Guitar lesson for

American Girl

by Tom Petty  •  Lesson #113

Video lesson

Sheet music for this song will be returning shortly!

  • The sheet music for this song is temporarily unavailable while I move it over to, a sheet music service that is providing licensing for my "song" arrangements.
  • Want me to priortize this song, so the sheet music is ready sooner? Click the button below and let me know – this helps me know which songs to work on next!
Request This Song

To learn more about my library of song sheets & instructional PDFs, click here.

Editor’s notes

In this lesson I’ll teach you how to play American Girl by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, from their debut 1976 self-titled album. This will be an acoustic lesson, showing you how to emulate the sound of the full-band song with a solo acoustic guitar. I’ll teach you how to imitate the intro sound, as well as chords & strumming needed for the verse and chorus sections. There’s also a breakdown riff I’ll teach which makes for a fun break before picking things back up for the ending. Best of luck, and enjoy!

Lyrics w/ chords


    E ––10–––  <-- left pinky
    B –––x–––  <-- muted by left index finger
    G –––7–––  <-- left index finger
    D –––0–––
    A –––––––
    E –––––––

    D                    E
    ...Well, she was an American girl
    G            A
    ...Raised on promises
    D                    E
    ...She couldn't help thinking that there
          G                    A
    Was a little more to life, somewhere else

        A7                    D               
        ...After all it was a great big world
        G                         Em
        ...With lots of places to run to
        Yeah, and if she had to die... trying she
        Had one little promise she was gonna keep

            G           A
            ...Oh yeah... alright
            D                    Bm
            ...Take it easy baby... make it last all night
            G           A              D (w/ intro chord)
            ...She was... an American girl

    Well, it was kinda cold that night
    She was standing alone on her balcony
    Yeah, she could hear the cars roll by
    Out on 441, like waves crashin' on the beach

        And for one desperate moment there
        He crept back in her memory
        God, it's so painful, something that's so close
        Is still so far out of reach

            Oh yeah, alright
            Take it easy baby, make it last all night
            She was... an American girl

                G . . . A . D .     (see below for tab)
                G . . . A . D .
                G . . . A . D .
                G . . . A . . . → D

    (intro riff → verse chords with jam)

Intro chord

E ––10–––  <-- left pinky
B –––x–––  <-- muted by left index finger
G –––7–––  <-- left index finger
D –––0–––
A –––––––
E –––––––

Chords used in verse, pre-chorus, and chorus

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

Walk-up and walk-down riff

"After all it was a great big world, with lots of places..."

e –––––2––2–2–2––––2––––––––3––3–3–3–––––3–3––––3–3––––0–––
B –––––3––3–3–3––––3––––––––3––3–3–3–––––3–3––––3–3––––0–––
G –––––2––2–2–2––––2––––––––0––0–0–0–––––0–0––––0–0––––0–––
D –––0–––––––––––0––––––––––0––0–0–0–––––0–0––––0–0––––2–––
A ––––––––––––––––––––––––––2––2–2–2–––––2–2––––x–x––––2–––
E ––––––––––––––––––––0–2–3––––––––––––3––––––2––––––0–––––
     D                    G                  G/F#    Em

Interlude riff

e –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
B –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
G –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––5h6h7–––
D –––––––––––––––––––x–x–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––   x3
A –––––––––––––––––––x–x–––––––––––––––––––––5–––––––––––
E –––3–––3–––3–––––––x–x–––––3h4h5–––5–––5–––––––––––––––
     G                           A           D

e –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
B –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
G –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
D –––––––––––––––––––x–x–––––––––––––––––––––x–x–––––––––   x1
A –––––––––––––––––––x–x–––––––––––––––––––––x–x–––––––––
E –––3–––3–––3–––––––x–x–––––3h4h5–––5–––5–––x–x–––––––––
     G                           A       

Good luck!

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

Get my lessons in your inbox!

Every couple weeks I send out an email newsletter with links to whatever new lessons I've made. Sign up here and stay in the loop!

Enjoy my lessons? Buy me a beer!

If this and my other lessons have proven helpful to you, please consider making a one-time donation to my tip jar. Contributions of any amount help make this project possible (including the many, many hours I put into it).

You can also support me on Patreon. For only $3/month you'll get access to a print-friendly PDF of my notes for each new lesson (view free sample).


Subscribe to my YouTube channel

Be sure to never miss a lesson by subscribing on YouTube. I put out 2-3 new videos every week. These include full song lessons, as well as covers, practice tips, behind-the-scenes updates. Thanks!

Recent video lessons:

📝 My "song" PDFs are now individually purcasheable! I've arranged a licensing agreement with Musicnotes, a service that lets you buy sheet music. Patreon suppoters get 50% off each purchase. Get the latest info here »   (last updated July 1, 2021)

October 14, 2021

How to Tune Half-Step Down (E-Flat Tuning)

Tips & Techniques  •  Lesson #394

A quick guide to tuning all your strings down 1/2 step (E-flat tuning), which is a very common alternate tuning used in many songs.

Patreon PDF

October 2, 2021

F Chord Cheat Sheet! 7 Easier Ways to Play It

Tips & Techniques  •  Lesson #392

A quick inventory of 8 different ways to play the dreaded F chord, 7 of which are easier than the dreaded six-string barred version.

Patreon PDF

September 28, 2021

Beginner Riffs with Major 7th Arpeggios

Warm-Up Exercise  •  Lesson #390

A quick exercise where I share over 10 riffs based on a single arpeggio shape, using major 7th chord tones. Backing track included!

Patreon PDF

September 19, 2021

Key of C Major Cheat Sheet!

Tips & Techniques  •  Lesson #388

A deep dive into everything you need to know when playing in the Key of C: notes, chords, fretboard map, tips & tricks, easier ways to play the F chord, and plenty more.

Patreon PDF

September 12, 2021

Major Scale Positions & CAGED Chord Shapes

Tips & Techniques  •  Lesson #384

A deep-dive into the common positions of the major scale, and how they each relate to the CAGED chord shapes... which makes it all easier to understand!

Patreon PDF

August 29, 2021

First Electric! 8 Things I Didn't Expect

Tips & Techniques  •  Lesson #386

I recently got my 1st electric guitar, and was surprised how many things immediately confused me. Here's a quick inventory, in case it helps anyone else starting out!

Patreon PDF

Browse my all lessons

By lesson type

By song decade

By musical genre

By guitar technique

By musical key

By popular artist

← back to lesson list