Guitar lesson for

Keep 'Em on They Toes

by Brent Cobb  •  Lesson #355

Video lesson

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Editor’s notes

Hey friends! Today we’re looking at “Keep ‘Em on They Toes” by Brent Cobb, one of my absolute favorite new songs from 2020. If you haven’t heard this one, give it a listen – the combination of the witty lyrics, Cobb’s vocal style, and easy-going (yet nuanced) guitar part make it a blast to play. While normally played in the key of E (no capo, E - B7 - C#m - A), I’ll be focusing on a key of C version (capo 4, C - G - Am - F)… which enables you to play the distinctive flourish notes while strumming.

Here’s timestamps for my video lesson:

If you haven’t heard this song before, give it a quick listen – I’m confident the opening verse will get its hooks in.

Lyrics and chords

Capo 4th fret using the chords below. Or play on capo, key of E (see below for more details).

C (8 measures, strum freely)

                 C*   C                    G*     G
If you ever grow up...... one thing you'll find
                     Am*   Am                       F*    F
Most people that you meet..... just about out their mind
                            C*    C                              G*   G
They try to tell you how to live.... they try to tell you how to die
                    Am*          Am                    F*    F
They tell you don't get too low----- but don't get too high
                   C*    C                      G*    G
Best thing you can do...... is don't listen too close
                F*       G*                  C*    C
Walk on to your own beat... keep 'em on they toes

                     F                         F
    Keep 'em on they toes, your business outta sight
                  C                           C
    Make 'em look left if you're gonna hang a right
                 F                           F
    If the pot's hot, don't let 'em see your hand
                   G                            G
    Make 'em gotta know what they wouldn't understand
                 C*                C                     G*     G
        The best thing you can do.... when the ignorance shows
                      F*            G*                      C*     C
        Is walk on to your own beat... and keep 'em on they toes

If you never grow [C] up...[C]... you oughta stay that [G] way... [G]
[Am] You can't learn----[Am]---- what you ain't gotta [F] change... [F]

Just listen to your [C] heart...[C]... listen to the [G] rain... [G]
Listen to [Am] whatever it is---[Am]--- that keeps you [F] sane... [F]

Now, I don't have to [C] tell it...[C]... 'cause you already [G] know... [G]
Walk on to your [F] own beat...[G]... keep 'em on they [C] toes... [C]

    Keep 'em on they [F] toes, your business outta [F] sight
    Make 'em look [C] left if you're gonna hang a [C] right
    If the pot's [F] hot, don't let em see your [F] hand
    Make 'em gotta [G] know what they wouldn't under[G]stand

        The best [C] thing you can do...[C]... when the ignorance [G] shows... [G]
        Is walk on to your [F] own beat [G]... keep 'em on they [C] toes
        I don't have to [C] tell it...[C] 'cause y'all already [G] know... [G]
        Walk on to your [F] own beat [G]... and keep 'em on they [C] toes [C]

Capo 4 (key of C) or no capo (key of E)?

From watching a solo acoustic live video, Brent Cobb plays this song in the key of E, without a capo (using the chords E / B7 / C#m / A). However, I like playing it capo 4 – which lets you use key of C chords (C / G / Am/ F), and more importantly lets you play those flourish notes you hear in Cobb’s album version. It’s up to you how to approach it… but I’m teaching it capo 4 because that’s how I like to play it.

Chord shapes

Here’s how to play the chords, for both the capo 4 version as well as the no capo version. For the F chord, you don’t need to do a full 6-string F… I often play just the middle four strings (for the chorus), or the thinnest four strings (for the verse).

No capo:                             Capo 4th fret:
e –––0––––2––––4––––0–––           e –––0––––3––––0––––1–––
B –––0––––0––––5––––2–––           B –––1––––0––––1––––1–––
G –––1––––2––––6––––2–––           G –––0––––0––––2––––2–––
D –––2––––1––––6––––2–––           D –––2––––0––––2––––3–––
A –––2––––2––––4––––0–––           A –––3––––2––––0––––3–––
E –––0––––––––––––––––––           E ––––––––3–––––––––1–––
     E    B7  C#m   A                   C    G    Am   F

Strumming pattern

A few options here… I think the main idea is to keep it a bit chill, casual, and low-key. Here’s two patterns: the first of which I use during the verse & the end of the chorus, while the other (a bit more bouncy) I use during the up-beat part of the chorus.

See PDF for strumming diagrams.

Adding the flourish notes during the verse

Here’s some tabs to help you play the distinctive flourish notes you hear during the verse. Two big ideas to keep in mind here. (1) These notes happen every OTHER measure, meaning after you play them – you return to a measure of normal strumming. In my chart, I use an asterisk to denote a measure played with flourish. (2) You can actually keep your D-DU-UDU strum going through both these measures… and play the flourish notes on the “U” up-strum notes of that pattern. Just make sure you keep the strum low-key & chill, only playing some of the strings (don’t overdo it). See my video lesson for reference.

See PDF for full tabs.

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