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Classical Guitar Instruction with Douglas Niedt

"PETER GUNN" by Henry Mancini
Arranged and Performed by Douglas Niedt, Guitar

The "Theme from Peter Gunn" was cool before cool was invented.
The song is over sixty years old, and it still completely rocks.

You can purchase Doug's arrangement!

The sheet music package contains the arrangement (PDFs) in standard notation, standard notation plus tab, and tab only. Also included in each PDF are instructions on how to tune your guitar to the non-standard tuning Doug uses in the arrangement, Percussion Diagrams explaining the execution of the percussion effects, a notation key, brief performance notes, and the video of Doug performing the piece.

Here is a sample page from each version

Standard Notation

Peter Gunn sample page of music standard notation

Standard Notation Plus Tab

Peter Gunn sample page of music standard notation plus tab

Tab Only

Peter Gunn sample page of music tab only


This is a digital download.

The entire sheet music package (42 pages!) is only $10.00. It includes all three versions of the arrangement, notation key, performance notes, tuning instructions, and percussion diagrams.

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The Non-Standard Tuning

I made multiple attempts at arranging this song over several years. However, it wasn't until I began experimenting with altered tunings that I could make the piece "work" on the guitar. The tuning I finally settled on (low strings to high) is:

6th string=D (down a whole step)
5th string=A (normal)
4th string=D (normal)
3rd string=A (up a whole step)
2nd string=C (up a half step)
1st string=F (up a half step)

The non-standard tuning for Peter Gunn

At first, I thought it was a pain to retune my guitar every time I wanted to practice the song. But I became accustomed to it very quickly. Here are two ways to efficiently and rapidly retune the guitar for this piece. First, the quick and easy way:

Quick and easy way to tune for Peter Gunn

And next, perhaps a bit more precise method using natural harmonics:

Tuning method for Peter Gunn using natural harmonics

If you plan to play the song for a gig, I recommend having a second guitar pre-tuned so that you don't interrupt the flow of your performance.

The Rhythm

Many of the rhythms should have a dotted feel. For example, in measures 22-23, there are six instances of dotted figures.

Peter Gunn dotted rhythms

Unfortunately, many of the dotted rhythms in the piece are hard to play due to the fast tempo. But even if you can't play the dotted rhythms literally as written, try to achieve that feel.

The Thumbpick

You do not have to use a thumbpick to play the piece. But as I was learning the song, I wanted to make the ostinato bass line as heavy as possible. So first, I tried playing the bass line with the thumb rest stroke, which worked well, but I wore down my thumbnail in a few days. So I decided to try using a thumbpick. I tried a dozen different thumbpicks and settled on the vintage John Pearse thumbpick.

John Pearse Vintage Guitar Thumbpick

It is heavy and stiff, which helps me produce the heavy bass line I want. Unfortunately, picks on nylon strings are noisy, so you have to put up with the pick noise. I tried different brands and tensions of strings, but I found no reduction in the amount of pick noise.

Again, you do not have to use a thumbpick to play "Peter Gunn." Maybe your thumbnail won't wear down as mine did. Also, try playing the bass line with the thumb free stroke and rest stroke to see which sounds the best. Playing with the thumb rest stroke might feel cumbersome and difficult if you have not used it before.

The Stretches

There are many chords in the arrangement that require challenging stretches. Therefore, I provide alternative versions for these passages at the end of the arrangement. The alternative versions still sound good!

The Tremolo

We use the tremolo technique in measures 58, 60, 66, and 68. It is the conventional tremolo pattern of "pami." Usually, the "ami" fingers each pluck a single string in a standard tremolo.

Instead, in "Peter Gunn," for extra volume and fullness, each finger brushes across all three of the first three strings. Since each finger does not have to pluck one specific string, it is easier to play. But because each finger must play three strings, the finger movements are broader, so it is more challenging to play this tremolo fast.

Therefore, do not be concerned with playing the tremolo in "Peter Gunn" with precise rhythmic precision. Instead, focus on playing it fast to achieve a "wall" or wash of sound. In addition, try to make a massive crescendo in each tremolo measure.

If you find you cannot execute this tremolo or hold the left-hand stretches, use the non-tremolo alternative versions shown at the end of the piece.

