Dust In The Wind – Kansas


Originally, I had intended this lesson to be part of the “Easy Songs for Beginners” series here at Guitar Noise. Why? Well, if you’ve taken a shot at our two lessons on basic Travis finger style guitar, Let Your Fingers Do the Talking or Add a Pinch, then you should find a song like Dust in the Wind to be relatively easy to work out. In fact, those of you who’ve worked through Add a Pinch probably already have the introduction to this song down cold. And I guess that this is a good time to mention that if you’ve not looked at either of those lessons, you might want to do so. You’ll actually get everything you need to play this song.

And maybe that was the whole problem about using it as a beginners’ lesson. To me it seemed a little redundant. You’ve already learned the picking pattern, so just work out the chord changes and presto! Dust in the wind! Didn’t seem like there’d be much to teach.

I know you get tired of me writing this, but the point of any of the song lessons at Guitar Noise is not to teach you to play that particular song. Well, it is, but not really. What we want to do with our lessons is give you techniques and ideas and arrangements that you can then use with other songs you play. Learning the song is just the very tip of the iceberg, if you’ll pardon the cliché.

So I thought about Dust some more, especially when I got an email from a GN Forum member wondering why, even with the chords and the correct picking pattern, the song still “didn’t sound right.” And I looked at the differences between the original recording and the arrangement I’ve developed over time and I realized that my arrangement simply incorporates a bit more of the melody into the picking pattern. That’s something worth discussion. So here we are.

And because some of what we’re discussing is going to require a bit more thought and practice on your part, I decided to put this lesson in the “Intermediates” section, mostly because of the feedback I’m sure I’m going to get should I risk sticking it into the “Easy Songs for Beginners.” But like most of these “Intermediate” song lessons, it’s more about the work that you’re willing to put into it than about whether or not it’s actually harder. Give it a go and see!

These files are the author’s own work and represent his interpretation of this song. They are intended solely for private study, scholarship or research.

Same Old Song (Pattern)

As mentioned, the truth of the matter is that if you have gotten the “pinch pattern” used in Example 2 of the Add a Pinch lesson, then you have this song down cold because, with one or two small exceptions, virtually everything else in the song uses this pinch/picking pattern.

In terms of structure, Dust is very simple. There’s an introduction (that you’ve pretty much already learned to play if you’ve gone through the entire Add a Pinch lesson), a verse and a chorus, a second verse and chorus, a brief instrumental interlude, a final verse and chorus and then a short outro that fades out as the song ends.

As mentioned, we covered about ninety-eight point seven six seven percent of the intro in the Add a Pinch tutorial. The only thing missing is the “pickup,” which is a slight change of pattern at the very end of the introduction that carries us into the first verse. We would tack this change onto the very end of “Example 7″ from the Add a Pinch lesson:

Takedown Notice

We’ve run into this particular use of chords in numerous lessons here at Guitar Noise, Blackbird being the first one that springs to mind. And speaking of Blackbird, you’ll notice that I took the liberty of adding a slight variation to this part (“Example 1A”) that uses the A and G notes on the G string to create a fuller pattern and it sounds a bit like Blackbird, no? My thought in adding this is that sometimes it’s hard to switch from the original pattern and give up on the sixteenth notes we’ve been using. So if you can’t keep your fingers from moving, why not just add an extra string to the pattern?

There are a lot of ways to finger the G/B – the important thing to remember is that, at the heart of all of this, you are simply making a slight detour in an Am to C chord change. You’re probably making the Am chord in the “normal” open position manner, that is, your index finger is on the first fret of the B string, your ring finger is on the second fret of the G and your middle finger is on the second fret of the D. Keeping this end goal of getting to a C chord in mind, you might find the best way to play the G/B is to shift your middle finger from the second fret of the D string to the second fret of the A and to use your pinky to get the D note at the third fret of the B string. Some people feel more comfortable shifting all the fingers and play the G/B with the index finger on the A string and the ring finger on the B string, but that seems like a lot of unnecessary movement. Plus, we’ll see that this G/B chord is going to pop up again several times, so it might be beneficial to feel comfortable with a couple of different fingerings.

