Don’t Panic – Coldplay

If you’ve read my last Easy Songs For Beginners lesson, God Put A Smile Upon Your Face, the choice for this Intermediates lesson will be no surprise to you. We’re going to tackle, Don’t Panic, the opening cut of Coldplay’s album Parachutes, as well as the first song on the Garden State movie soundtrack.

As mentioned in the aforementioned lesson (note to self – stop writing so self-consciously!), I had the dickens of a time figuring out which song to put on which lesson page. They are both relatively easy to play and both offer wonderful things to learn in terms of chord voicing and arrangement. So do me a favor – if you are someone who only reads the Intermediates lessons, take a hop over to the Beginners page and check out God Put A Smile Upon Your Face. Try out both lessons and feel free to write me where you would have put each one (and why).

And if you’re here at Guitar Noise’s Songs for Intermediates page for the very first time, a hearty welcome to you! Our Intermediates Song Lessons are, quite often, not that difficult as far as playing them, but sometimes they can be involved in terms of the ideas going on behind the music. Get a seat, grab your guitar and let’s go!

If you’re a newcomer to these lessons, it’s probably also a good idea to bore you with a little philosophy. Many of these lessons are geared toward playing a particular song but with a single guitar. Since many of us tend to play as solo performers, I tend to write the lessons with that in mind. Each song lesson is meant to work on many levels – not simply to learn a particular song, but to learn about music theory, song arrangement and a score of other little things that you can use in whatever song you play. In other words, don’t dismiss a lesson simply because of the song (or style of song or the artist who originally did the song, etc.,) in question. It’s my humble hope that you will find some small bit of advice in each lesson that will help you to become a better guitarist, a smarter guitarist and a well-rounded musician.

That being said, and if you’re at all familiar with Don’t Panic, you’ll understand the gist of today’s lesson – how do we take a song with multiple layers of guitars and effects and turn it into something we can perform with (relative) ease and a single guitar?

The answer to that is the answer to most of our lessons – we do it with some thought. On the surface, Don’t Panic is a very simple song. In terms of structure, we have an introduction, which is four measures of Fmaj7, followed by three verses. Using the first verse as an example, each verse can be broken down as follows, with each part being repeated twice:

Verse breakdown for Don't Panic by Coldplay

If you want to, you can think of this as a “verse – chorus” structure. What I’ve labeled as “Part One” would be the verse and “Part Two” (the “…we live in a beautiful world…” part) would be the chorus. Either way you think of it, these two parts make up the entire song, that is, outside of the short introduction.

On the recording, we get the Intro, then the first verse (or verse and chorus if you will), and then the second verse. “Part One” of the third verse is an instrumental break while “Part Two” is sung. Then “Part One” is played four more times, the first two as an instrumental and the last two with what we might call the “outro,” which ends the song.

So let’s get right into things, shall we? The Intro, as I mentioned, is four measures of Fmaj7 being strummed. But, naturally, that’s not all there is to it! We’re going to use a little technique that I described in the Fall 2005 issue of Play Guitar! Magazine to make the strumming a little more fun and interesting:

Takedown Notice

What we’re doing here is a simple thing – we start with our Fmaj7 chord. You can use the three-finger approach (open first (high E) string, index finger on the first fret of the B string, middle finger on the second fret of the G string and ring finger on the third fret of the D) or make a “four finger” voicing (this is what I show in the above notation – fingering is the same except the pinky is on the third fret of the D string while the ring finger plays the third fret of the A), either is perfectly fine. If you want a little more bass, you can also wrap the tip of your thumb around to grasp the first fret of the low E (sixth) string. Whichever way you decide to form this chord is perfectly all right.

Once we have it in place, we’re going to strum it with a downstroke on the first beat and then with an upstroke on the second half of the second half of the second beat. You may hear me hit the string with a percussive stroke on the “down” of the second beat. That’s totally optional. For me, this helps me to keep the tempo steady. And you’ll hear me use it to that effect later when we come to the “solo” section. On the second half of the fourth be, we remove our index and middle fingers from the chord, letting the open B and G strings ring for a moment before reforming the chord by hammering our index and middle fingers back on to their original notes for the downstroke on the first beat of the following measure. You can either hit the full chord on the downbeat or simply let the hammer-on create that first beat of the second measure.

By the way, in case you’re wondering what chord we’re forming by taking our fingers off those two strings, it’s Fmaj9(#11). Aren’t you glad you asked? Or look at it this way – you can now go and show off to your friends (“I can play Fmaj9(#11)! I’ll show you how for a dollar!”) And if for some reason the sound of the Fma9(#11) doesn’t appeal to you, just go with a simple Fmaj9, which you’ll get by opening up only the G string (meaning you want to keep your index finger on the first fret of the B).

