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By Rhys Lett

Panama – VCE Music Performance Solo Guitar

Not only is Eddie Van Halen one of the most technically advanced guitar solo player. He also wrote great riffs and rhythm parts. This made Van Halen the premier hard rock act of the 1980s. Their sound and style was the template for rock bands of the era. “Panama” is from the album 1984. This album also contained their biggest hit “Jump”.

This song is in the Rhythm Works section of the VCE Music Performance solo guitar exam. You are required to perform at least one song from this category during the 25 minute exam time.

For assistance with VCE Music contact the Eastern Suburbs School of Music via the contact form on the right of this page or by calling Rhys on 0421 705 150.

Panama – Equipment

Eddie Van Halen used guitars that he would modify to his personal tastes. The guitars contained humbucking pickups and a tremolo system for whammy bar tricks. Your guitar must have a tremolo unit to perform the solo parts of Panama.

Your amp sound needs to have a punchy distortion sound. The humbuckers will handle the higher distortion settings required to play this song. Use the volume dial on your guitar to reduce the distorted sound during the bridge.

The original recording is also performed using a guitar tuned down to E flat tuning. You may perform this song in either standard or E flat. This is noted on the VCE Music Performance Solo Guitar list. Make sure your backing track is matching the tuning you decide to use.


Panama – Structure

Intro – this section has two parts. The drum and guitar duel at the start can be awkward. It begins on the offbeat. Following this is the chord riff that you will play for the chorus.

Verse – Eddie uses a combination of pick and fingers to grab the chords during this section. Make sure you show dynamic control by playing at lower volume.

Prechorus – dynamics raise slightly as we build up into the chorus.

Chorus – playing the riff heard in the second half of the intro.

Verse – Prechorus – Chorus – repeat of the previous sections. Listen for variations

Solo – a mixture of blues licks and tapping. It is one of the easier Van Halen solos to learn. That

Bridge – centred around one riff with variations.

Chorus – repeat of the riffs played in previous chorus. Make sure you catch the tight accented end.

Panama – Techniques

Panama is master clinic of hard rock guitar techniques. Things you must understand to perform this song are:

  • B blues scale for 6th string.
  • right hand tapping.
  • palm muting.
  • natural and pinch harmonics.