Guitar lesson for
Where Did You Sleep Last Night
by Nirvana • Lesson #102
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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!
- 0:00 Playthrough & greeting
- 1:24 Quick note about tuning
- 1:46 How to play the chords
- 4:38 Timing & strum pattern
- 5:55 Bass note transitions
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 . . . . . |
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.
E –––0–––0––––0––––0––– B –––0–––0––––0––––3––– G –––1–––0––––x––––1––– D –––2–––2––––2––––2––– A –––2–––2––––2––––2––– E –––0–––0––––0––––0––– E Em E5 E7
If the B gives you issues, you can do a B power-chord (B5) or do an open shape to play B7.
E ––––––––––––3–––– B –––4––––––––0–––– G –––4–––4––––2–––– D –––4–––4––––1–––– A –––2–––2––––2–––– E ––––––––––––––––– B B5 B7
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.
E |––––––––––––––|––––––––––––––|––––––––––––––|––––––––––––––|– B |––––––––––––––|––––––––––––––|––––––––––––––|––––––––––––––|– G |––––––––––––––|––––––––––––––|––––––––––––––|––––––––––––––|– D |––––––––––––––|––––––––––––––|––––––––––––––|––––––––––––––|– A |––––––––2–––––|––0–––––––––––|––2–––––––––––|––––––––––––––|– E |––0–––––––––––|––––––––3–––––|––––––––2–––––|––0–––––0–––3–|– • ◦ ◦ • ◦ ◦ • ◦ ◦ • ◦ ◦ • ◦ ◦ • ◦ ◦ • ◦ ◦ • ◦ ◦ E A G B E
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.
E |–––0––––––––––––––––––––––––– B |–––0––––––––––––––––––2–––––– G |–––1––––––––––––––––––2–––––– D |–––2––––––––––––––––––2–––––– A |–––2––––––––––––––––––0–––––– E |–––0–––––––––––0h2h3–––––––––
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!
E |–––3–––|–––––––––––––––––––––|–––0––– B |–––0–––|–––––––4–––––––4–––––|–––0––– G |–––0–––|–––––––4–––––––4–––––|–––1––– D |–––0–––|–––––––4–––––––4–––––|–––2––– A |–––2–––|––––0––2–––––––x–––––|–––2––– E |–––3–––|–––––––––––––––2–––––|–––0––– G B B E
E A G My girl, my girl, don't lie to me B E Tell me where did you sleep last night E In the pines, in the pines A G Where the sun don't ever shine B E I would shiver the whole night through (use these same chords for the entire each verse) My girl, my girl, where will you go? I'm going where the cold wind blows In the pines, in the pines Where the sun don't ever shine I would shiver the whole night through Her husband was a hard working man Just about a mile from here His head was found in a driving wheel But his body never was found My girl, my girl, don't lie to me Tell me where did you sleep last night In the pines, in the pines Where the sun don't ever shine I would shiver the whole night through My girl, my girl, where will you go? I'm going where the cold wind blows In the pines, in the pines Where the sun don't ever shine I would shiver the whole night through My girl, my girl, don't lie to me Tell me where did you sleep last night In the pines, in the pines Where the sun don't ever shine I would shiver the whole night through My girl, my girl, where will you go? I'm going where the cold wind blows In the pines, the pines The sun don't shine I'd shiver... the whole night through
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