Guitar lesson for

Thunder Road

by Bruce Springsteen  •  Lesson #335

Video lesson

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Editor’s notes

Hey friends! In this lesson I’ll teach you how to play Thunder Road by Bruce Springsteen, which is the opening track from his 1975 album Born to Run. This is a solo acoustic lesson, where I’ll show you how to make the most of this song with one (non-electric) guitar. I’ll show you two different ways to play the chords, 3 different options for strumming patterns, and go through the chord progressions for every part of the song. Also, I’ll show you arrangements (with tabs) for the intro and outro of the song, if you’d like to imitate the harmonica (etc) you hear on the album with your guitar. Note I’ll be using a capo 3rd fret, which lets us play this song in the key of D exactly like Bruce plays it. Enjoy!

Video timestamps:

Lyrics w/ chords

Get the print-friendly version of the lyrics & chords on page 1 of my licensed sheet music (linked at the top of this page). I worked very hard to format things to all fit on a single page while remaining readable (given the large number of sections of this song).

Chord progressions for entire song

A one-page chord progression summary for all sections of the song is available on page 3 of my sheet music (linked at the top of this page).

Chord shapes needed

With a capo on 3rd fret, this song requires all the common chords in the key of D (D, Em, F#m, G, A, Bm). You could play these conventionally, or you can use the alternate voicings which I’ll also show. The common way to play these chords is as follows:

E –––2––––3––––0––––2––––2––––0–––
B –––3––––3––––2––––3––––2––––0–––
G –––2––––0––––2––––4––––2––––0–––
D –––0––––0––––2––––4––––4––––2–––
A ––––––––2––––0––––2––––4––––2–––
E ––––––––3––––––––––––––2––––0–––
     D    G    A    Bm  F#m   Em

Alternatively, you can use the following voicings for all of the chords. This lets you skip out from ever playing a barre chord (which makes them easier, once you learn the shapes). An important thing to realize here is your left ring finger is on the same note for all of the chord shapes (3rd fret of the second string). Also, with the exception of the D chord, you’ll leave the high-E string open for all chords. Together, these give this group of chords a uniform & consistent sound, via these droning notes.

Technically, these voicings deviate from the named chords in a strict sense - but don’t let that both you. Used well, these sound great. My advice with these is to lean into them when things are slower & less hectic. Then, when things pickup to a full strum – switching to the regular chord shapes (above) works well. Or, you could mix and match! It’s up to you. See my video lesson for reference.

[See my sheet music for finger positions]

E ––2––  –(0)–  –(0)–  –(0)–  –(0)–  –(0)––
B ––3––  ––3––  ––3––  ––3––  ––3––  ––3–––
G ––2––  ––2––  ––2––  ––2––  ––2––  ––0–––
D ––0––  ––0––  ––2––  ––0––  ––0––  ––2–––
A –––––  ––x––  ––0––  ––2––  ––x––  ––2–––
E –––––  ––3––  –––––  –––––  ––2––  ––0–––
    D      G      A      Bm    F#m     Em  

Strumming patterns

This is a very long song, with many peaks & valleys – so you’ll want to be a bit considered with whatever strumming pattern you use. Said another way, you probably don’t want to strum w/ the exact same pattern & volume the entire time… that might get monotonous. I’ll show you a few options here, pick and choose from these options to put together a total package that works for your needs. Again, see my video lesson & full play-along cover to see how I approach it.

When you’re starting out…

Just begin by doing a downstrum on the “1” count only. Get comfortable with the progression and vocal melody. Sneak in other strums here and there, if you want, but get familiar with that “1” count being your anchor & foundation.

1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

Adding end of measure strums…

From there, you might try adding an “up-down-up” on the final 3 eighth notes of each measure… while keeping your “1” count bigger strum. This helps flesh things out a bit, and makes the chord changes (that always happen on the “1”) sound a bit more dramatic since they’ll be preceded by the trio of smaller strums.

1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +
D         U D U

Filling it out even more

Finally, you could add some additional strums on the “2 + “ counts, while keeping the strums above. This is a pretty common pattern in itself, but I would recommend approaching things gingerly – and not over doing it. Keep the “1” count as your strongest strum, and view all these other strums as lighter filler strums. This will let you dial up (or down) the intensity of things, which is important for such a dynamic (and long) song.

1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +
D   D U   U D U

Intro and outro riffs

Tabs for the intro and outro sections I show are available on page 4 of my PDF chord sheet (linked at the top of this post).

Listen to full versions of this song

Bruce’s album version

Bruce Springsteen VH1 Storytellers live performance

This one is great, in that he tells the story behind each line of the song.

Bruce Springsteen solo acoustic version

Note, he’s using the alternate versions of the chords, as I show above. Capo 2nd fret.

John Mooreland’s cover

Nice to hear an acoustic cover with straight-ahead strumming & normal chord shapes.

Thanks, all!

This one was a monster to wrangle into place. I hope you found this helpful. Good luck!

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