Man on the Moon – R.E.M.

Man on the Moon by R.E.M.

If you’re planning on performing, whether just playing for friends and family or in front of an audience at a bar or coffee house, it’s good to know a lot of songs that (a) sound good for a group and (b) can be learned in a hurry. Songs like R.E.M.’s Man on the Moon, for example. It has an interesting use of a movable chord, a good steady strumming pattern, and it lends itself nicely to some “follow the melody” touches that even beginners should be able to handle. Also you can learn a trick about changing chords in a relatively quick pattern. So if you’re ready, let’s get going…

Dealing With The Obvious Question

If you look up a tab or chord chart for Man on the Moon on the Internet, the first question that you usually ask comes very quickly. The second chord, depending on who wrote the tablature, is usually listed as “Dadd4add2.” Sometimes it’s listed as “Dsus2sus4.” Every once and awhile you may even see “D11 (no 7).” Any of these chords certainly deserves a cock of the eyebrow.

The reality is that what we’re dealing with is what I consider a “guitar-centric” chord. Kind of like the second chord of Horse with no Name, the one that’s not Em. Basically, you’ve taken a familiar open chord guitar shape and simply shifted it someplace else on the neck of the guitar.

Do me a favor and participate in this demonstration: Play your standard open position C chord. Your ring finger is on the third fret of the A string, your middle finger sits on the second fret of the D and your index finger plays the first fret of the B. Are you with me so far? Good! Now slide each finger two frets up the neck. Should look like this:

Man on the Moon Dadd2add4 chord

Congratulations! You have just formed the “Dadd2add4” chord. That’s all there is too it.

Well, there’s always more, if you want there to be! So let me add that some folks find this optional fingerings a bit more pleasant to their ears:

Man on the Moon C and Dadd2add4 chords

To get this voicing, start with your basic C chord, but use your pinky in place of the ring finger on the third fret of the A string. When you’ve done this, put your ring finger on the third fret of the low E (sixth) string. Technically, this is what most people would refer to as “C/G,” that is a C chord with the G note in the bass. Let’s not waste a lot, or any, time on this today, though, okay? To get the “bassier” Dadd2add4, slide all four fingers two frets higher.

For the sake of our lesson today, we’re going to call this pesky Dadd2add4 chord by the name of “D!” Is everyone okay with that? Good. Then here’s a cheat sheet for our song. I’ll meet up with you on the other side:

Man on the Moon chords and lyrics

Strumming and Verses

You’ve probably already noticed that there’s nothing here you can’t handle, especially now that we’ve dealt with the whole “D!” chord thing. How about a nice strumming pattern and you can get going on things:

Man on the Moon suggested strumming

Of course, you’re probably already thinking that this hasn’t been all that much of a lesson. And you’re right. So let’s take a look at some of the things that we can do, incredibly simple, almost casual, touches that add magic to a song. Why not start with the verse strumming we just looked at?

Man on the Moon verse strumming

This touch is so minor you may not have even seen it, but you can certainly hear it in the MP3 sound file. All we’re doing it lifted our middle finger off the D string for the fourth beat of the third measure. That’s the third “yeah” of the “yeah yeah yeah yeah” if you’re singing along. This creates a “Cadd9” chord, which some folks will call “Cadd2” or even “C2” (for some reason, you see a lot of “C2” and other “2” chords in the sheet music of contemporary gospel music – not really sure why) and, while I’ve noted it as “Cadd9” on the example, I’d like you to start getting in the habit of thinking of it as “keeping busy during a lengthy C chord.” Seriously. While it’s important to know music theory (and I hope to heaven that everyone who reads any lesson at Guitar Noise knows that this is a bit of an understatement, especially coming from me), it’s also important to start going beyond what you’re given in any chord sheet. Don’t always wait for direction when it comes to chords; don’t be afraid to try things. If you’ve not been listening to our Guitar Noise Podcasts, which deal a lot with this sort of thing, then you might want to give one a try.

Back to our Man on the Moon. The verses pretty much consist of this same chord change over and over again. And the first verse is six lines long, while the second and third are both four lines long. Michael Stipe, who sings lead for R.E.M. was smart and made small variations on the melody line in the verses, so why not take a cue from him:

Man on the Moon verse strumming variation

Here we’re playing a different voicing of our open C chord by adding our pinky to the third fret of the high E (first) string. That G note being prominent on the high string definitely gets a bit of notice. We follow that up with a regular open position D for the second measure. Because we’ve not used a regular D chord yet (they’ve all been “D!” chords up “˜til this point), it doesn’t sound the least bit mundane. If fact, it’s kind of downright refreshing!

We’re back to the regular C chord in the third measure, but we even change this by going with a “Cadd4” during that last beat. Easiest way to finger this is to just add the pinky to the third fret of the D string. If you want to try something even wilder, might I suggest this:

Man on the Moon Cadd4 variation

In case you’re wondering why I didn’t just call this “Cadd4add6” an Fmaj7, consider that I’m simply having a weird day.

