Complete Guide to Iron Maiden 'The Trooper'

Everything you need to know about the story behind the song, amp and pedal settings as well as used guitar techniques.

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Complete Guide to Iron Maiden 'The Trooper'
54

Hey, everyone, the Complete Guide rubric is here again!

We had a minor voting system malfunction, so we couldn't figure out if you liked our previous Complete Guide to 'Holiday', but we really hope you did.

In this issue, we'll tell you how to play "The Trooper" by Iron Maiden.

Why "The Trooper" you ask? Because we wouldn't miss for the world a song that has its own beer!

Iron Maiden 'The Trooper'

Writers: Steve Harris
Producer: Martin Birch
Album: Piece of Mind (1983) (UG Score 9.5)
Released: 20 June 1983
Label: EMI
Genre: Heavy Metal
Length: 4:11

Additional Information:
UK Singles Chart (Billboard): #12 (July 9, 1983)
Irish Singles Chart (Billboard): #12 (July 9, 1983)

Story behind the song

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Lord Tennyson

Written by bassist and founder member Steve Harris, the song is based on the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava 1854, which took place during the Crimean War, and inspired by Lord Tennyson's poem of the same name.

It's quite an atmospheric song as the opening in "The Trooper" is meant to try and recreate the galloping horses in the charge of the light brigade. The first verses show the soldier's patriotism: He's willing to die if he can take an enemy with him. "Run you through" regards various kinds of blades - swords, spears (the presumed weapon of a light cavalryman) and bayonets installed atop the rifles to stab approaching enemies. And as the trooper dies, he feels lonely on the ground and slowly fading to death. Despite this feeling of emptiness and being "forgotten," he dies without regret or fear.

A regular fixture in the band's concerts, vocalist Bruce Dickinson has always waved a Union Flag during live performances and, more recently, has begun wearing an authentic red coat uniform which would have been worn during the battle on which the song was based.

However, sometimes it was a subject to some controversies, like during a performance in Dublin in 2003 when Dickinson's flag-waving reportedly received a large amount of booing from the Irish audience and at the 2005 Ozzfest Sharon Osbourne, accused Iron Maiden of disrespecting American troops, then fighting alongside the British in Iraq, for waving a Union Flag in the US, although Classic Rock magazine supported the band by pointing out that the song's subject bore no relation to the military activity then taking place in the Middle East.

In 2013 the band unveiled the 4.8% alcohol Trooper Ale, which is produced by Cheshire brewery Robinsons. Bruce Dickinson said: "I'm a lifelong fan of traditional English ale, I thought I'd died and gone to heaven when we were asked to create our own beer I have to say that I was very nervous. Robinsons are the only people I have had to audition for in 30 years. Their magic has been to create the alchemical wedding of flavour and texture that is Trooper. I love it."

Music Videos

The single's accompanying music video included clips of a cavalry battle from the 1936 film The Charge of the Light Brigade, starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, which the BBC refused to play unedited, deeming the footage too violent. The band's manager, Rod Smallwood, has since criticized the decision, stating, "Anyone would think we'd killed the horses ourselves instead of using an old Errol Flynn movie."

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Here's "The Trooper" live version at Estadio Nacional, Santiago, Chile from the band's live/video album "En Vivo!".

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Gear and settings

Guitars

Dave Murray

Dave Murray can be seen playing his signature Fender Stratocaster (UG Score 9.3), based on a 1957 Strat.


The Dave Murray Stratocaster guitar boasts a supercharged humbucker/single-coil/humbucker configuration - a DiMarzio PAF 36th Anniversary DP103 neck pickup, a DiMarzio Super Distortion DP100 bridge pickup, and a Fender vintage-style middle pickup.

For about 20 last years Dave uses custom vintage Fender Stratocaster (UG Score 8.7) from California series with Seymour Duncan Hot Rails pickups and Ernie Ball (.009, .011, 014, 024, 032, 042) strings for live performances.


And the last one he uses in live sessions is Gibson 60 Les Paul classic (UG Score 8.9).

Adrian Smith

Adrian Smith played on Ibanez Destroyer II DT-300 in the official "Trooper" video.

Adrian Smith often uses his Gibson Goldtop Les Paul for live performances.


Adrian Smith said it was the very first guitar he bought. And he says, "It's probably worth a lot of money now, but I'd never sell it."

Janick Gers

Janick Gers didn't take part in the recording of the original version of "The Trooper", he joined the band in 1990 to substitute Adrian Smith, who returned to Iron Maiden in 1999, but since then Janick is a constant member of Iron Maiden.

Gers is a long-time fan of the Fender Stratocaster. His guitars are typically black or white with rosewood fingerboards and Seymour Duncan JB Jr. and Hot Rails pick-ups. His favorite guitar over the years has been a black Stratocaster, equipped with JB Jr. pick-ups, which was presented to him by Ian Gillan. Gers uses four different Fender Stratocasters.

