Guitar lesson for

Mary Jane's Last Dance

by Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers

Video lesson

Here’s my video lesson for this song:


Here’s what I cover in the video lesson (jump ahead to any point you like):

Quick note about guitar tuning

Head’s up, the album version of this song isn’t quite in perfect concert pitch. I believe it was slightly sped up (or slowed down?) in production – which means if your guitar is perfectly in standard tuning, you’ll sound a bit off when playing along. As for me, I’m tuned standard. So to play along with my video lesson, put that guitar in standard tuning!

How to play the chords

Here are the chords you’ll need to be able to play to pull off this song. Not a lot! And fortunately, no barre chords.

E –––0–––––3–––––2–––––0–––––
B –––1–––––0–––––3–––––0–––––
G –––2–––––0–––––2–––––0–––––
D –––2–––––0–––––0–––––2–––––
A –––0–––––2–––––––––––2–––––
E –––––––––3–––––––––––0–––––
     Am    G     D     Em

Chord progressions

For the intro, verse, and interludes – you’ll want to repeat this progression. Four counts per each chord. This repeats, over and over.

"She grew up in an Indiana town..."

Am . . . G . . . D . . . Am . . .

For the chorus, you’ll change it up to use this. Note how you’re doing much less chord switching here – instead, you stay on each chord for quite a long time.

"Last dance with Mary Jane..."

Em . . . Em . . . Em . . . Em . . .
A  . . . A  . . . A  . . . A  . . .
Em . . . Em . . . Em . . . Em . . .
A  . . . A  . . . G  

            (let ring on the final G, knock guitar)

Strumming

Want a basic strumming pattern? Try this. This is what I use for the verse. This uses four equal counts for each chord. You could play the intro with this also, if you wanted…

Am              G               D               Am
↓       ↓   ↓ ↑ ↓       ↓   ↓ ↑ ↓       ↓   ↓ ↑ ↓       ↓   ↓ ↑
1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

To step things up a notch: I use this fancier strumming for the intro riff.

Am              G               D               Am
↓       ↓     ↑ ↓ ↑ ↓   ↓     ↑ ↓ ↑ ↓   ↓     ↑ ↓ ↑ ↓   ↓
1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

Verse hammer-ons

A big part of getting close to the Tom Petty guitar sound is using hammer-ons when you play some of the chords – most notably during the intro to the song. There are probably many subtleties and variations I could write tabs for – but I’ll begin with these two simple versions.

For the A-minor, use your regular left-hand finger positions – put wait until after you strum the chord before bringing down your ring and middle fingers. When you bring your fingers down onto the strings, do it with force and speed. If done right, this will make a new sound, as if you’ve plucked the notes with your pick. See my video for context.

E –––0––––––––––––
B –––1–––––––1––––
G –––0–h2––––2––––   <-- hammer-on w/ left-hand ring finger
D –––0–h2––––2––––   <-- hammer-on w/ left-hand middle finger
A –––0––––––––––––
E ––––––––––––––––
     Am         

Same deal with the D-major chord – hammer on the high-E string with your left hand’s middle finger. You could hammer-on all three notes if you wanted to – it’s up to you.

E –––0–h2––––2––––   <-- hammer-on w/ left-hand middle finger
B –––3–––––––3––––
G –––2–––––––2––––
D –––0––––––––––––   
A ––––––––––––––––
E ––––––––––––––––
     D            

If this seems difficult, that’s fine! It’s like that for everyone at first. Keep practicing, session after session. You’ll slowly get better with time. Seriously.

Verse harmonica imitation

It is possible, should you wish, to imitate the notes that the harmonica plays in the album version (between verses). You’ll do it using the tab below. The key here is accenting the highest note (i.e., the note on the thinnest string) for each chord you strum. Also notice how you’re never strumming the high-E string – that would ruin the melodic effect. Watch my video lesson for context.

E ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
B –––1––––––––––0––1––0––––––1––0–––––––––––––––
G –––2––––––––––0––––––––––––2–––––2––––––2–––––
D –––2––––––––––0––––––––––––0––––––––––––2–––––
A –––0––––––––––x–––––––––––––––––––––––––0–––––
E ––––––––––––––3–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
     Am         G            D7           Am                            

Chorus flourish

Here’s how to spice up the E-minor, which is totally optional. I play this by using my pinky and ring finger on the high-E string. These notes map to the vocal melody of the song

"Last dance with Mary Jane, one more time to kill the pain..."

E –––3–––3––––3–––2–––0––––––3–––3––––3–––2–––0–––
B –––0–––––––––––––––––––––––0––––––––––––––––––––
G –––0–––––––––––––––––––––––0––––––––––––––––––––
D –––2–––––––––––––––––––––––2––––––––––––––––––––
A –––2–––––––––––––––––––––––2––––––––––––––––––––
E –––0–––––––––––––––––––––––0––––––––––––––––––––
     Em                      Em    

Next, is the A-major. You can spice this up by using simple Asus4 chords (done by adding your pinky down on the 3rd fret of the B string). Play this freely, using whatever strum timing you like.

"(...to kill the pain...)"

E –––0––––––0––––0–––––––––––––0––––0–––––––––––––
B –––2––––––3––––2–––––––––––––3––––2–––––––––––––
G –––2––––––2––––2–––––––––––––2––––2–––––––––––––
D –––2––––––2––––2–––––––––––––2––––2–––––––––––––
A –––0––––––0––––0–––––––––––––0––––0–––––––––––––
E ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
     A    Asus4  A           Asus4  A        

Finally, my favorite way to spice up the A-major is as follows. This one is much more tricky – but it creates a very nice ascending sound. The trick here, is to realize that there are only two chord shapes you’re using – even though the frets change on each chord. If you get your left hand’s fingers to memorize the two simple shapes, the only thing left to do is memorizing the anchor fret for each position. See my video for context!

E –––0–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
B –––2–––––3–––––5–––––7–––––8–––––  <-- left-hand middle finger
G –––0–––––0–––––0–––––0–––––0–––––
D –––2–––––4–––––5–––––7–––––9–––––  <-- left-hand index or ring(+) finger
A –––0–––––0–––––0–––––0–––––0–––––
E –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
           +                 +
     A7                                                

Lead guitar lick, simplified

Finally, here’s a “simple” way to play the distinctive lead lick you hear during some of the instrumental verses. By “simple” I am keeping this to one string at a time, as opposed to playing 2-3 strings at once (which it sounds like you hear on the album version).

^^ = bend the note, so it goes up in pitch

E –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
B –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
G –––7^^––7––5–––––5––7^^–––––7^^––7––5–––––5––––––––
D –––––––––––––7–––––––––––––––––––––––––7–––––7–––––
A –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
E –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

Lyrics w/ chords

For context, here are the chords shown on top of the lyrics for the first verse and first chorus. Repeat the same progressions for all future verses and chorus sections in the song.

INTRO

    Am - G - D - Am  (repeat as desired)

VERSE

    Am                G
    She grew up in an Indiana town
          D                     Am
    Had a good looking mama who never was around
            Am                   G
    But she grew up tall and she grew up right
              D                    Am            
    With them Indiana boys on them Indiana nights

                Am-G-D-Am x2, with harmonica

                (use this progression for every verse)

CHORUS

    Em
    Last dance with Mary Jane
    Em                              A
    One more time to kill the pain-----
    Em
    I feel summer creepin' in and I'm...
    Em                           A     G (let ring)
    ...Tired of this town again-----

                (use this progression for each chorus)

Good luck!

Let me know if you have questions. I hope this was helpful.

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