So let’s try out the whole intro before getting into the verse, shall we?

The verse consists of four measures that are then repeated, with a slight variation between the fourth measure and the eighth measure:

Now, while this arrangement is pretty much taken directly from the guitar part of the original recording, I have to admit I don’t like it much for a single guitar performance. We go from having the guitar using the “pinch” technique to shadow the melody in the first line, only to lose it when we switch to the third measure. So, with your permission, I’d like to suggest that we try out a little alteration in the chording that will allow us to track the melody all the way through:

The one “little alteration” simply means substituting Dm for Dm7. Granted, that’s not the most challenging of tasks, but it does free you up to play along with the melody line for these two measures of the verse. Use your pinky to pull off from the G note (third fret of the high E (sixth) string) to the F note at the first fret. Your pinky can then cover the D note at the third fret of the B string later in the measure. That is, if you’re like me and use your pinky to make a Dm chord. If not, then you should have even less trouble with it.

I deliberately give the melody a bit of a “hiccup” when returning to the Am chord in the next measure in order to make the finger picking easier. That’s a bit of artistic license on my part. Playing the fourth and eighth measures as outlined in Example 3 and Example 3A will certainly work as well.

All We Are…

Having covered the introduction and the verses, let’s turn our attention to the chorus. As with our verse, we can do it straight or go with a more melodic approach. Let’s look at each:

Essentially, the chorus consists of a repeated two-measure chord progression of D (first two beats of first measure), G (second two beats of the first measure) and Am (second measure). Each cycle through the progression corresponds to one singing of “…dust in the wind…” To make the chord progression more interesting, Kerry Livgren (who wrote the song) used a walking bass line, starting with F# (second fret of the low E (sixth) string) played on the D chord (actually making it D/F#), which goes to G for the G chord, A for the Am chord and then back to G during the last two beats of Am, which technically makes the chord an Am7 or Am/G or even Am7/G depending on your mood when writing it out. I tend to use Am7/G (302010) simply because it’s easier to finger the G note in the bass with the ring finger rather than the pinky. If you’re okay with the stretch then by all means use the full Am/G (302210) fingering.

This pattern is, as mentioned, repeated, with a (yes, you guessed!) slight variation on the last measure, which also includes the “pick up” back into the verse. We could get truly annoying and call it a “turnaround,” but why make more trouble for ourselves at this point?

Adding touches of the melody to the chorus is easy to start with. The initial melody note is D (third fret of the B string), which we’re pinching in the original on the D chord. To keep this note when we change to G, just use a five-string G chord voicing (32003x), especially since you won’t be hitting the high E (first) string with your picking pattern.

I also drop out all of the background in the last beat of the first measure, focusing solely on the two melody notes of C and B (first fret of B string and open B string respectively). This is primarily a matter of making things simpler, but it also brings a moment of relative emptiness to the picking pattern, which has been going non-stop since the introduction. Sometimes a little touch like this can catch your listeners’ attention.

When we get to the Am chord, the melody note is the A at the second fret of the G string. You really want to nail this one good on the first beat as you’ll be covering it over with the same note an instant later in the picking pattern. Hit is hard first and then lightly the second time. And yes, that takes a little practice.

The second time through the progression, we add more D notes (“…all we are is…”) by either using two fingers to pick the B and G strings or by “sweeping” one finger across the two strings in an upward movement. In the MP3 example you can hear me use the latter technique.

Although I do like adding the melody line (or at least parts of it) to both the verse and chorus, I found that I also liked the B to C hammer-on on the B string in the choruses. So I tried to include that in the last measure of the chorus in this arrangement. Over time, it developed into the little flourish that I tabbed out for you in the last example.