The Percussion Effects

Percussion effects occur in several measures of the piece. In the pages preceding the start of the music, I provide three Percussion Diagrams showing how to execute the effects. For example, Percussion Diagram #1 explains measure 6, Percussion Diagram #2 measures 76-77, and Percussion Diagram #3 measure 78. Each diagram shows the fingers to use and where you tap the guitar to produce the desired effect.

There are also "String Slaps" in measures 6, 10, 76-77, and 78. Execute these by hitting 2-3 bass strings with the left side of the right-hand thumb over the soundhole. If you hit more than three strings, that's okay. Use a rotation of the right forearm to produce a crisp and pronounced slap.


Cover of Peter Gunn Sheet Music

Henry Mancini's opening theme for the 1958-1961 network television detective series "Peter Gunn" is a hard-driving relentless, horns-heavy jazz-rock tune that has stood the test of time. It is as startlingly modern sounding as the day it debuted over the airwaves. It is arguably the coolest television theme of all time.

It is music with both the sophistication of jazz and the harshness, drive, and audacity of rock 'n' roll. The "Peter Gunn Theme" opens with an ostinato bass line for a guitar, and the piano enters, doubling the bass line a few measures later. By the way, a very young John Williams of later "Star Wars" fame plays the piano in the original recording! Next, the theme enters as an intentionally primitive fanfare of four trombones, four trumpets, and four horns. The guitar and piano continue the perpetual pounding rhythm underneath, just ripe for the high-flying powerful trumpet and sax solos that follow. Here is Mancini himself conducting the original version of "Peter Gunn."

The hip, bluesy song became an instant hit for Mancini. In 1959, RCA issued the LP "The Music from 'Peter Gunn.'" The album was a bestseller and, in a truly historic moment, would go on to win the very first Grammy Award ever presented for Album of the Year, beating out works by Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra.

"Peter Gunn" has been covered by numerous jazz, blues, and rock artists. For complete listings, try Second-Hand Songs and 127 Versions of Peter Gunn You Can't Live Without.


Peter Gunn Television Series

Famed director and producer Blake Edwards created the 1958-1961 network television detective series. Legend has it that Edwards bumped into Mancini on the Hollywood Universal Studios lot one day (both were getting haircuts at the time) and asked him to score the "Peter Gunn" pilot. So naturally, Mancini said, "Yes," thinking he'd just signed up to score a TV western when, in fact, "Peter Gunn" was a noir-ish detective drama.

Creator Blake's desire for something new and cool, and Mancini's desire to experiment in jazz, suited each other beautifully. In addition, the show's use of modern jazz music, when most television shows used a generic, uninspired orchestra for the background, was another distinctive touch that set the standard for many years to come.


Henry Mancini, composer of Peter Gunn

Henry Mancini was an American composer, conductor, arranger, pianist, and flutist. Mancini was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1924, the son of immigrants. Mancini began playing the flute at age eight and the piano at age twelve. Mancini attended The Juilliard School from 1942 to 1943 but enlisted in the Army when he turned eighteen, cutting his studies short. After his discharge in 1946, Mancini joined the big bands of Glenn Miller and Tex Beneke.

In 1952, Mancini joined the music department of Universal-International Pictures and began to score films. He wrote the scores for "Days of Wine and Roses," "The Creature from the Black Lagoon," "The Great Race," "The Glenn Miller Story," "Charade," "Touch of Evil," "The Glass Menagerie," "Victor/Victoria" and many others. In addition, Mancini composed the memorable theme for the "Pink Panther" movies and the song "Moon River" for the movie "Breakfast at Tiffany's." The music and film industry recognizes Mancini as one of the greatest composers in film history.

Mancini also worked in television. He created the score for the mini-series "The Thorn Birds" (1983) and wrote the themes for "What's Happening!" "Newhart" and "Remington Steele," among other series. His songs have been recorded by a who's who of 20th century vocalists including Andy Williams, Peggy Lee, Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, Julie London, Johnny Mathis, and Tony Bennett.

Mancini himself recorded and released over 90 albums during his career, mostly instrumentals. Eight of his albums went gold. By the end of his legendary career, Mancini had collected 20 Grammy Awards, four Oscars, and two Emmys.