frets respectively. Playing them on the these lower strings also gives a beefier tone.
Tones: I used the basic distortion sound, adding a single repeat 450ms delay mixed 24% wet, to thicken up the lead sound and add a bit of drama to it.
#15: Cheerleader Transition
I played this part as written, using a heavy, thick overdrive with some high end rolled off.
#16: Kindergarten Boyfriend
This is a very emotional moment in the show, managing to be deeply moving, a little shocking and slightly pathetic simultaneously. It’s a great bit of writing. This is also the only moment in the show where the guitar has little to do, so you get to soak up the moment for most of the song, before playing some straightforward chord work on the acoustic at the climax. I played the part exactly as written, except that I omitted the grace notes for the Bb chord in m.76, to give a strong, clean downbeat to the phrase.
#17: Yo Girl / Meant To Be
I loved playing this number. It’s long, fast, dramatic, with a lot of complex parts, whiplash time and feel changes, sudden starts and stops and some places where you get to really rock out. It’s another piece where you have to more or less memorize the part; it comes at you like an express train and is just too much to read down. When the band clicks and you get it right, it’s exhilarating.
Tones: I used the following:
- Light overdrive with echo: I used this for the opening section (m.1-33). The overdrive was slight, just breaking up a little. The delay was 500ms, with 2-3 repeats, and mixed low at 29% wet.
- Overdrive: the same as the first tone, but without the echo. I used this for the build-up section before JD really freaks out (m.34-74).
- Heavy Distortion: I took the basic distortion sound and amped it up slightly, then cut the mid-range for a more “metal” sound. I used this tone from m.75 to the end of the number. The score calls for a variety of tones (distortion, heavy distortion, very heavy distortion, airy fuzz), but you don’t really add anything by making a change once you get the metal tone plugged in. Besides, there is so much music to play in this section; the last thing you want is to be messing around with pedals!
Technique/changes: I’m proud to say that I managed to play almost every note of this number as written! I did make as few adjustments, and offer a few tips on technique:
- The page turns are horrible in this number. I moved things around to make them more achievable.
- m.11-18 and m.26-33: tricky sections to play. The time signature is 3/2, but guitar is playing what amounts to triplets in 4/4 over a waltzy cymbal rhythm in 3 (I think O’Keefe does this sort of stuff deliberately to test the musicians!). You have to listen to the drums to keep accurate time. I palm-muted very slightly, as written.
- m.23-24: I played this palm-muted.
- m.39-50: similar to the 3/2 sections, but in 6/8 and you’re more locked in with the drums now. I played palm-muted, as written.
- m.66: I played a 6th fret voicing for Eb7(b9): Eb, Bb, E.
- m.109: I didn’t play the two octave slide (F# to F#) and back down. There’s isn’t time to articulate this properly and it just sounds messy. Instead I held the F#5 voicing for 3 beats. There is a similar slide written at m.154 , which I also omitted.
- m.153-154: I played the E5 and F#5 voicings 1 octave lower than written, then held the F#5 as a whole note through m.154.
- m.184: I omitted the Eb from the first beat, and just played the C of the melody.
- 186: I omitted the low F from the B7/F voicing.
#18: Dead Girl Walking (Reprise)
This number starts almost immediately after #17, so you don’t have time for a breather. It is largely a note-for-note recycling of sections of “Dead Girl Walking” and “Cheerleader Transition”.
Tones: I used the following:
- Bright, crunchy overdrive: I used this for the opening section (m.1-20). The score calls for a delay effect, but I didn’t see the need for it.
- Heavy Overdrive: used for m.21-24; same sound as “Dead Girl Walking”.
- Heavy Overdrive with wah: used for m.25-38; same sound as “Dead Girl Walking” .
- Heavy, thick overdrive: used for the rest of the song (m.43-123); same sound as “Cheerleader Transition”.
Technique/adjustments: I played the number largely as written, with the following changes:
- m.20: I omitted the pick slide. It’s too short to articulate properly.
- m.82: I used a volume swell at the start of the long B harmonic, and a little whammy bar to add some dissonance for this tense moment.
- m.108-114: fast lead line for final cheerleader section. I played this as written, starting at the 8th position on the A string, for a bassy, beefy feel.
#19: Seventeen (Reprise)
This is a straightforward reprise of “Seventeen”, but includes some very fast accelerations and tempos at the end which need a bit of practice for the band to stay tight.
Tones: I used a light, crunchy overdrive for the opening section, switching to a heavy, bright overdrive at m.36 (the big explosion). I used the heavy overdrive for the rest of the number.
Technique/changes: I played the number mostly as written, with the following adjustments:
- m.150 and m.154: these measures have a 1/16th note run on the last beat of the measure. We played this as an 1/8th note run over the last 2 beats, because by this point the tempo is so fast that you can’t articulate the 16th note run clearly. The cast recording includes the same adjustment.
- m.166: I omitted the last 3 beats of the measure (a slide from low G to high B and back). The cast recording also omits these notes.
- m.168: I omitted the slide from low F up to Bb on the last 2 beats of the measure, and just hit the Bb downbeat of m.169 cleanly.
This number is almost entirely a repeat of the fast section of #19. I used the same heavy, bright overdrive sound throughout, and made the same adjustments as for #19.
#21: Exit Music
The first section (m.1-22) is a faster version of “Fight For Me”, and the remainder of the number is “Freeze Your Brain”, but in a key that makes it more awkward to play. I used the basic distortion sound for the “Fight for Me” section, and the shimmer and shimmer+distortion tones from “freeze Your Brain” for the rest. The production I played didn’t use this number.