This would probably be a good place to mention that the very last solo (after the third verse and just before the outro) is twice as long. In other words, it cycles through the chord changes four times.

Interlude and Outro

Having dealt with the intro, verse and chorus, we now have the interlude and outro to contend with. Except for one slight hiccup, the interlude is still the same basic picking pattern we’ve used all along. The only thing is that we now have some more interesting chord voices to work with:

You definitely want to take a few moments and simple work through the chord changes before working the picking pattern with them. Chances are likely you’ll use your index and ring fingers for most of the work, but I’d like to suggest using your pinky instead of the ring finger for the two F(#11) chords, mostly because it makes the switch from the first on to the second one easier, as you’ll see in a moment.

First, though, I should mention that this chord pattern for the interlude actually starts on the final measure of the second chorus. When you hit the word “wind” the second time around, you start in with the interlude chords, using the picking pattern you’ll see in a moment. The vocals continue (mostly going “oh oh oh”) the first time through the progression and then it plays two additional times while the strings play the instrumental break.

Now let’s look at that little hiccup I mentioned. You’ll find it at the very end of the first measure:

You see, in Example 6, that there’s a pull off between the seventh and fifth frets of the D string. This actually isn’t that hard to accomplish with a little practice. But here is where a (very) little bit of fretboard knowledge can come in handy. Even if you rely on tablature to do everything for you, you might remember somewhere in the back of your mind that the fifth fret of the D string is G, same as the open G string. That’s one way to tune your guitar. So you can, if you’d like, simply open up the G string as I do in Example 6A to get the very same notes. I also like the sound of the ringing notes of the open strings, so I tend to use this way of playing the interlude on occasion. And, as you’ve hopefully heard in the last MP3 file, both ways sound perfectly fine.

Finally, we get to the outro. As I mentioned earlier, the final chorus is repeated twice and when you get to the very last word (“wind”) you begin the outro pattern that you’ll see in Example 7.

This is the only major deviation from the pinching/picking pattern used throughout the song, so you may want to take this very slowly, piece by piece. Start with using just your thumb on the A and D string to get yourself set and steady in the rhythm and then work on adding the higher strings:

Again, I can’t stress enough to work through this last part slowly and deliberately. With a little concentrated effort and a little more practice, you should be able to manage this change in pattern. If, however, you find yourself totally at a loss, then use the intro as your outro. Not many people will even notice the difference.

Alright then, here’s the whole package:

I deliberately didn’t include a “playing all the parts” MP3 for this. If you’ve gone through this lesson carefully, you really don’t need it. What’s more important is for you to play it through as best you can. Playing a pattern like this throughout an entire song is not easy, which is why you want to come up with little places of your own to change things up a bit. It also makes things more interesting for your listeners when they get to hear you play it instead of Kansas.

I hope you enjoyed this little outing and find ways to work in melody lines to other songs you already play or are in the process of learning. At the very least, being able to add a bit of melody to your picking can help you provide short leads when you’re performing a solo guitar act and don’t want to sound like you’ve lost your band!

As always, please feel free to post your questions and suggestions on the Guitar Noise Forum’s “Guitar Noise Lessons” page or email me directly at dhodgeguitar@aol.com.

Until our next lesson…


Liner Notes

“Dust in the Wind” is a hit single released by the American progressive rock band Kansas in 1977. It peaked at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart the week of February 18, 1978, making it Kansas’ only top ten Billboard Hot 100 charting single. Written by Kerry Livgren, it was one of the band’s first acoustic songs.

About David Hodge

Since joining Guitar Noise in November 1999, David has written over a thousand articles, lessons, interviews and reviews. He also serves as the site's Managing Editor, supervising all content in addition to the continued writing of his own lessons and articles. In April 2013, David joined the writing staff of Answers.com, heading up their Guitar Pages. And if that wasn't enough to keep him busy, David contributes to regularly Acoustic Guitar Magazine. He is also the author of six instructional books, the most recent being Idiot’s Guide: Playing Guitar.

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