As always, take your time getting this down. You’ll find you can embellish this pattern at least seven thousand, two hundred and eighteen ways once you’re comfortable with it. But you have to start with getting it right at the start. I find that, more often than not, I end up in this pattern:

This is, obviously, a little different from the original recording. To me, it’s a little more “filled out” and, since it’s the same pattern I use to strum “Part One” of the verse, it helps me to get the song going without worrying about having to immediately change my strumming pattern. And speaking of “Part One,” let’s look at how that shapes up:

As I just mentioned, this pattern is so close to what you’ve practiced it on the Intro (and it’s the same one as Pattern 1A), you should have little problem with it on this part of the verses. Because the Fmaj7 covers two measures, I tend to throw in that little embellishment we discussed in the Intro section, where you hammer on and off if the B and G strings. You can even get more into it by creating your Fmaj9(#11) in the middle of the second third and fourth measures like this:

We’ve got more than half of the song done now, but don’t congratulate yourself too quickly as we’re not quite done with “Part One” just yet! Let’s come back to it in a moment, though, and for now concentrate on “Part Two.” On the original recording, this is where you can hear a second electric guitar part quite distinctly. According to the TABs for this song that I’ve read (both in books and on the Internet), this is what it’s doing:

That’s all fine and dandy, but there’s no way that I’m going to make a transition from the simple, open position strumming of “Part One” to this guitar part seamlessly. Or is there?

Let’s go back to what’s being played in the original recording and ask ourselves a question; “I know what the guitarist is playing but what, actually, do I hear?” Chances are likely that the notes you hear clearly are the ones being played on the B string, which are A, B and C, and this makes sense because these notes are also shadowing the melody line (“…we live in a beautiful world…”).

We also know from our charts that, at this point in the song, Dm is the chord we’ll be carrying in the rhythm. So I think of playing Dm in such a way that the A note will stick out most and, because I’ve read that wonderful article Moving On Up, I know to use this form:

Strumming this voicing of Dm, I realize two important things: First, coming from the Fmaj7 that immediately precedes it, I’m not sacrificing anything in terms of speed (how fast I can change chords) or body (whether or not it sounds like I’ve lost my rhythm section!). Secondly, and this is the big bonus, in position I can actually fret all the notes that the second guitar part plays on the B string on my first (high E) string. If I finger this Dm voicing with my index finger on the fifth fret of the high E (first) string, my middle finger on the sixth fret of the B string and my ring finger on the seventh fret of the G (leaving the D and A strings open for my bass notes), it’s no trouble at all to use my pinky to get the B note (seventh fret) and C note (eighth fret) of the high E (first) string. Try it and see:

I have to change my strumming pattern to straight eighth notes to make it sound like the original second guitar part, but that’s a piece of cake. But now I have a new question to deal with: I want to go from my Dm to Am, so do I stay where I am or do I go back to first position? Let’s look at and then try some possibilities:

I’m not really enamored of doing the full barre Am of the first scenario. I’ve grown to liking the ringing strings and I see (and hear) no reason to stop using them. But the switch back to the open position Am of the last example seems too abrupt. Even though the second example uses Am7 instead of Am, I’m very happy with both the sound and the ease with which I can shift from my Dm to this voicing. So it’s a winner. And it also comes with a wonderful “bonus” point that I’ll tell you about shortly.

First, I want to break up the rhythm a little bit. After doing two straight measures of eighth notes, I’m thinking that it might be nice to have a little strumming rest. This would also be good with the break in the vocals (right before the “yeah we do, yeah we do” part). So I’m going to try using the same rhythm in the next measure, the one with G, that’s coming up.

And speaking of the G in measure four of “Part Two,” listening again to the original recording (or reading the TABs), I hear that it’s actually a Gsus4 resolving to G, played up on the fifteenth fret of the first (high E) string and the thirteenth (for the Gsus4) and twelfth (for the G) frets of the B string. Since that it simply an octave higher than the same chords in open position, I decide to give them a try and I find out that they sound fine.

After trying this a few times, though, I find I’d like to add just a touch more. So, taking my cue again from the melody, I tack on the F (first fret of the high E (first) string) and the E of the open first string, almost as an afterthought that nicely fills out the rest of this measure. So now I’ve got the first go-’round of “Part Two” down to the point where I’m happy with them:

As we noted earlier, the only difference in the second pass of “Part Two” is that the fourth measure is Am and not G. Actually, a close listen to the original recording tells us that the second electric guitar is playing single notes: E to F to A and then E to F, like a trill but very slowly. This is not the easiest thing to do with an open position Am or even an Fmaj7, but it is quite simple to accomplish when we’re using a partial barre on the fifth fret as we did earlier. While barring (actually partially barring) the fifth fret with my index finger, I use my ring or middle finger to hammer on and off of the sixth fret of the B string. So let’s add that to the mix and take a look (and listen) to the second half of “Part Two,” shall we?

