Tangled Up In Blue – Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan Live

Let’s try a lesson in rhythm and see what happens. Today’s lesson is Tangled Up in Blue, from the great Bob Dylan album, Blood On The Tracks. And this brings up point number two: When I learned this off my original copy (which was an album), maybe it was my record player or maybe the recording, but I thought the song was in G, only slightly sharper. So I learned it in G. Actually, as you’ll see, we’ll play it in the key of D. But, playing along with the CD, it’s decidedly in A. This is not a big thing, unless you’re one of those people concerned about sounding exactly like the original recording. But if you are one of these people, then you’re probably not reading any of my lessons anyway, right?

I bring up the subject of keys because of what we’re going to cover next. If you listen to the original you will hear more than one guitar playing, which is always a problem when you can only play one guitar at once. Coming up with my arrangement, I opted to focus on the higher-toned guitar, which made me decide to use a capo in order to get the voicing of a D shaped-chord as the root chord.

What do I mean by that? For simplicity’s sake, let’s stay in the key of G. Play a standard G chord. As you are (hopefully) aware of, from reading my beginners’ theory columns, any major chord is made up of three notes: the root, the third and the fifth. Our standard G chord has the root on the high E (first) string. There are, of course, two other ways to form the G chord. More than two, actually, but let’s again stick to the basics. One of these G chords will have the third on the high E string and the other will have the fifth. These are (usually) formed with barre chords:

G chord chart - three different shapes

Listening to the recording, I hear the intro as consisting of a G chord alternating with a Gsus4/sus2. To me, the easiest way to highlight the dynamic of this chord change is to use a D shaped chord, which means playing in D with a capo on the fifth fret:

G chord and Gsus4sus2 chord
Same chords using D shape and capo on 5th fret

Since this works in mimicking the higher-toned guitar (very well, I might add), I decide to play this song with my capo on the fifth fret, where the D chord is now a G. If you want to play along with your CD then you will want to put your capo on the seventh fret. This will put you in the key of A. All the chords I use will work for you. No pun intended, but for the record, all the MP3s of this lesson are in G (capo on the fifth fret).

Okay, enough of the nit-picking. Let’s play!

Here are the chords we’re going to use in this arrangement:

Chords used in this arrangement of Tangled Up in Blue by Bob Dylan

And here is the chord transcription:

Takedown Notice

You can see that there’s really nothing hard here. So why make it a lesson at all? What I’d like to do with this song is to show you how to come up with a strumming pattern and maybe take some of the mystique out of this eternal question.

Let’s think about Tangled as a complete picture. The song itself is in 4/4, which means that there are four beats to the measure. In the introduction, as we noted earlier, the chords alternate between D and Dsus4sus2 and each chord lasts two beats. During the first part of the verses, this two-beat pattern continues until the end of the second and fourth lines, where the G chord gets a full four beats. The two-beat pattern then asserts itself for the remainder of the verse until just before the final line (the “tangled up in blue” line), where the A is held for four beats.

In the final line of each verse (the “hook” where the song’s title is sung), we have a measure of two beats, one of C and one of G, before going back into the same chord progression as the introduction.

Listening to the whole song, I get the feeling of it moving steadily along. Until you get to the final line of any verse, things hold very steady. So I want keep things moving. This is the strumming pattern I decided upon. In these MP3 examples, I use the chords of the introduction as a demonstration. First we’ll do it at tempo. In the second MP3 sample, we’ll try it a little slower. I’ll even count it out for you:

(Example 4 at temo)

(Example 4 slower)

This is the strum that I will use pretty much throughout the song. I’ve written out the strokes (U = up and D = down). Work on this in the slower tempo until you’re comfortable with it and then slowly bring it up to speed. You’ll find that once the parttern is in your hands and head, you’ll be running on automatic pilot.

This rhythm is a little tricky in that it involves what we could call a “reverse anticipation.” Except for the very first beat of measure one, the chord changes occur a sixteenth note after the third beat and a sixteenth note after the first beat of the subsequent measure.

This brings up two things to note in the second bar (since Alan seems to prefer “bar” to “measure”): First, I use a hammer-on to switch from the Dsus4sus2 to the D. This is so simple! You play the Dsus4sus2 and then just hammer-on your fingers to form a regular D chord. This is a great rhythm trick to use. Second, I will occasionally hit the open D string (the note in parenthesis) as an additional downstroke. This happens because my hand is constantly moving up and down and it helps me to keep the beat.

Now, when I say that “this is the strum I will use pretty much throughout the song,” the key words are “pretty much.” As you listen to the other MP3s, you will find slight differences in the pattern. This is, normally, how most people play. It is rare for someone to keep the same pattern going throughout a song, like a sampling machine. Don’t fret about it. The main thing is to keep the rhythm steady and the chord changes in their proper place.

Let’s move on to the first four lines of the verse:

You should notice I snuck in another chord on you! I throw a Gsus4 in right before the third beat of G. This is also on the upstroke, by the way. You may wonder why I play the Gsus4 as a partial chord, using only the first four strings instead of all six. Or why I’m throwing this chord in at all, for that matter. Since I’m hitting this on an upstroke, I’m not going to hit all six strings. Your upstrokes, by and large, should not come all the way up. You want to merely punch up the treble part of the guitar while allowing the bass notes to keep ringing from the previous downstroke. And if you are wondering if that explanation, as well as the earlier bit about constant hand motion, is simply a teaser for the long awaited “Absolute Beginners part 2” piece, give yourself a gold star!

The reason for throwing in the Gsus4 in the first place is to create the illusion of a chord change. Since the chords in the rest of the verse are two beats long, having a four beat chord can slow things down a bit. So a little slight of hand, in this case a quick flip to the sus4 chord, and presto! Our four beat measure of G sounds more like our measure of D and C in terms of chord changes.

We’re going to do the same sort of thing with the final measure of A at the tail end of the verse (the sixth line). But since this point of the song also serves as the final pause before the punch line, as it were, I’m going to use a combination of A, Asus4 and Asus2 to draw things out while still moving them along. Here’s what the last three lines look like:

This sequence of A chords is also easily accomplished. Starting with your regular A, add your pinky to the third fret of the B string. This gives you the Asus4. To play the Asus2, simply remove any finger from the B string, allowing it to be played open.

Just for the record, I’d like to explain my use of a Bm7 instead of a Bm, which most TABs (or transpositions of TABs) would contain. It’s not really all that mysterious. First, it’s a lot quicker, for me anyway, to switch from an A to a Bm7. If you are one of those people who practically barre the A chord, then A fully-barred Bm will do just as well. The other thing I like about using this chord is that, opposed to an open position Bm (xx0432 or xx4432), I get the B note in the bass.

On the last part of the verse pay particular attention to clipping the C and G chords on the final line before returning to the D / Dsus4sus2 chord progression, which serves as an interlude between the verses.

And that, fellow guitarists, pretty much wraps it up. I hope you’ve had fun playing Tangled Up in Blue and also looking a little into the thoughts behind strumming. When it comes down to it, there is no singular “right” way to play something. If you come up with a pattern that fits what you want to do with a song, go with it. You can have a lot of fun when you get a couple of guitars playing compatible, yet different, strumming patterns for the same song. That’s usually what you hear when you’re listening to a recording.

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 or email me directly at [email protected].

Until 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.