Anticipation, Melody Lines and the Pre-Chorus

When we get to the gorgeous “pre-chorus” of our song, the part that starts, “…Andy did you hear about this one…” we get to do some fun, although slightly complicated things. First off, I should explain that I came up with this particular arrangement when I was performing this song solo. When I play it with other people, or when I hear it being played, my initial tendency is to sing (attempt to sing) a harmony part here. This section just demands harmony. But when you’re doing a solo act, there’s no harmony. Worse, if you start singing the harmony, there’s no guarantee that you’re going to get back to where you want to be later.

So, rather than abandon the melody, why not reinforce it?

Man on the Moon pre-chorus

There are a lot of things going on here, so let me try to tackle them one at a time. First and foremost, there’s the melody line. You’ll notice that even on the first chord of the pre-chorus, the Am, I only strum down to the B string, where my finger is sitting on the first fret. That C note is the melody note. I stop my strum there to emphasize the note and then also play the rest of the melody line on the B and G strings of the guitar.

This is certainly not something you have to do; you can just strum the whole song the way you’ve been doing during the verse. But it isn’t all that hard to do. It just requires taking a bit of care in your strumming. In fact, it’s very much like we did in our lesson on Silent Night. Take your time with it and remember two things: work within the chord shapes and take it as slowly as you need to start. Worry about speed once you’ve got the fingering and the notes down.

The thing that may truly take a little getting used to is the sense of timing. The first and third lines each hang on for a half-beat longer than you might think, while the second line ends a half-beat sooner. These are all forms of anticipation, a topic that we’ve covered in many a lesson here at Guitar Noise.

Also notice that in the second measure of the first and third lines we add a C note to the mix, in essence creating a “Gsus4” chord. This is a tiny touch and (again) one you can certainly do without. But it does add more to the general strumming, as does the quick use of the G note (third fret, high E (first) string) on the D chord in the last measure. And yes, you can think of that as Dsus4 if you want to. As I mentioned earlier, these are little things that can help make normal strumming more interesting. It’s not so much a change of pattern as it is a subtle change of the chord itself. We’ll see more of this in the section ahead on the Interlude.

The “Quick Change” Chorus and The Interlude

The chorus provides us with the quickest chord changes of the song, coming at every two beats throughout most of this section. But it also provides with a “guitar-centric” way of dealing with them as well:

Man on the Moon chorus

This is a great example of how reading tablature can lure you into all sorts of traps. Could you tell, just with a glance at the first two measures, exactly what’s going on? It looks like a lot of movement. But look again after I tell you this: You’re going to play the chord twice. Downstroke on the first beat. Then downstroke on the second beat. When you come up on the second beat, just take your fingers off the strings and hit some of the open ones. Use that moment to change your chord for the next downstroke.

Okay, look at the tablature again. Can you see this? It certainly makes the quick changes a lot easier, especially for a beginner, doesn’t it? One of the reasons this works is because this song is in the key of G and if you hit the open B, G and D strings, well that’s a G chord. Those notes are also extensions of other chords in this particular progression.

But you’ll find this technique used by a lot of artists even in songs that aren’t in the key of G. Jack Johnson, just to name someone off the top of my head, does this sort of thing a lot in his music, even in keys that kind of sound weird when you rely on open strings to help you through a chord change.

In the second measure of the second line, you’ll find us using an “uncredited” Dsus4 right before the fourth beat. Then, in the second measure of the third line, we do a descending walking bass line from C to C/B to the Am which begins the fourth line. This might remind you of the same sort of short bass lines we worked on in the lesson on As Tears Go By.

That Am starting the fourth line, by the way, leads to another round of “follow the melody line.” When you start the Am chord at the third beat of that measure, leave your index finger off and then hammer it onto the first fret to go from the open B string to the C note. From that point, it’s just a matter of keeping the rest of the Am chord intact and opening up the G string at the right moment.

Finally, there are two “interludes,” if you will, in Man on the Moon, where there is an instrumental break. This is where the slide solo takes place between the second chorus and the third verse, as well as between the third chorus and a closing two repetitions of the chorus. The final chorus, by the bye, ends on a resounding Em chord. Make note of that.

For the solo guitarist, there’s not a lot of time to do very fancy playing, so going with some chordal variations seems to be a simple way of having something interesting to play during these sections:

Man on the Moon interlude

Here we’re adding a D note to the Em chord, creating an Em7, and we’re also using the open high E (sixth) string in with the D chord to produce a Dadd9 or “Dsus2” if you prefer. We’ve also done a slight variation on our strumming between these two chords so that the slight changes of the chords occur on different beats in their respective measures. Is that absolutely necessary? Of course not, but it does make things sound a little more interesting. And since we’ve an additional measure of D to deal with, it kind of made sense to use a totally different voicing than any of the others we’ve used up until this point. The easiest fingering for this is to use your index finger on the high E (sixth) string, your pinky on the B string and your ring finger on the G.

Another thing you can do to make this transition a little smoother, and this isn’t notated in the example, is to hit the open strings on the final beat of the D chord to give yourself the time to get further up the neck.

Okay, let’s hear all the different parts played together, shall we?

I hope you’ve had fun with this lesson. Some of it is going to require some work and patience, but I’m sure you can pull it off. We’ll be using this song in the future when we start looking at adding second (or third or fourth) guitar parts when playing in a group situation.

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 [email protected].

Until our next lesson…