Guitar lesson for

Simple Twist of Fate

by Bob Dylan  •  Lesson #351

Video lesson

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Editor’s notes

Hey friends! Here’s a new guitar lesson teaching you how to play “Simple Twist of Fate”, the classic from Bob Dylan’s 1975 album Blood on the Tracks. This is no doubt one of my favorite songs of all time, from an equally amazing album. This lesson teaches aims to make this song more accessible, teaching it in standard tuning, no capo, using chords in the key of E (which is slightly different than Dylan’s open-D-tuning, capo 2, Key of D arrangement). I’ll explain all this in my video and PDF – showing you the chords / progression / strumming, before offering two playthroughs using different strum patterns. I hope you enjoy!

Video timestamps:

Lyrics with chords

No capo, standard tuning… see my note below for more info

    | E         | Emaj7      | E7          | A         |
    | Am        | E  B  A    | E     B     | E         |

    E                                Emaj7
    ...They sat together in the park... as the evening sky grew dark
    E7                                          A                    (Asus2)
    ...She looked at him and he felt a spark... tingle to his bones
    Am                                      E      Bsus4     A       (Asus2)
    ...Twas then he felt alone, and wished... that he'd gone straight
        E                 Bsus4                 E
    And watched out for a simple twist of fate

                                      (...uses same progression for each verse)

    [E] They walked along by the old canal... [Emaj7] a little confused, I remember well
    [E7] And stopped into a strange hotel, with the [A] neon burning bright
    [Am] He felt the heat of the night... [E] hit him... [B] like a [A] freight----- train
    [E] Moving with a [B] simple twist of fate [E]

    [E] A saxophone someplace far-off played...[Emaj7] as she was walking along by the arcade
    [E7] As a light bust through a beat-up shade, where [A] he was waking up
    [Am] She dropped a coin into the cup, of a [E] blind man [B] at the [A] gate-----
    [E] And forgot about a [B] simple twist of fate [E]

    [instrumental verse]

    [E] He woke up, the room was bare... [Emaj] he didn't see her anywhere
    [E7] He told himself he didn't care, pushed the [A] window opened wide
    [Am] Felt an emptiness inside... to which he [E] just could [B] not [A] relate-----
    [E] Brought on by a [B] simple twist of fate [E]

    [E] He hears the ticking of the clocks... [Emaj7] and walks along with a parrot that talks
    [E7] Hunts her down by the waterfront docks, where the [A] sailors all come in
    [Am] Maybe she'll pick him out again... how [E] long [B] must he [A] wait-----
    [E] One more time, for a [B] simple twist of fate [E]

    [E] People tell me it's a sin... [Emaj7] to know and feel too much within
    [E7] I still believe she was my twin, [A] but I lost the ring
    [Am] She was born in spring, but [E] I... was [B] born too [A] late-----
    [E] Blame it on a [B] simple twist of fate [E]

    [instrumental verse, end]

A note about tuning, capo, and how Dylan plays this song

My video lesson & this PDF teaches this song in standard tuning, using no capo – as the goal of this arrangement is to keep things accessible & approachable. But I should note, Dylan doesn’t play the song the way I am showing! He’s using capo 2nd fret, in open D tuning (D-A-D-F#-A-D). Maybe I’ll make a lesson for playing this song that way someday, but note – that’s not what I’m doing in this lesson.

Chord shapes

At a glance, the chords I use are as follows (shown in tab form). For the E-Emaj7-E7 sequence, I prefer using the four-string voicing shown here as my foundation. This allows you to capture the sound of the descending bass note within those three chords, which is vital to capturing Dylan’s sound.

For the B chord, I’ll use this Bsus4 voicing I show below — which is far easier to play than a typical B-major chord (since you don’t have to barre anything). This version of the B also captures the vibe of Dylan’s version (via the thinnest two strings being open), which gives off an open-tuning sound.

For the A-major chord, I often will freely switch to an Asus2 to mix up the sound, which again captures the open-tuning vibe of Dylan’s version.

[ See PDF for tabs]

Sometimes I’ll flirt with playing 6-string versions of the E-Emaj7-E7 sequence, using the voicings shown below. If you do this, try to lead into each chord by playing the bass notes (4th string) as I show here — which attempts to capture the very important descending tone. What I don’t love about this, is how muddy the Emaj7 sounds — so if anything, that’s the chord (of the 3 shown below) where I usually revert to the 4-string version.

[ See PDF for tabs]

Strumming patterns

The most basic strum you’ll want to do is a “bass, DOWN, bass, DOWN” where “bass” refers to the thickest string used in whatever chord you’re playing. I slightly emphasize the down-strums.

[ See PDF for diagram ]

To strum like Dylan, use one of the two patterns below. Keep all up-strums light, staying on the thinnest 2-3 strings only. Keeping an accent on beats 2 & 4 also sounds good, if you can manage.

[ See PDF for diagram ]

Chord progression

Here’s the chord progression this entire song uses, over and over. There are four beats per measure. Set your metronome to 137 BPM to play this along with Dylan’s version.

E                 Emaj7             E7                A             
1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4   1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4   1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4   1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4  

Am                E   B   A         E       B         E
1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4   1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4   1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4   1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4  

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