Steve Harris

Harris mainly uses a specially-painted Fender Precision Bass, featured on every Iron Maiden album, which has gone through a total of four color changes since he began using it. Originally white, it was then changed to black prior to the band's first album, followed by blue sparkle and finally white with claret and blue pinstriping with the West Ham United F.C. crest.

His Fender P Bass became the basis for his signature Fender Precision Bass (UG score is 9.5) with the Signature Seymour Duncan SPB-4 Precision Pickup and sports a decal of the West Ham United F.C.


Amps and effects

The song has a live feeling and sounds like the band is in one room playing together with the vocals. But the instruments were probably recorded apart in a studio and just mixed together as it doesn’t sound like the instruments are fusing into one another.

Both guitarists' amps are very overdriven with quick delay and minimum reverb.

Bass guitar also has heavy distortion with some short delay and small room reverb.

Decide which Iron Maiden guitarist you would like to emulate and compose your pedalboard from the individual list of pedal effects below, and give your Marshalls some Iron Maiden's sound:

Adrian Smith's set-up:

Dave Murray's set-up:

Universal amp settings

  • Gain - 7
  • Treble - 9
  • Mid - 7
  • Bass - 4
  • Reverb – 0

Tablature

These are top tabs rated by the UG community:

Tab version: The Trooper tab, The Trooper bass tab
Interactive versions: Guitar Pro, Tab Pro

Tuning

Both guitar parts are tuned to standard tuning: E A D G B E

Bass tuning: E A D G

Key of the song

"The Trooper" is mostly done in E minor, but in the second solo it changes to A minor, and then it goes to E minor to finish the song off.

Techniques

The song is written in 4/4 time signature, it means that there are 4 beats to each bar, which is common for many heavy metal songs. The instrumentals, verses, and choruses all use "Arch Form" which means it uses sectional structures that are repeating throughout the whole song.

The song texture sounds "thick" with all the instruments played together using a "Homophonic" style structure, which means the song has a melody played with chordal accompaniment. The texture of the song remains the same with all instruments playing together for the whole song.

Two guitars, drums, and bass are playing together throughout the whole song except for the first 8 bars of the intro where just the two guitars come in playing the riff together and the vocals come in for the verses and refrains. The bass line which replicates the sound of galloping horses is used to deliver the tempo of the song and are used to give the feeling of riding into the battle.

"The Trooper" has a very recognizable riff structure. It sounds close to a thrash song, but except the independent intro riff, and some of the solo, there is nothing finger-melting. It seems like guitars were trying to make similar patterns throughout and basically tie together all the lead work with harmonized lead riffs.

Both guitars are played with the same dynamics throughout the whole song and there is no sudden change in dynamics except the first 8 bars of the verse when they stop for the lyrics, which gives the vocals room for extra enhancement in the song. For the last 8 bars, the guitars play with the vocals giving them more drive taking them into the refrain.

Bass line is fairly complicated because Harris has a recognizable and popular style of bass playing, particularly the "gallop": usually an eighth note followed by two sixteenth notes at a fast tempo, which he plays with two fingers, rather than using a plectrum. He liberally applies chalk to his fingers before performing his fastest riffs. This gives his bass a unique tone and sound. Basically, he even sounds more like a rhythm guitarist than a bass player.

The bass dynamics staying the same from start to finish.

Song Breakdown

Introduction (48 bars): 0:00-0:36

The song is introduced with the fast tempo guitar riff, played with pull-off and vibrato technique, that has actually become one of Iron Maiden’s most memorable hooks. It’s harmonized with the second guitar, and it builds into another riff, performed with the use of trills and vibrato.

Intro part is ended by several power chords.

Verse 1 (24 bars): 0:36-1:00

The verse begins with a vocal and instrumental tradeoff: lyrics are being sung without music for the first part of the verse. Then in the second part of the verse, “horse gallop” rhythm comes in with vocalization.

All verses are structured the same with 24 bars using the same chords and lead riffs for the guitars, the bass line stays the same throughout the verses as well as the drumming for all verses in the song.

Refrain (4 bars): 1:00-1:10

Actually, there is no lyrics in a refrain, just the series of "Whoa's."

Each refrain shares the same 4 bar structure instrumentation and chords, the bass line and drum pattern stay the same for all refrains.

Instrumental (32 bars): 1:10-1:36

An exact copy of the introduction, reinforcing its guitar hook.

Verse 2 (24 bars): 1:36-2:00

The whole verse is exactly like the second part of the first verse where gallop rhythm is played throughout the whole verse instead of the musical/vocal tradeoff.

Repeat Refrain (4 bars): 2:00-2:10

Guitar Solo (42 bars): 2:10-2:58

Actually, guitar solo consists of 2 solo parts.

The first solo part is played by Adrian Smith and full of soaring bends, quick blues scale descending licks, and rapid blues licks. This solo is supported by Dave Murray's power chords.

