Guitar lesson for

Where Did You Sleep Last Night

by Nirvana  •  Lesson #102

Video lesson

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Editor’s notes

In this lesson, I’ll teach you how to play “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” as covered by Nirvana in their 1994 unplugged album – in which I’ll show you the chords, strumming pattern, licks & riffs to transition the bass notes, and more. This song originally popularized by Lead Belly many decades before – and a lot of what I show will work if you want to play it like he does. I hope you enjoy!

Video timestamps:

Lyrics w/ chords

See my sheet music for the lyrics and chords.

Tuning FYI

Note, you’ll need to tune down 1/2 step if you want to play along with Nirvana’s version (they’re using E-flat tuning). I decided to use standard tuning in my video lesson above. Take note of this in case you want to play along with Nirvana.

Chord progression used for entire song

The entire song uses this one progression, played over and over again. Here, I show 6 counts per measure. Notice that the measure with the A-major and G-major is split between those two chords (3 counts each)… every other measure has 6 counts on the chord in question.

| E . . . . . | A . . G . . | B . . . . . | E . . . . . |

Strumming pattern

You’ll want to use this pattern over and over…

Down... up down up down... up down up down... up down up down...

When counted out, it becomes the following (accent the “1” and “4” counts, both of which are downstrums).

1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 +
D     U D U D     U D U
>           >

How to play the chords

This song only uses these 4 chords. There are different voicings you could use for each chord below (I’ll get to that), but let’s use these as a starting point. For the A-major, I’ll typically use my index finger to barre the 2nd fret of the D/G/B strings (and not worry about playing the high E-string).

E –––0–––––––––3–––––––––
B –––0––––2––––0––––4––––
G –––1––––2––––0––––4––––
D –––2––––2––––0––––4––––
A –––2––––0––––2––––2––––
E –––0–––––––––3–––––––––
     E    A    G    B

For the E, you have some options. It sounds like Nirvana is playing an E5 or E “power chord” where the G string isn’t ringing… this results in a sound that is neither major nor minor. To do this, I recommend letting one of your ringers rest gently upon the G string so that it muffles the sound (mutes the string). You also could get away with playing an E-minor if you like. Or, if you want to be like the famous blues guitarist Lead Belly who first made this song famous, you can use an E7. It’s up to you.

See my sheet music for chord diagrams and tabs.

If the B gives you issues, you can do a B power-chord (B5) or do an open shape to play B7.

See my sheet music for chord diagrams and tabs.

Bass note exercise

If you really want to nail down the melodic, bluesey bass notes to add some flavor – start by studying this tab. Learn these notes, be able to play them in time. From here, add the full strumming when you’re able.

See my sheet music for tabs.

Walking up to the A-major chord

The most distinctive bass note run in the song is probably walking up to the A-major chord, via this quick little lick. This is hard to pull off (it happens very quick)… the key is to use your left hand’s middle and ring fingers to play the 2nd and 3rd fret of the low-E string and then immediately playing the A-chord.

See my sheet music for tabs.

Spicing up the B-major bass note

In Nirvana’s intro (without singing) and in my video lesson, you can see how I go down to the low-E string to spice up the 2nd half of the measure with the B-major chord. I do this by using my left hand’s index finger to play the 2nd fret of the low-E string (while keeping all other fingers in place). Here’s the rough tab I use. Watch my video lesson for context!

See my sheet music for tabs.

Good luck!

Thanks for reading! I hope this helped you.

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