So, for all intents and purposes, we’ve got a finished song here. Well, I don’t know about you, but I haven’t forgotten the “Instrumental” pass of “Part One” which makes up the third verse. In fact, since on the original recording, the lead line pretty much follows the vocal, and since the vocal line is, pardon the pun, readily within our grasp while playing first position chords, I think we might want to give it a try:

Here we start with the Am chord and (after a short percussive downstroke) place the pinky on the third fret of the high E (first) string to get the G note of the melody. We then need to shift our index finger up to the first fret of the first string to get the F and then remove it to get the E of the open string.

Basically, we repeat the same pattern for the measure of C, but add an extra F note be hammering onto the first fret with our index finger once again. I like to use Cmaj7 instead of C here in order to have the index finger free at the start. It’s a little thing and it does change the sound in a subtle way, but it does work fine. We end with two measures of Fmaj7, taken almost verbatim from the introduction.

If you’d like a little more of a challenge, then come up with a short fill for the second measure of Fmaj7. Here’s one off the top of my head (and no jokes about that, please):

By using the “three finger” form of Fmaj7, my pinky is free to get the D note at the third fret of the B string. The rest of the fill is simply lifting my fingers on and off the B and G strings. One thing to note is that I finish this fill with an open string. My reasons for that is that it allows me to change easily to either Am (when we do a repeat of these four measures) or Dm (which is the start of “Part Two”). Your fill doesn’t have to do so, but I do find it helps me to not be losing the rhythm because I’ve lost my fingers!

The use of a fill is also helpful when we come to the outro. As mentioned earlier, it’s simply a repeat of “Part One” again, but that’s no reason for us to repeat what we’ve done earlier. On the original recording, the second electric guitar plays E and C (twelfth fret of the high E (first) string and thirteenth fret of the B string respectively) in alternating eighth notes over the measures of Am and C before going back to the E and F trill pattern it uses at the very end of “Part Two.” This is not the easiest thing to do while trying to hold together the rhythm (not to mention using open position chords!) as well. So let’s try a variation of that, staggering the rhythm a little bit. We can even use it throughout the two measures of Fmaj7 if we’d like. It certainly fits and it sounds pretty cool. But, instead, let’s add a fill much like the one we just tacked onto the Instrumental section for the second measure, perhaps something like this:

Again, by using a three-finger version of Fmaj7 along with opening up the B string for the second measure, we’re nicely freed up both the index finger and pinky so that they can easily accommodate this little fill.

And that pretty much gets us through the whole of Don’t Panic. For the last two lines of the outro, which are sung, simply play what we’ve played for “Part One,” only on the last line you hang onto the Fmaj7 you play and let the chord (and the vocal) trail off. Oh, and just in case (pardon the pun) your someone who keeps tabs on theses things, the original recording is played at a tempo of about 122 BPM.

I’ve done all these examples up to this point on a plain ol’ acoustic guitar. Just to give you an idea of other things you can do, here is a version of the Intro, a verse and chorus, the solo (with chorus) and Outro performed on the acoustic with a little bit of chorus and echo:

As you can hear, there’s a world of difference a little bit of effects can make. But it’s very important that your arrangements, or at least the majority of your arrangements, can be played just as effectively (no pun intended) without any added paraphernalia. Being able to play the basics should always come before your worries about tone and effects.

I hope you had fun with this lesson and that you enjoy playing Don’t Panic, either on your own or with some friends or even just along with the original CD.

Remember not every song you know will translate so readily into a single-guitar arrangement. With some you might have to sacrifice a lot more of the material from the original recording. With others, it just might be that it’s not the sound that you want – and it’s important to know how to tell between the sound you “want” and the sound you’re used to from the original. A song like Don’t Panic works well because you’re not asking your listeners to take too far a trip from what they are already familiar with. But that doesn’t mean you couldn’t come up with a radically different version and still have it be both fun to play and appreciated by your audience.

Remember too how all these lessons, both here on the Songs for Intermediates page and on the Easy Songs for Beginners page, are meant to be more than just “how to play a song you like” lessons. Try to take some time (and effort) to apply the lessons on chord voicing and arranging (and listening!) that you learned here to other songs you know. Most musicians will tell you that the ability to improvise and to think on one’s feet comes from time spent experimenting, from trial and error. Don’t be afraid to make errors! And be certain to take notes of what you do so you don’t have to spend a lot of time trying to recreate something that you forgot how you did it in the first place!

And, as always, please feel free to write in with any questions, comments, concerns or songs (and/or riffs and solos) you’d like to see discussed in future pieces. You can either drop off a note at the Guitar Forums page or email me directly at [email protected]

Until our next lesson…


Where Did The Guitar Tab Go?
On February 11, 2010 we received a letter from lawyers representing the NMPA and the MPA instructing us to remove guitar tab and lyrics from this page. You can read more about their complaint here. Alternatively, you can still find this complete article with tab and lyrics archived here.