In the second solo part, roles are changed, so the solo is performed by Dave Murray and contains a lot of fast trills, blues licks and a series of bends that seems to be played over the entire fretboard all at once, and Adrian Smith plays power chords.

Instrumental (32 bars): 2:58-3:22

Two guitars play the same instrumental riff for the first part but then play separate lead riffs.

Verse 3 (24 bars): 3:22-3:45

Final lyrics of the song simply and horrifyingly sums up the song in the last lyrics: "With war, no one really gets out alive."

Repeat Refrain (4 bars): 3:45-3:57

Repeat Instrumental (16 bars): 3:57-4:10 (end)

The song ends with the same instrumentation as the first 16 bars of the intro have.

Recommended lessons

The opening riff

This lesson covers a couple of riffs, the intro and the harmony guitar part before the vocals come in. The biggest challenge is the quick shifts required to play up to speed.

A pattern in the riff is basically just repeated 3 times so that part is simple to understand. The first thing you should focus on would be the pattern. Then it will just be a process of playing the pattern after every shift.

After the intro riff, the great harmony guitar section comes in. This type of harmony guitar stuff is definitely an Iron Maiden signature.

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Verse/refrain riffs

The main rhythm during the verse is classic Iron Maiden's galloping rhythm. The important part about getting this gallop rhythm up to speed is to use the proper picking technique, which is demonstrated in this video lesson. It is also important to stay as relaxed as possible during this section since that fast rhythm is used for quite a while.

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The first solo by Adrian Smith

Adrian Smith's solo is described phrase-by-phrase.

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The second solo by Dave Murray

Dave Murray's solo is truly a great study for all rock and metal guitar players.

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Bass part

Steve Harris' bass gallop style is explained.

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Check this full bass cover with a tab and backing track.

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29 comments sorted by best / new / date

    ecthelion79
    Wow, didn't know you were making these UG, good work, keep 'em coming!
    Shura_FYI
    Thanks for you comments You can help us with these kind of guides - suggest what should we write about next favorite songs?
    hudsonstradlin
    I'm requesting any early Clapton- Cream/Yardbirds stuff, to break down the elusive "woman" tone of his, back in his Gibson days, before he switched over to Fender. White Room is a favourite of mine.
    blackone666
    I'd personally like some good old prog rock like Genesis, King Crimson etc. But as I said, it was a treat to read, so anything will be welcome!
    d.floresumana
    Just wondering if you are adding this articles into the tabs section. I guess I am suggesting that when I look for The Trooper tabs that there is a link to this article to get more in-depth view of the song.
    lurkingfan4
    For those trying to get a Steve Harris-like bass tone I'd recommend playing a P-bass with flatwouds, lots of mids and treble, playing fingerstyle between the pickup and the fretboard (maybe on the fretboard Geezer style?), a compressor, and as a sidenote, Steve doesn't seem to be playing a P-bass in the video, but he most likely used one on the album recording.
    milkface
    Nah, you can get that tone with most basses if you play finger properly.
    K33nbl4d3
    On that last point, not necessarily - the bass in the video has a P-Bass pickup on it so it's effectively the same thing.
    slapsymcdougal
    Just a historical note - the article mentions "spears (the presumed weapon of a light cavalryman)". Of the constituent regiments of the Light Brigade, only the 17th Lancers would have used anything resembling a spear. The 4th and 13th Light Dragoons and the 8th and 11th Hussars would have used a sabres(a large number would still be carrying the 1821/22 pattern, but around half would probably have had the 1853).
    eatfresh1736
    The song is written in 4/4 time signature, it means that there are 4 beats to each bar, which is common for many heavy metal songs. The instrumentals, verses, and choruses all use "Arch Form" which means it uses sectional structures that are repeating throughout the whole song.The song texture sounds "thick" with all the instruments played together using a "Homophonic" style structure, which means the song has a melody played with chordal accompaniment. The texture of the song remains the same with all instruments playing together for the whole song.
    The over-analysis reminds me of the classic Master Of Puppets "Microtiming Deviations" article. Good article (this one), though.
    flexiblemile
    Very cool article! I want more like this! Can we also have an article about what josh klinghoffer thinks about John Frusciante's opinion about this song?
    elv34
    yes !!!!! superbe travail !!! encore ,encore vous ete les meilleurs
    The_Crestfallen
    I'm pretty sure the harmonized main-riff is made out of four sixteenths rather than two triplets. Something like 7h8p7h8 instead of 7h8p7h8p7h8. Most top rated tabs seem to disagree with me, but two triplets just sound off to my ears.
    bnsf1317
    Something I'd also like to mention about Adrian DT-300, it had the stock Ibanez V2 replaced with a Dimarzio Super Distortion in the bridge with the V2 then going in the neck, and it was a 1981 with an Alder body, the year after they switched to basswood bodies. Also, his Goldtop has a black Super Distortion in the bridge and a mini-humbucker in the next from a Gibson Firebird